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Women in Dance History


March is Women’s History Month – and we love taking the opportunity each year to lift up and showcase the female dancers who inspire us, from the past and today. From ballet and modern to jazz, tap, musical theater, and more, women have played pivotal roles in breaking barriers and creating dance culture.


While we could never lift up every extraordinary woman in one month, we’re excited to share some of our favorite dancers as a starting point to learn even more about the contribution of women in dance. 


Read on to learn a little more about how women have made a difference in dance throughout history:


Modern Dance Movement:

Isadora Duncan

In the early 20th century, women played a pivotal role in the emergence of modern dance. Isadora Duncan and Doris Humphrey rejected the rigid structures of classical ballet, introducing a more liberated and expressive form of movement. These pioneers explored themes of individualism, emotion, and storytelling, laying the foundation for a new era in dance.


Ballet Russes and Early 20th-Century Innovations:

Women, both as dancers and choreographers, were integral to the Ballet Russes, a groundbreaking ballet company. Figures like Bronislava Nijinska and Tamara Karsavina contributed significantly to the company's innovative approach, challenging traditional ballet norms and introducing novel concepts in choreography.


Formation of Modern Dance Companies:

Women have played key roles in the establishment and leadership of influential modern dance companies. Martha Graham, as the founder of the Martha Graham Dance Company and Kate Weare, Kate Weare Company, helped shape the direction of modern dance, influencing generations of dancers or creating new works.


Cultural Fusion and Diversity Advocacy:

Choreographers like Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar have contributed to dance by blending styles and advocating for cultural diversity. They used dance as a means of expressing cultural identity, bridging gaps between different communities, and bringing attention to the richness of various dance traditions.


Yvonne Rainer

Postmodern Dance and Experimental Movements:

In the mid-20th century, women were at the forefront of the postmodern dance movement. Figures like Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown rejected narrative and virtuosity, focusing on everyday movements and challenging traditional performance conventions. Their experimentation expanded the definition of dance and influenced subsequent avant-garde movements.


Leadership Roles and Advocacy:

Women have assumed leadership positions in dance companies, educational institutions, and advocacy organizations. Leaders like Judith Jamison and Twyla Tharp have not only crafted compelling choreography but have also contributed to the broader direction and diversity of the dance world.



There's no denying that without women, dance would not be as rich or vibrant. Keep your eyes on this space as we highlight individual women throughout the month on social media and in our blog!

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