Cohen, Selma Jeanne 1920–2005

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Cohen, Selma Jeanne 1920–2005

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born September 18, 1920, in Chicago, IL; died of complications from Alzheimer's disease, December 23, 2005, in New York, NY. Educator and author. Cohen was a pioneer scholar in the field of dance history. An English literature academician initially, she studied at the University of Chicago, where she did her undergraduate and graduate work and completed a Ph.D. in 1946. She taught English at her alma mater while going to school, then was an instructor at the University of California at Los Angeles for two years. Cohen's interest in dance began in the 1940s, when one of her friends began taking ballet classes. Cohen, however, found she was not adept at this, but she was still interested in the discipline. She began studying dance history and worked for choreographer Eugene Loring while in Los Angeles. In 1953, she moved to New York City to become a dance history teacher at the School of Performing Arts, and during this same period she also wrote dance criticism for the New York Times. In the 1950s, dance criticism was not taken seriously by many of those in the art community, but Cohen felt this was a mistake that needed rectifying. She set out to make dance history a respected discipline through her teaching and writings. After working for the New York Public Library for two years, Cohen joined the School of Dance at Connecticut College from 1963 to 1969, and during the late 1960s and mid 1970s she also was a professor in the theater program at New York University. From 1976 to 1977, she would also teach at such institutions as Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, and Smith College. Her work outside the classroom was just as important. Cohen organized a critics' conference in 1970 at the American Dance Festival, and was noted for her books on dance, especially for editing the authoritative International Encyclopedia of Dance (1998). Other publications by Cohen include Stravinsky and the Dance (1962), Dance as a Theatre Art: Source Readings in Dance History (1974), and Next Week, Swan Lake: Reflections on Dance and Dances (1982). Among the honors she received for her work were a professional achievement award from the University of Chicago in 1974 and an award from Dance magazine in 1981.



Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2006, p. B9.

New York Times, December 26, 2005, p. A25.