Edna Guy: her race kept her from dancing with Denishawn


Three years after Tamiris premiered her first Negro Spirituals, Edna Guy and Hemsley Winfield collaborated to stage the First Negro Dance Recital in America on 29 April 1931. With tickets priced from one to four dollars, spectators at the Theatre in the Clouds, an intimate space located on the top floor of the Chanin Building at Forty Second Street and Lexington Avenue, as a “programme of modern, primitive dances.” … Whether she had seen Tamiris’ Negro Spirituals is unknown, though she probably had heard or read about Tamiris’s solos, which had received more than a dozen performances in New York before Guy premiered her dances at the Theatre in the Clouds. If it is plausible that Guy was influenced by Tamiris’s danced spirituals, it is equally plausible that Tamiris borrowed Africanist movement qualities in creating her danced spirituals.

Guy had studied at Denishawn School and had performed in a few student recitals there in the mid-1920s. She also toured with the company in the late 1920s as a personal assistant (essentially a glorified maid) to Ruth St. Denis. But her color kept her from joining the company, and it was her frustration with this situation, and her disillusionment with St. Denis, who had acquiesced to Jim Crow laws during the company’s tour of the South, that finally led her to break with Denishawn. In contrast to Graham, Horst, Humphrey and Weidman, who left Denishawn out of frustration with the company’s artistic vision, Guy left Denishawn out of frustration with her exclusion from the company’s artistic vision.

excerpted from: Modern Dance, Negro Dance: Race in Motion
author, Susan Manning (University of Minnesota Press, 2006)

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