Ted Shawn

(21st October 1891 – 9th January 1972)


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Edwin Myers Shawn was born in Missouri, USA and grew up in Denver. While studying to become a minister, Shawn suffered a bout of diphtheria at the age of 19, leaving him temporarily paralyzed. On the advice of his physician, he took up dance as a form of physical therapy. Dancing cured Shawn’s paralysis and left him with a passion that would guide and direct him for the rest of his life.
Although Shawn’s first dance experience was with a Metropolitan Opera ballerina and he achieved some success as part of an exhibition ballroom team, it was meeting Ruth St. Denis in 1914 that would set his artistic life in motion. They were married that same year.During the next 15 years, the activities of their Denishawn Company and School changed the course of dance history; most of today’s modern dancers trace their ancestry to Denishawn. It was Shawn who first recognized Martha Graham’s potential and he was instrumental in shaping the early careers of Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey and Jack Cole. While St. Denis provided most of the creative sparks (“I can inspire like Hell” was her own assessment of her talents), Shawn had the business sense to make Denishawn a coast-to-coast success.Shawn and St. Denis separated in 1930 and this also brought about the dissolution of the Denishawn Company. With the purchase that same year of a rundown farm in the Berkshires known as Jacob’s Pillow, Shawn laid the groundwork both for his revolutionary company of men dancers and America’s oldest dance festival. In March 1933, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers gave their first, historic, all-male performance in Boston, the company disbanded in 1940. For the final three decades of his life, Shawn became a major impresario, bringing dance to mainstream America through the theatre and school at Jacob’s Pillow. He introduced countless foreign companies to American audiences, provided opportunities for promising young artists and trained countless students in a full range of dance styles. Shawn orchestrated premieres by both the established and emerging talents of his day including Agnes de Mille, Anton Dolin, Pearl Lang, Merce Cunningham, Anna Sokolow, Alvin Ailey, and Robert Joffrey.


Ted Shawn’s Cosmic Dance of Siva