Tag Archives: Henry Street Settlement

Women’s History: April 24

24 Apr

Happy Birthday, Helen Tamiris

Happy Birthday, Helen Tamiris. Tamiris is credited as one of the founders of Modern Dance. Tamiris learned about movement and dance through a social services agency called the Henry Street Settlement. Tamiris danced with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and was strongly influenced by Isadora Duncan.  She was one of the first choreographers to use jazz and spiritual music to explore social themes via dance.  Tamiris gained a great deal of recognition for her suite of dances called Negro Spirituals which was created between 1928 and 1941 and for How Long Brethren? (1937), a dance for the Federal Dance Project of the WPA that explored the problems facing African-Americans.

What really drew me to crafting a story on Tamiris was that she played a pivotal role in establishing the Federal Dance Program, which was funded by FDR’s Works Progress Administration (WPA).  The WPA was enormously successful in creating jobs and helping the United Sates emerge from the Great Depression.  I long for leaders like FDR today.  I used to think Obama had that spark of a progressive leader, but his consistent acquiescence to Republican conservatives while chastising, what I believe to be, his progressive base proves otherwise. I can not even imagine our government sponsoring a program for dance, nor for any jobs in the arts.  Of course, if they did those jobs would then be subject to the approval of the church–so much for separation of church and state.  I think was saddens me most is that without social services and the WPA, we may never have had Helen Tamiris and thus, Modern Dance. Click here to learn more about Helen Tamiris.

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