Revolutionizing Dance History Research in NYC

Over the past several months, two other undergraduates, Emily Liptow and Christine Ghinder, and I have been working on a project for OSU Department of Dance professor Dr. Harmony Bench. The project is to create an interactive database for scholars to more easily access data pertaining to early twentieth century dance artists, such as Ted Shawn, Ruth St. Denis, and Diagheliev’s Ballet Russe, specifically surrounding their touring and program information. Before last week when we travelled to the New York Public Library’s Jerome Robbins Dance Division in New York City, my work consisted mainly of transcribing tour chronicles by Christina Schlundt and Lynn Garafola along with pictures of programs from digital collections and an earlier trip by Dr. Bench to the NYPL into Excel spreadsheets. The goal of the trip to the NYPL was then to find the physical programs and materials to help fill gaps, clarify questions, document new relevant items, and confirm existing information.

Picture spread from a promotional pamphlet from the New York Public Library Jerome Robbins Special Collection

My focus was on Ted Shawn, and later Helen Tamiris, who have been the two artists I have spent the most time with this year. I had my first experiences, sometimes battles, with microfilm, microphotographs of documents on a length of film, which could only be viewed on a variety of outdated, rudimentary machines. I’d like to say I grew to like them, but I would be lying. Shawn and Tamiris both had 50-75ft long microfilms in their collections to work through, meaning I spent many consecutive hours scrolling through newspaper clippings, photographs, and thankfully, programs. Below you can see a program from microfilm. Pictures of this screen did not turn out well, but there were other microfilm machines more conducive to image capturing.

Program photographed from microfilm from New York Public LIbrary Jerome Robbins Collection

Half of the fun of working in the library was figuring out how to turn up new materials that might have something relevant. As any researcher knows, using good search terms and successfully navigating the online catalog is an art in itself. It was exciting to come across a program marking a performance not yet recorded or an unexpected collaboration or connection. When materials were not pertinent, however, there were often interesting pictures, notes, or advertisements about the artist or other artists from that era, like Trudi Schoop and her Comic Ballet. Who is she and what did her ballet look like? I can begin to have an idea from the advertisement that features her.

Trudi Schoop and her Comic Ballet

The larger purpose of the project became clearer from our trip, mainly from further articulation by the ever eloquent Harmony Bench. Emily, Christine, and I have all ran into difficulties explaining what it is we do to our friends and families.

We can now tell them that we are about to revolutionize the dance history field.

But really, the potential use of a database containing this sort of information could really effect how dance research is conducted, at the very least by increasing access so that non-experts can do original research. Dance being an ephemeral form, effective documentation has long been a difficult issue. Video capture works now, but how do we save those sorts of important bits of information about works from the first half of the 20th century and earlier? Program and touring information capture important information by presenting real places, people, dates, and works that can be traced and verified. Easy access to these bits of information can allow scholars to draw connections between artists, perhaps from a shared time spent in a place or a shared collaborator. That opens the possibilities for tracing the influence or effect of those potential overlaps.


To better make the information accessible, we have also been working with how best to make it interactive through various data visualization software, like Google Maps and Tableau. These interactive tools enable pedagogical possibilities for dance educators we are considering as well. You can interact with this Tableau Public map here.


This trip presented a great opportunity to experience dance research with the tangible materials that underlie larger dance history conversations. Each program, photo, and announcement builds a much larger narrative surrounding a subject that can then be connected to so many other ideas! The possibilites are innumerable. I’m so pleased I got to do this kind of research as an undergraduate student. It was a great preparation for the myriad of materials I will be engaging with at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival as an Archive intern this summer. In addition to working, just getting to spend time with Emily, Christine, and Harmony was a nice change. It is fortunate that we all get along and work well together. Here is a last picture of Emily and Christine at our usual spots in the reading room, with some materials poised for inspection:

Senior Project Happenings

The most clear parts of my senior project thus far, as of the end of fall semester.

These sections may or may not be connected. They may or may not stay in the piece. The dance lives in a world of perpetual unknowing (as most art does for a long time/forever), but that is fine and I like it that way right now.

The ‘final’ product will be drastically different from this I am sure, but will be performed in the OSU Department of Dance Spring Concert, March 26-28, 2015.

Check it out!


The guest artist this semester hails from Denmark, so it may be surprising that our teacher Tine Salling is introducing us to a few hip hop forms, specifically locking, popping, and house dance. This video is the result of an assignment to video ourselves locking around campus with the few weeks of experience we have with the dance style. Check out our wacky play around campus, it is definitely cheesy:

Proyecto Nuevo 2 by Estafania Dondi

Just got back from Costa Rica and am so pleased I found this video of a dance performed by Estafania Dondi that I saw on one of my last days in the country. It had me in tears, which seems notable. It was a combination of the music, her expressivity, utter embodiedness, and fluid, strong physicality that just took me somewhere. Thinking about it makes me want to cry again. This video gives a small sense of what it was like.

Intermedia and In Process additions

Just bringing attention to some updates,I have just added a section in the blog for my Intermedia Performance class including an essay on integration and reflections on the ‘final’ project. All of those will be under ‘Intermedia’ in the menu. I will also be continuing the research I began in the ‘In Process’ section for my Special Comp.Topics class that will feed into my final project. That section should be expanded by mid-December. Thanks for reading!