Beautiful Vintage Photos of Ruth St. Denis – Pioneer of Modern Dance

Ruth Saint Denis (January 1879 – 1968) was a modern dance pioneer, introducing eastern ideas into the art.

While touring in Belasco’s production of Madame Du Barry in 1904 her life was changed. She was at a drugstore with another member of Belasco’s company in Buffalo, New York, when she saw a poster advertising Egyptian Deities cigarettes. The poster portrayed the Egyptian goddess Isis enthroned in a temple; this image captivated St. Denis on the spot and inspired her to create dances that expressed the mysticism that the goddess’s image conveyed. From then on, St. Denis was immersed in Oriental philosophies.

Like Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan before her, St. Denis felt that Europe might have more to offer her. She left with her mother for London in 1906, and traveled the continent performing her “translations” until 1909, when she returned to give a series of well-received concerts in New York City and on tour in the United States. During the next five years she continued to tour, building her reputation as an exotic dancer with an artistic bent, a “classic dancer” in the same catagory as Isadora Duncan. These two artists were, however, inherently different in their approach to the solo dance. According to St. Denis’ biographer Suzanne Shelton, Duncan sought “the Self in the Universe,” and St. Denis sought “the Universe in the Self.” For St. Denis, the exotic worlds she intended to interpret could be seen from the vantage point of her body. One of her quotes reads as follows:

I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find for words.

After 1911, the vogue for solo dancers on the professional stage died down. To support herself, St. Denis often gave private lessons to society women, including Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. In 1938 St. Denis founded Adelphi University’s dance program, one of the first dance departments in an American university. It has since become a cornerstone of Adelphi’s Department of Performing Arts.

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Ruth St. Denis

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Ruth St. Denis

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Ruth St. Denis

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Ruth St. Denis

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Ruth St. Denis

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Ruth St. Denis

Ruth St Denis in the ‘East Indian Nautch Dance’ (1932)

Ruth St Denis is seen here performing the Indian Noche (1932) one of her most famous pieces.

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