Limón, José (Arcadio) 1908-1972

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LIMÓN, José (Arcadio) 1908-1972

PERSONAL: Born January 12, 1908, in Mexico; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1946; died December 2, 1972, in Flemington, NJ; son of Florencio Limón (a military band leader) and Francisca Traslaviña; married Pauline Lawrence (a dancer, company manager, and costume designer), October 13, 1941. Education: Studied painting at University of California, Los Angeles, and Art Students League; studied dance at Humphrey-Weidman School, 1929-40; attended summer programs at Bennington School of Dance and Mills College. Religion: Catholic.

CAREER: Dancer, choreographer, and educator. Humphrey-Weidman Company, New York, NY, dancer, 1930-40; José Limón Dance Company, founder, 1946, artistic director, 1958-72; Juilliard School of Music, faculty member, 1953-72; American Dance Festival at Connecticut College, faculty member, summers 1948-72; American Dance Theatre at Lincoln Center, artistic director, 1964-65. Also formed The Little Group with Ernestine Henoch and Eleanor King, 1930; performances on Broadway included Lysistrata (1930), Americana (1932), and As Thousands Cheered (1933); choreographed Jerome Kern's Roberta, 1933; created touring company with May O'Donnell and Ray Green, 1940; guest choreographer, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, 1951. Military service: U.S. Armed Forces, 1943, member of the Special Services.

AWARDS, HONORS: Bennington College, choreography fellow, 1937; Dance awards, 1950, 1957; Capezio Award, 1964; National Endowment for the Arts grants, beginning 1966; Samuel S. Scripps Award from American Dance Festival, 1989; inducted into National Museum of Dance Hall of Fame, 1997; several honorary doctorate degrees.


Limón: A Catalogue of Dances, Limón Institute, c. 1994.

José Limón: An Unfinished Memoir, edited by Lynn Garafola, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1998.

Contributor of articles to journals, including Juilliard Review, Impulse, Dance Observer, and Dance Scope.

SIDELIGHTS: José Limón was a passionate advocate of modern dance. As a dancer and choreographer, he strengthened the role of male dancers and developed a bold, masculine style of movement. Following a long affiliation with the Humphrey-Weidman Company, he went on to create the José Limón Company in 1946. He most often made dances based on literary and biblical stories, but also used cultural themes from his native country of Mexico. Limón taught dance at several schools and was a faculty member at the Juilliard School of Music. His influence continues to be felt in the Limón Dance Company, which became the first organization of its kind to survive its founder. When he died in 1972, Limón left an autobiographical manuscript that discussed his childhood and the first part of his career. More than twenty-five years later, it was published as José Limón: An Unfinished Memoir.

Born in Culiacán, Mexico, Limón came to the United States when his family escaped the dangers of the Mexican Revolution by moving to Tucson, Arizona. At age eighteen he was devastated by the death of his mother in childbirth, a tragedy he blamed on his father and the Catholic Church. He started studying painting at University of California, Los Angeles and at the Art Students League in New York City, but was unsatisfied with this experience. By chance he attended a modern dance program by German Expressionists Harald Kreutzberg and Yvonne Georgi that immediately convinced him that dancing was his calling. He enrolled at the Humphrey-Weidman School and, after fairly little training, became a member of the company and was performing on Broadway. Limón also began doing his own choreographic work for duets and small groups.

Limón broke away from the Humphrey-Weidman Company because of personal conflicts, but he later returned to New York to collaborate with Doris Humphrey. She became the artistic director of the company he formed in 1946, a role that he took over after her death in 1958. Among his most famous works are The Moor's Pavane (1949), based on the story of Othello, There is a Time (1956), and Missa Brevis (1957). Limón created several dances for all-male ensembles that danced bare chested. Toward the end of his career, he experimented with pieces incorporating silence.

In his unfinished memoir, Limón shows himself to be a skilled, careful writer. Editor Lynn Garafola turned the document into a book that sheds light on his early family life and career prior to 1942. Critics were eager to discover what insights would be found in his detailed descriptions of the premieres of his most prominent contemporaries as well as of his own performances. In Library Journal, Carolyn M. Mulac said the book is comprised of "elegant, often formal prose" and provides a "serious consideration" of the early days of modern dance. Mulac explained that the limited scope of Limón's commentary is augmented by an introduction by Deborah Jowitt and remarks by Norton Owen and Carla Maxwell. She deemed it a "fascinating look at a legendary performer." A Publishers Weekly writer noted that there are indeed "significant gaps in his writing," including only the barest mention of Limón's wife. The writer suggested that the stories, including those about Martha Graham, would be appreciated by "dance aficionados."



Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.

International Dictionary of Modern Dance, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.


Library Journal, March 15, 1999, Carolyn M. Mulac, review of José Limón: An Unfinished Memoir, p. 82.

Publishers Weekly, January 11, 1999, review of José Limón: An Unfinished Memoir, p. 62.*