As time marches on, the figureheads of the 20th century dance fall from our reach. But a surprising number of dance devotees in Los Angeles had contact, however minimally, with the great modern-dance pioneer, Ruth St. Denis. Forever known as “Miss Ruth,” she spent her final decades in our city.
First up is Albert Reid, who danced in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and who was a stalwart teacher of Cunningham technique at the Westbeth studio. Albert was a good choreographer as well. He now resides in Santa Barbara.
In very early days, when I was still in college and studying during breaks at the Lester Horton school on Melrose, a young East Indian woman in my class at the school asked me to perform in some awful orientalia-type dance which took place at a marble crematorium vault at Forest Lawn.
We rehearsed at what turned out to be Miss Ruth’s studio in Hollywood, and while I was waiting to rehearse one day, in walked Miss Ruth, who began to move a large plaster Buddha statue.
I immediately went over to help her, which she allowed, but she paid absolutely no attention to me in any way, not even to say thank you.
Another Californian to encounter Miss Ruth in her dotage was Julie McDonald, a former dancer-turned-dance agent who founded McDonald Selznick Associates.
I met her. She lived in the back of Valentina Oumansky’s Dramatic Dance Ensemble which was also located on the Cahuenga Pass. I was in Valentina’s company and we practically lived there, taking class and rehearsing till our feet bled. One day Miss Ruth came into the studio to watch us rehearse. She seemed 6ft tall, wearing all black, and with her snow white hair she was an imposing figure. I was so young and she was so old…I was in awe!