Dr Usui Mikao

Woman Loving
Sharry Underwood Boston, MA
Fall 1950

Introduction

“The cup contains; the fountain overflows,” wrote William Blake.

Dancers are fountains. It is not enough to know something; we have to dance it out body, mind and soul. So it is exciting to know how these flowing spirits from two strong women dancers changed the art of Dance in America. In 1910, the great Russian Ballerina Anna Pavlova brought Ballet to America as the American Isadora Duncan brought her free-spirited dance across America to Europe.

Dance as an art form took decades to evolve in American theaters. It grew primarily from individual dancers’ strong dissatisfaction with the status quo. Desire for change grew stronger after World War I. Rejecting dance as spectacle or entertainment, a nucleus of dancers determined to dance about aspects of their own lives. The 20s and 30s were years of ferment and experimentation in dance as a voice for humanity. Dancer Agnes de Mille brought the influence of Modern Dance to Broadway. Modern Dance slowly became an art on the concert stage. By the 1940s, American Modern Dance was being introduced into college athletic programs.

During this time, however, only the sensational stars in movies or vaudeville received a patronizing respect. Otherwise it was immoral to be a dancer. Nevertheless, American girls and boys began to run away to be dancers. I was one of them.

Halfway through the 20th century, I danced with the earliest icons of American Dance: Ted Shawn, Ruth St. Denis, Anna Duncan, La Meri, Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey, Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, Elizabeth Waters, Alwin Nikolais, Agnes de Mille, Michael Kidd and others. The riches in originality in dance technique and philosophy these artists shared with their dancers and their audiences provided the roots for the development of our own American Theatre Dance.

It has taken half a century but there are now ballroom, swing, jitterbug, break dance, hip hop, belly dancing, East Indian and American Indian dance, African, Irish, square and round dancing, contra dancing, disco, and any form of ethnic dance. And lately there is spontaneous “flash” dancing as one person just starts to dance, people nearby join in and, in minutes, whole streets are full of people joyfully dancing away.

If you have a heartbeat, you have rhythm. You’ve got rhythm? You can dance. But what if you are forbidden to be a dancer. Then what?