Treasures of Dance History on the Internet & Beyond

September 4, 2013

I avoided Facebook for a long time, but now I love finding little gems of the glorious past in my Facebook feed. A few dedicated people hunt endlessly for photos and videos that illuminate dance history—and the rest of us benefit.


A mysterious person with the name Tamara Toumanova Tumanishvili posts photos and videos from Danilova and Balanchine to Merce Cunningham and John Cage (it being the latter’s birthday today). You’ll also see rarely seen photos of Gene Kelly, Alicia Alonso, Freddie Franklin, and on and on. A dance lover’s dream.


Pavlova with her dog, posted by Tamara in May 2011


Her inspiration, as you might guess from her Facebook name, is the famous Balanchine ballerina Tamara Toumanova (1919–1996). A tall, dark-haired beauty, she appeared in Hollywood movies in addition to being a star with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.


Turns out, the person finding these treasures is a distant relative of the real Toumanova—and she is only 14 years old! She posts from Tblisi, Republic of Georgia—home of the Balanchivadeze family as well as the Toumanov family. In an article in The New York Times last year, Toni Bentley has unveiled who this girl is.


Nureyev with his dog, posted around the same time


Her real name is Tamara G. Pkhakadze, the first name taken from Toumanova, and her middle initial from George Balanchine. She certainly honors her namesakes and keeps them both alive via the internet. Since I expressed curiosity about where she excavates all these historical treasures, she told me in a message that they are all in the public domain. She herself in a musician, not a dancer. But she knows a whole lot about dance, seemingly instinctively. For techno help, she relies on her father, who is a painter.


Tamara is the most active and consistent poster of  this type, but others have also uploaded valuable relics from a glamorous past. Christian Holder, the wonderful dancer of the early Joffrey days who has taught at Steps, posts delicious photos relating to Robbins, Graham, and Joffrey, from London. The dance historian Andrew Mark Wentink, newly retired from Middlebury, finds videos and photos of New York City Ballet’s 1960s glory days. (His recent “Patricia McBride’s Birthday Album” was fun). Heather Watts also posts tons of photos of the days when she danced with Peter Martins and Jock Soto at NYCB. And for a look at vintage Hollywood dance, Debra Levine posts on artsmeme and also on Facebook. Be sure to check out Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive, where you can look up archival videos by artist, genre, or era. (More on that bountiful resource here.)


Chita Rivera on the cover of the November 1957 issue of Dance Magazine,
right after the opening of
West Side Story on Broadway, posted recently by Christian Holder.


At Dance Magazine, we have our own ways of honoring the past. Every Friday our style guru, Khara Hanlon, posts an image taken from our vast photo archives on Dance Magazine’s website as well as our Facebook page. And in print (remember that?), our associate editor Jenny Dalzell combs through many old issues to select a juicy photo and quote for “From the Vault,” which you will find in the back pages of every issue.


If you’ve come across other visual resources of dance heritage, please let me know, at [email protected].