Holm, Hanya (1888–1992)

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Holm, Hanya (1888–1992)

German-born dancer and teacher, one of the founders of the American Dance Festival, and choreographer for 13 Broadway musicals, including the celebrated Kiss Me Kate and My Fair Lady, who greatly influenced dancers and choreographers. Born Johanna Eckert in Worms-am-Rhine, Germany, on March 3, 1888 (some sources erroneously cite 1892 or 1893); died of pneumonia at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City on November 5, 1992; daughter of Valentin Eckert and Maria (Mörtschel or Moerschel) Eckert; attended Convent of the English Sisters in Mainz; studied piano at the Hoch School in Frankfurt, eurythmics with Dalcroze in Frankfurt and then in Hellerau near Dresden, and modern dance at the Mary Wigman Institute in Dresden; married Reinhold Martin Kuntze (divorced); children: one son, Klaus Holm (a noted specialist in theatrical lighting).


The New York Times Award for Trend as best dance composition of the year (1937); New York Drama Critics award for choreography for the musical-comedy Kiss Me Kate (1948); Capezio Award; honored by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies for her contributions to modern dance (1958); honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, Colorado College (1960); Samuel H. Scripps Award (1984); American Dance Festival Award (1984); Astaire Award (1987).

Joined the Mary Wigman Institute in Dresden (1921); choreographed and directed at Ommen, Netherlands, Euripides' Bacchae (summer, 1928) and Plato's Farewell to his Friends (summer 1929); choreographed L'Histoire d'un Soldat (Dresden, 1929); was associate director and co-dancer with Mary Wigman in Das Totenmal (Munich, 1930); emigrated to U.S. (1931); opened Mary Wigman School of the Dance in New York City (1932), reopened as the Hanya Holm School of the Dance (1936); choreographed the ballet Trend, New York City (December 1937), Etudes and Dance of Introduction, New York (April 1938), Dance Sonata, Dance of Work and Play and Metropolitan Daily, New York (February 1939), Tragic Exodus, New York (1939), They Too Are Exiles, New York (January 1940), The Golden Fleece, New York (March 1941), Parable and Suite of Four Dances (1943), L'Histoire d'un Soldat, Aspen Festival (August 1954), Ozark Suite in Brooklyn, New York (December 1956).

Choreographed at the annual Colorado College Summer Sessions, Colorado Springs held each August: From This Earth (1941), What So Proudly We Hail and Namesake (1942), Orestes and the Furies (1943), What Dreams May Come (1944), The Gardens of Eden (1945), Dance for Four and Windows (1946), And So Ad Infinitum (1947), Xochipili (1948), History of a Soldier, Ionization (1949), Five Old French Dances (1945), Prelude and Quiet City (1951), Kindertotenlieder, Concertino da Camera (1952), Ritual, Temperament and Behavior (1953), Prelude I and II, Presages (1954), Desert Drone, Pavane, Sousa March (1955), Preludio and Loure (1956), Chanson Triste, You Can't Go Home Again, and Ozark Suite (1957), Music for an Imaginary Ballet (1961), Figure of Predestination, Toward the Unknown Region (1963), Theatrics (1964), Spooks (August 1967).

Choreographed for Broadway musicals: (also directed) The Eccentricities of Davey Crockett (from Ballet Ballads, May 1948); (also directed) The Insect Comedy (June 1948); Kiss Me Kate in New York (December 1948) and in London (March 1951); The Liar (May 1950); Out of This World (1951); My Darlin' Aida (October 1952); The Golden Apple (March1954); Reuben, Reuben (Boston, 1955); My Fair Lady in New York (March 1955) and in London (April 1958); Where's Charley?, London (February 1958); Christine (April 1960); Camelot (December 1960); Anya (November 1965). Choreographed and directed operas The Ballad of Baby Doe, Central City, Colorado (July 1956) and Orpheus and Euridice, Vancouver, British Columbia (July 1959). Choreographed plays: E=MC2, Columbia University, New York (June 1948); Blood Wedding (February 1949). Choreographed for film The Vagabond King (1956).

Hanya Holm was born Johanna Eckert on March 3, 1888, in the historic city of Worms in the old German grand duchy of Hesse. Her father Valentin Eckert was a wine merchant; her mother Maria Mörtschel Eckert was a trained chemist, who, though she never practiced professionally, held several patents for her scientific discoveries and was working on a synthetic substitute for cork when she died in 1917. As a child, Hanya was taken to nearby Mainz where she was educated at the Convent of the English Sisters, a private Catholic school known for its progressive methods and low teacher-pupil ratio. There Holm claimed to have developed her love of learning and her appreciation of the interrelationship of all forms of knowledge. Devoted to physical education, she learned to ice skate and was taught to swim in the Rhine. By all accounts, she led a happy childhood in Mainz, where, surrounded by the remains of the past—Roman, medieval, Renaissance and Reformation—the arts intruded into her consciousness at every step. In 1904, at age 16, she began to commute to nearby Frankfurt am Main for piano lessons at the Hoch School and there occasionally took walk-on parts in the productions of the famed director Max Reinhardt, appearing in one of the earliest productions of his opus The Miracle.

