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“No longer does the body stand there so dumb and inadequate”: Dance Therapy and the Performative Body, from Weimar Body Culture to the New York Cultural Front

November 4, 2019 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Black and White cropped image from a newspaper showing a woman in a leotard doing various stretching exercises with the aid of a ballet bar
Newspaper Article from “Sunday News,” June 22, 1952. Pg 72. Archive Credit: Clipping, Liljan Espenak papers, (S) *MGZMD 331. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library.

Monday Seminar:

Andrea Harris

Resident Fellow (2019-2020)

Dance, UW-Madison


Dance therapy, or the psychotherapeutic use of dance, is typically said to have begun in the US in the mid-1940s, part of the rapid expansion of the field of psychology during WWII. In this talk, I begin reconstructing a longer history of the idea of the therapeutic value of dance, as it emerged in the Germanic body culture movements of the early twentieth century, and migrated, through transnational exchanges of dancers’ bodies and training practices, to New York. There, the social, political, and artistic conditions of the 1930s danceworld set the terms by which the belief that bodily performance could alter the self, already understood by these dancers, evolved into the nascent new profession of dance therapy. Ultimately, I hope to claim a place for dance therapy, currently segregated from the history of dance, in a larger cultural history of early twentieth-century modernism, in which the effort to cope with the precariousness of life in the modern world was always at the forefront.


Andrea Harris is an Associate Professor in Dance at UW-Madison. She is the author of Making Ballet American: Modernism Before and Beyond Balanchine (Oxford University Press, 2017), named a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title in 2018. Her research appears in Dance Chronicle, Discourses in Dance, The Journal of American Drama and Theatre, Performing Arts Resources, and several anthologies. In 2016, she was awarded the Honorable Mention for the Gertrude Lippincott Award, given by the Society of Dance History Scholars for the best English-language article on dance. Andrea is a Certified Laban Movement Analyst, and, in her former life as a professional dancer, performed with companies including Li Chiao-Ping Dance and the Martha Graham Dance Company.


November 4, 2019
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States