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Fierce poise

October 8, 2009
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How do you pose for photos? Unless caught off guard I generally have a a tendency to look suspicious and ever so slightly grumpy. If only I could pose with the easy confidence of Ruth St Denis, above. What sublime poise and self-assurance!

If you haven’t met Ruth before, or even heard her name (as I hadn’t before I came across these pictures), you won’t be surprised to learn that she was a dancer.  In every single photograph of Ruth the dynamic tension in her pose makes me think she is just on the edge of movement, of coming alive.

(Is anyone following America’s Next Top Model? In photos Ruth generally epitomises what host Tyra Banks’ calls ‘modeling HTT’ (or Head to Toe for those not versed in Tyra-speak). Remember that Tyra has started to worry about one of the contestant’s dance training working in ‘the wrong way’ in photos? I’m sure if Tyra saw Ruth St Denis’ pictures she’d agree that Ruth was “fierce”.)

Don’t you wish you could meet Ruth- after all, she could turn a trip to Yosemite from An Event into AN EVENT:

Ruth kicked off her dancing career  as a humble “leg dancer” in the dime museums and vaudeville houses of New York in 1892. Before long she was spotted by Broadway producer/director David Belasco and toured with his company as a “featured dancer”. In 1905 she went her own way as a solo dancer, formulating her own theory of dance inspired by her interest in the dance of Egypt, India, Japan, and the philosophy of Eastern and ancient cultures.

Ruth  in “The Peacock”

Recognition in Society circles followed, with Ruth becoming perceived as more of “an artist” than simply a dancer. Eventually Ruth and her husband, Ted Shawn, founded the Denishawn dance company and school. Dance legend  Martha Graham performed with the company, and so did silver screen siren Louise Brooks. (In his biography Louise Brooks Barry Paris writes how Ruth St. Denis abruptly fired Brooks from the company by telling her in front of the other members “I am dismissing you from the company because you want life handed to you on a silver salver.” The words apparently left a strong impression on Brooks- when she drew up an outline for a planned autobiographical novel in 1949, “The Silver Salver” was the title she gave to the tenth and final chapter.)

Ruth in Greek Veil Plastique, c. 1918

Ruth St Denis also founded Adelphi University’s dance programme in 1938- one of the first dance departments in an American University, and is basically considered as one of the pioneers of contemporary or modern dance in America. (Incidentally, another university, Florida State University owns a large collection of the Denishawn company’s costumes and accessories. I bet that makes very interesting viewing indeed.)

All these images are taken from the Flickr public photostream of the Denishawn Collection in The New York Public Library. There are so many beautiful images that it took just about forever to choose a few to illustrate this post- go and enjoy them all :)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2009 11:03 am

    When I am rich and famous, I too shall swan around dressed up like a peacock…

  2. October 8, 2009 3:32 pm

    I am so glad you posted this and discovered Ruth St Denis! I absolutely love looking at pictures of her. She is gorgeous and is always wearing something I wish I owned or at least could prance around in for a good hour or make believe! And also having been a dancer i love looking at pictures of other dancers, to critique and to admire. Her comment to LuLu about a silver salver sounds like something my dance teacher would have said, or maybe did say, to me!! Wonderful post!!

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