Although her musical studies were successful, it became clear to Hanya that simply playing music was not enough to satisfy her artistic impulses and that her restless body demanded a more physical approach. Thus, upon her graduation from the convent school (where she subsequently taught for a time), Holm began studying at the institute of the Swiss music theoretician Emile-Jacques Dalcroze. The famous teacher insisted that music be interpreted by physical motion, and he taught his students to move in a rhythmic fashion to the music they played and heard, a technique known as eurythmics. Although she studied at Dalcroze's institute, first at Frankfurt and then at Hellerau near Dresden, Holm remained unsatisfied. In addition, she was experiencing setbacks in her private life for, by 1921, she had met, married, and divorced painter-sculptor Reinhold Martin Kuntze with whom she had a son, Klaus. Even though Holm was now 33 years old, had an infant to care for, and had, as yet, no thoughts of a dance career, she became acquainted in Dresden with the innovative work of Mary Wigman , eventually to be regarded as Germany's greatest dancer, and decided to study with her.

The period following the First World War was difficult for a Germany filled with disillusionment, clouded by defeat, and threatened by almost complete economic collapse. But it was also a period of enormous experimentation and the great age of German expressionism, a movement that sought new modes of expression in painting, theatrical presentation, cinema and dance. Born in Hanover in 1886, Mary Wigman was only two years older than Holm but had begun her career much earlier. Like Hanya, she had studied eurythmics with Dalcroze but had then gone on to study with Rudulf von Laban, inventor of the now indispensable Laban system of dance notation, and had worked as his assistant in Switzerland as early as 1914. Although influenced by the European performances of Isadora Duncan , Wigman was herself a pioneer in modern dance (all too often taken to have been a wholly American creation), adding an emotional quality to the rather mechanical approach of von Laban. Composing works to be performed without music and others for percussion only, she attempted to demonstrate the independence of dance as an art form, while departing entirely from Dalcroze's doctrine that motion must follow music. Her solo Witch Dance, in which she made her stage debut in 1914, was anything but beautiful, punctuated by distorted bodily movements and performed in a haunting and disturbingly ugly mask, but it demonstrated the links between the germinating modern dance and the expressionist movement already underway in other branches of the arts in Germany at that time.

Wigman had reached the zenith of her career on stage in 1918, with a performance of her composition The Seven Dances of Life, but she was met with strong resistance from the public and the critics, who were too accustomed to the artifices of classical ballet to grasp that what she was doing was equally profound. In 1919, however, she finally experienced success with her solo performances in Zurich and Hamburg, and the following year she founded the Mary Wigman Central Institute in Dresden. Here, she attempted to train dancers in her own choreographic concepts which she called "Absolute Dance," a style placing no reliance on such external elements as music, props, or story line, while she also experimented with new choreographic ideas. Wigman was one of the first choreographers to recognize the importance of the blank spaces between the dancers as a part of the overall composition, soon developing a group of performers notable for their use of space, an aspect of the art that Holm never forgot and used to great effect in her own works. In later years, Hanya Holm often remarked on how fortunate she was to have been able to join the company when Wigman was developing the basic concept of her art, namely that dance was capable of representing and recreating the human drama. Holm's own performances, which she called her "Dance Confessions," were dark with profound emotionalism, and she was determined to make them the choreographic equivalents of the theatrical experimentation going on in Germany.

John Martin, The New York Times">

Acreative talent of the first magnitude.

John Martin, The New York Times

In 1921, however, it was still too early to speak of a "Wigman school." Rather, in the words of Wigman, it was a "club," whose members experimented from one dance to the next, never accepting anything as final. With no teachers (Wigman was self-taught in modern dance), the dancers had to draw from within, and, though the basic concepts were those of Wigman, teacher and pupils learned from one another. Speaking of pupil Holm, Wigman recalled years later:

On the occasion of one of our improvised dance evenings a short, delicately built girl showed her first study. "Egyptian Dance"—so it said on the program. Certainly it was derivative, there was something assimilated of seen and experienced images about it. And yet behind all this one could see an already sure feeling for style, a sense for clear organic structure and, in spite of the faults of the beginner, the ability to meet the demands on technique and body. The creative will and the ability to shape were well balanced and stood the test. That was Hanya and that was the first artistic impression I received from her.

It was under the guidance of Wigman that Holm became both a dancer and a teacher of dance, and it was in her early years with the Wigman Company that she adopted her professional name: Hanya, a nickname for Johanna, and Holm, meaning "holly," because it alliterated well with Hanya. As Wigman's tours became ever more extended, it was to Holm that she entrusted the care of her increasingly international student body. In her training, Wigman stressed the importance of each dancer seeking to transcend his or her limitations but at the same time taught the necessity of subordinating self to the requirements of group performance. "In the awakening of the group to a communal rhythmic pattern there lies, to some extent, self-denial of individual expression," she said. "But this yielding of ground is not lost. It is absorbed, incorporated, and brought back to life in the totality of the group's creation." It was in this milieu that Holm learned her art and became a distinguished artist in her own right.

