Dance History

#TBT: Charles Weidman Had Some Thoughts on Why People Find Modern Dance "Dismal"

Charles Weidman. Photo courtesy DM Archives

In the September 1964 issue of Dance Magazine, we spoke to choreographer Charles Weidman, who was in the midst of touring his witty, sensitive repertoire across the country. A deft hand with subjects both comic and serious, the then-63-year-old had a savvy sense for programming.


"I don't mean to say that we should present nothing but the fluff some ballet companies present," he told us. "Yet it seems to me that we moderns have a tendency to want to solve all the world's problems in every dance. No wonder some people say modern dance is dismal. We're always revolting against something or other—which, I suppose, may be to the good. But we should realize that each audience differs in its level of maturity, and plan programs accordingly. So few of us do, though. We enjoy being solemn."

Two dancers are clothed in identical dark, tight-fitting, long-sleeved unitards. The woman balances on one leg, her arms curving over her raised knee, and looks over her shoulder with an expression of alarm at the man. He returns her look with raised eyebrows as he stretches a pale, thin length of fabric that is wrapped around his throat with both hands. In the background, a large set piece that looks like an oversized wishbone is propped against a wall. Pauline Koner and Charles Weidman in her Amorous Adventure (1951) Robert L. Perry, Courtesy DM Archives

Alongside fellow Denishawn alum Doris Humphrey, with whom he had a joint company for nearly two decades, and Martha Graham, Weidman was considered one of the most influential modern dancemakers of his generation, encouraging his dancers to become choreographers and training the likes of José Limón and Bob Fosse.

Health & Body
Getty Images

Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.

"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."

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Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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The Creative Process
Rehearsal of Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets. Photo by Paula Court, Courtesy Performa.

Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.

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Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

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