About Edwin Myers "Ted" Shawn
Ted Shawn (21 October 1891 — 9 January 1972), originally Edwin Myers Shawn, was one of the first notable male pioneers of American modern dance. Along with creating Denishawn with former wife Ruth St. Denis he is also responsible for the creation of the well known all-male company Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers. With his innovative ideas of masculine movement he is one of the most influential choreographers and dancers of his day. He is also the founder and creator of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts.
Ted Shawn and the creation of Denishawn
Ted Shawn was born in Kansas City, Missouri on October 21, 1891. Originally intending to become a minister of religion, he attended the University of Denver. There he caught diphtheria, which led him to take up dance in 1910 to regain his muscle strength. Shawn's dancing was discouraged by the University, which still had a Methodist affiliation, and was the cause of his expulsion the following year.
Shawn did not realize his true potential as an artist until marrying Ruth St. Denis in 1914. St. Denis served not only as partner but an extremely valuable creative outlet to Shawn. Soon after their marriage the couple opened the first Denishawn School in Los Angeles, California, where they were able to choreograph and stage many of their famous vaudeville pieces. A very famous piece of advice that Shawn used to give to his dancers was "When in doubt, twirl."
The following year Shawn launched a cross-country tour with his dance partner, Norma Gould, and their Interpretive Dancers. Notable performances choreographed by him during Denishawn’s 17-year run include Julnar of the Sea, Xochitl and Les Mysteres Dionysiaques. The school and company went on to produce such influential dancers as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman.
Technique and Style
Together, Shawn and Ruth St. Denis established the principle of Music Visualization in modern dance —- a concept that called for movement equivalents to the timbres, dynamics, and structural shapes of music in addition to its rhythmic base.
Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers
Although Denishawn came to an end in 1929 because of tough circumstances both in Shawn’s and St. Denis’ marriage as well as the economy, Shawn’s second dance group, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers, were soon to follow in his dancing career. The new all-male company was based on a woodland farm near Lee, Massachusetts. In creating this company Shawn was hoping to make American audiences realize the importance and dedication of the male dancer along with his role in the arts. It was with this new company that Shawn produced some of his most controversial and highly skilled choreography to date. With works such as Ponca Indian Dance, Sinhalese Devil Dance, Maori War Haka, Hopi Indian Eagle Dance, and Dyak Spear Dances he was able to showcase performances that all stressed masculine body movement. His love for the relationships created by the men in his dances soon translated into love between himself and one of his company members, Barton Mumaw, which lasted from 1931 to 1948. Later, he formed another partnership with John Christian, with whom he stayed from 1949 until his death in 1972.
Creation of Jacob’s Pillow
With this new company came the creation of Jacob's Pillow, a dance school, retreat, and theater. Shawn and his men used this space as a place to hold teas as well as a place to perform. These teas soon transformed into the festival that is so widely known to this day, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Shawn also used this new space to develop his choreography and teach. Jacob’s Pillow has since become one of the largest and most respected dance festivals, with performances and guests from some of the most prominent companies in the world. Having a place where anybody could come and show their work without restrictions or bias is something that Shawn fought for and gladly wanted to share with others. The creation of Jacob’s Pillow has allowed this to happen. Along with Jacob's Pillow came the opening of The School of Dance for Men which is when he met his accomplishment of having male dancing making its way into colleges nationwide. Being able to have his work and stylized male choreography be respected so much to where it was then introduced to universities was a huge step for Shawn. Shawn made his last appearance on stage in the Ted Shawn Theater at Jacob’s Pillow in his performance of Siddhas of the Upper Air where he reunited with St. Denis. Shawn and St. Denis danced on their 50th anniversary at the Casino in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Saratoga Springs is now the home of the National Museum of Dance, the world's only museum dedicated to professional dance. Shawn was inducted into the museum's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 1987. Shawn was still teaching classes at Jacob’s Pillow just months before his death at the age of 80.
The following quote is attributed to Ted Shawn: "I believe that dance communicates man’s deepest, highest and most truly spiritual thoughts and emotions far better than words, spoken or written."
In 1965 he was a Heritage Award recipient of the National Dance Association.