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About the Photos

Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • STAY ONE JUMP AHEAD OF TROUBLE, 1945

Avant-Garden: 1920

Avant-Garden: 1920

Denishawn dance company founder Ruth St. Denis and husband Ted Shawn with garden party guests (bridesmaids? caterers? vestal virgins?), among them the modern dance pioneers Louise Brooks and Martha Graham. View full size.

 

Louise Brooks

What a find! I had no idea Louise Brooks studied with Ruth St. Denis. I just watched Pandora's Box last night.

Ignorance and Misapprehension

Those are the two principles on which I base any comment on dance as art or entertainment, having been born awkward and dedicated myself early on to amplifying that.

Nevertheless, much modern dance seems to me to consist in the main of moving with grace and athleticism from one awkward pose to another. Dance is kinetic, obviously, which may be why the subjects of still photos like these invariably look odd, stuck in the pose rather than able to demonstrate how very lovely was their passage there.

Martha Graham

I believe she is the young lady seated at the center of the photo, to the right of the other seated dancer. I saw her in the audience of one of her company's performances of "Appalachian Spring" in the late 1980s. It was unforgettable.

Re: Digitized

Those are classical ballerina hands. The two main hand positions are called arrondi and allongé, and I believe they’re supposed to look graceful. To me, they look dementedly unnatural. I thought modern dance was supposed to do away with poses like that.

[Consider the alternatives. - Dave]

Digitized

I notice that the dancers tend to have three fingers extended with the middle finger and thumb relaxed. I tried this hand gesture, and it does not feel natural. Perhaps this gesture separates the true modern dancers from the common folk shuffling around the dance floor?

Which one?

One of my relatives (great-great-aunt? something along those lines) was a dancer for the Denishawn company and, in fact, changed her name to Florence O'Denishawn. I never knew her and am not sure, but she might be the one sitting on the far left.

"Come my dear"

Lets us show them how to Twerk.

Before Bennifer, before Brangelina --

There was Denishawn.

 
THE 100-YEAR-OLD PHOTO BLOG
Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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