St. Denis, Ruth

St. Denis, Ruth

(sānt dĕn`ĭs), 1877–1968, American dancer, b. Newark, N.J., whose name was originally Ruth Dennis. After her debut (c.1893) she toured with David BelascoBelasco, David
, 1853–1931, American theatrical manager and producer, b. San Francisco. He was actively connected with the theater from his youth, and while associated with Dion Boucicault in Virginia City, Nev., he was first exposed to scenic realism.
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. In 1906 she began her recitals of highly imaginative and spectacular dances inspired by the arts and religions of Egypt, India, and East Asia. She performed in Europe (1906–8) and in the United States (after 1909), exerting a widespread influence on modern dance. With the dancer Ted ShawnShawn, Ted
(Edwin Myers Shawn), 1891–1972, American modern dancer and choreographer, b. Kansas City, Mo. Introduced to dance as physical therapy, he taught ballroom dancing, then married (1914) the dancer Ruth St. Denis.
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, whom she married in 1914, she founded the influential Denishawn, a company and schools in Los Angeles and in New York City (1920). A divergence in their views after 1931 led her to found (1940) a separate school, while he formed (1933) the Men Dancers Company at Jacob's Pillow (see Jacob's Pillow Dance FestivalJacob's Pillow Dance Festival,
summer dance concert series held annually near Lee, Mass., in the Berkshires. The site, originally an 18th-century farm, was purchased by the American modern dancer Ted Shawn in 1930, and three years later it became the home of his Men Dancers
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). Her dances include Radha, Incense, Cobras, and Nautch.


See her autobiography (1939). See study by S. Shelton (1981).

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St. Denis, Ruth (b. Dennis)

(1877–1968) dancer, choreographer; born in Somerville, N.J. Dancing from age six, she began in vaudeville and musicals at age 16 and then became an actress who worked with stage director David Belasco (1898–1905). Convinced that dance was the way for her to express her "noblest thoughts," she studied the cultures and dances of the East (although it is also claimed that she took her inspiration from a poster for Isis cigarettes) and then choreographed her own first dance, Radha (1906), based on Hindu mythology and using actual East Indian dancers. An overnight success with her mixture of exotic spectacle and high seriousness, she toured Europe for three years. After returning to the U.S.A., she produced elaborate dance productions based on Egyptian and Japanese elements. In 1914 she met and married dancer Ted Shawn and they went to Los Angeles and founded the Denishawn School of Dancing (moved to New York City in 1921) and the Denishawn Dancers. They toured widely, continued to choreograph independently, and trained many of the leading figures in modern American dance. By 1932 they were separated (although they never divorced). By this time she was increasingly embracing the religious element of dance, founding the Society of Spiritual Arts in 1931 and later the Church of the Divine Dance (1947), convinced that dance was a form of worship. In 1939 she published her autobiography, An Unfinished Life. From 1945 on she appeared with Ted Shawn at his Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and at special events. She continued choreographing and performing dances based on Asian and Egyptian mythology until the mid-1960s, often performing in churches to express her idea of the spiritual nature of her work.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.