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Denishawn Dance Collection

Identifier: MS Group 035

Scope and Content

The Denishawn Collection consists of correspondence, photographs, programs, posters, monographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, etc., pertaining to the professional and private lives of modern dance pioneers Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn and associates (c. 1900 until Ruth St. Denis' death in 1964 and Ted Shawn's death in 1972). Promotional material for the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Lee Massachusetts is also included, beginning with the founding of the property as a dance mecca by Ted Shawn in 1933 through the present day. Miscellaneous ephemera pertaining to the professional and private lives of Ted Shawn's professional/domestic partners Barton Mumaw and John Christian has also been included in this collection. Photographs, correspondence and biographical material pertaining to the professional life of dancer/photographer/educator/Denishawn asociate Dwight Godwin have also been compiled.


  • Creation: Circa 1900-2013
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1900-1972



The entire collection is open for research, but researchers should speak with the curator, Jim Liversidge, prior to requesting materials.

Biographical/Historical Note

At the turn of the 20th Century, Ruth St. Denis (January 20, 1879 - July 21, 1968) was a popular vaudeville performer and veteran of several David Belasco theatrical productions. In 1910, in need of a male dance partner for her act, St. Denis auditioned an admiring Ted Shawn (October 21, 1891 - January 9, 1972) and modern dance history was positioned to be made. The couple married in 1914 and, in 1915, founded Denishawn, a dance school and performing company in Los Angeles. In its day, Denishawn was synonymous with dance in America; Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Jose Limon were just a few of the dancers who began their careers with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. During the twenties, the two dancers and the Denishawn company appeared in the famed Ziegfeld Follies, both on Broadway and on national tours. From August 1925 to November 1926, the company embarked on a triumphant tour of Asia.

Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis separated in 1931 and the official Denishawn company disbanded. St. Denis pursued spiritual and Asian influences in her performances and teaching, while Shawn, anxious to build up the role of the male dancer and to remove some of the stereotypical stigma attached to men in dance, founded the all-male "Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers" troupe ("Dance with a New Look"), performing works based on the classics and sports events (including "Olympiad" - a program executed in both normal and slow motion). Shawn's dancers were often recruited from high school or college athletic teams, and the company was a great success, appearing on stages from 1933 to 1940.

After pursuing separate careers for some ten years, Shawn and St. Denis were reunited, with much hoopla, in 1941 at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Lee, Massachusetts, summer home of "Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers." The couple performed several works together, and "Miss Ruth," as she was widely known in the dance world, revived her 1906 signature piece, "Radha."

For the remainder of his career, Ted Shawn ("America's Greatest Contemporary Dancer"), continued to manage the summer dance festivals and The University of the Dance at Jacob's Pillow and travelled to the Jacob's Pillow winter home in Eustis, Florida, where he built a full-fledged dance studio. From 1931 to 1948, Shawn often danced, in concert, with his professional and domestic partner, Barton Mumaw (most famous for his Broadway role in "Annie Get Your Gun"). John Christian (Executive Director of the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival) was also Ted Shawn's domestic and business partner in later years. "Miss Ruth" ("The First Lady of the Dance") spent the last decade of her life promoting the restoration of dance in its original position as a vital ingredient in religious ritual.

Although the couple was separated, they never divorced and were business associates promoting the glory of the dance, without restrictions, through education and the lasting legacy of the Jacob's Pilow Dance Festival.


12.5 Linear feet (25 Boxes)

Language of Materials



Collection of letters, photographs, programs, posters, monographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, etc. pertaining to the professional and private lives of modern dance pioneers Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn and associates.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

Acquired through purchase and donations beginning in the mid 1970s. Most of the ephemera came from Ted Shawn's Eustis (Florida) dance studio (Jacob's Pillow winter home).

Related Material

Ephemera pertaining to performers associated with Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Denishawn, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers, The University of the Dance, and The Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival may also be found in the general DANCE COLLECTION in THE BELKNAP COLLECTION FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS (a collecting area of the POPULAR CULTURE COLLECTIONS in the UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF SPECIAL AND AREA STUDIES COLLECTIONS).

Processing Notes

The collection was processed in 2012 by Elisabeth "Betty" Keeman, a University of Florida Theatre and Dance student who volunteered under the supervision of Jim Liversidge.

Denishawn denotes the dance performance and business partnership of Ruth St.Denis and Ted Shawn from 1915 to 1930. However, the entire collection has been titled THE DENISHAWN DANCE COLLECTION since both subjects, appreciating their legacy, worked as business associates, for the remainder of their lives, and often interacted as a married couple and a legendary dance team promoting dance through education and performance.

A Guide to the Denishawn Dance Collection
Finding aid created by Elisabeth "Betty" Keeman and Jim Liversidge
August 2014
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America