Hanya Holm remained with Mary Wigman's Central Institute for ten years, during which time the company grew in size, scope, and reputation, touring various cities in both Germany and Italy. But there was never enough money, the dancers were not paid, and eventually the company had to be dissolved, giving its final performance at the First International Dance Congress held in Essen in 1928. Though the company had folded, the school that had nurtured it continued to thrive, and, on the invitation of Wigman, Holm declined an appointment as dancer-choreographer at a theater in Hanover to remain as chief instructor at the Wigman School, which by now had become a world famous institution with excellent facilities in a villa it had taken over outside Dresden. As her reputation grew, Holm was invited to the open-air theater at Ommen in the Netherlands, two summers in a row, to choreograph and direct Euripides' Bacchae (1928) and a new work, Plato's Farewell to His Friends (1929). Her first great triumph took place in Dresden, where, in 1929, the pianist Paul Aron arranged to have a performance of Igor Stravinsky's L'Histoire d'un Soldat staged, and Holm, now 40, was chosen to dance the role of the princess. Holm's greatest success in this production lay in her bending the art in which she had been trained to the new and extremely irregular and difficult rhythms of the Russian master of modern music. The following year, in Munich, she added additional luster to her reputation when she took part as leader of the women's chorus in the antiwar pageant Das Totenmal (The Death Time), a multimedia production based on a poem and score by the Swiss poet Albert Talhoff.

In 1930, Mary Wigman made her first tour of the United States, under the aegis of the impresario Sol Hurok. Back in Dresden, she was visited by Hurok, who encouraged her to open a school to teach the Wigman method in New

York. It was to her chief instructor that Wigman entrusted this task. On September 25, 1931, in what was to be the great turning point in her life, Hanya Holm arrived in New York, still not certain at 43 in which direction she might best direct her career: to dancing, to teaching, or to choreography. Though respected as a dancer and much esteemed as a choreographer, it was as a teacher that her genius was to manifest itself.

Although it is widely believed that modern dance is an American form that grew out of the pioneering work of Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis , and although there is no question that the work of Isadora Duncan lies at the root of the modern style, and that almost all of the American pioneers who succeeded her were trained in the school of Denishawn, it is a fact that modern dance as a recognizable genre emerged in Germany a decade before it did in the United States. While Martha Graham gave her first recital only in 1926, Helen Tamiris her first concert in 1927, and Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman made their New York debut together in 1928, Mary Wigman and her Dresden-based company had already developed a repertoire comprising 16 group dances and 45 solo numbers. Whereas in America the dancers had not yet developed a clear idea of what modern dance should be or in what way it was to be related to indigenous American themes, in Germany a modern dance with clear-cut parameters had already been developed and modern dance was a recognizable style of its own.

After coming to America and meeting the gifted dancers emerging from the limitations imposed by Denishawn but endowed with awesome training, Holm was drawn into intense discussions with Wigman as to what modern dance was all about. Far from being a fanatic on the subject of German dance, Holm relished the stimulation of these encounters, and in her lectures and dance workshops she did all that she could to explain and advocate what she had learned at home, while at the same time rejecting the role of mere observer and throwing herself wholeheartedly into experiencing what was going on in American dance. In explaining the difference between the two modes, Holm wrote:

The entire orientation of Mary Wigman's dance is toward the establishment of a relationship between man and his universe. It is this philosophical tendency that influences the emotional, spatial and functional aspects of her own dancing and her pedagogical principles. Emotionally, the German dance is basically subjective and the American dance objective in their characteristic manifestations, but I believe that it throws some light on their fundamental emotional departure. The tendency of the American dancer is to observe, portray and comment on her surroundings with an insight into intellectual comprehension and analysis. The German dancer, on the other hand, starts with the actual emotional experience itself and its effect upon the individual. The distinction is one of "being" as contrasted with "doing," of immersing the self in an emotional state as the necessary prelude to creation as contrasted with objective reconstruction of a known situation.

The Mary Wigman School opened in New York City in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression. The first year, during which Wigman made a visit and the business affairs of the school were handled by Hurok, was a great success. The following year, however, Hurok left to pursue other interests, and Holm was left to manage a struggling institution whose initial novelty had worn off. Rejecting the easy option of returning to Germany, and passing up an offer to teach in the Soviet Union, Holm decided to make her career in America. Immersing herself in the American scene, she mastered English, became an American citizen, traveled extensively, and devoted herself to coming to terms with the American character, so different from that of her students in Europe. She taught at Mills College in California and during summers in Colorado (at Denver, Aspen, and Colorado Springs), and after five years gradually put together a proper company.

In the summer of 1934, four dynamic and determined innovators in dance had met at the avant-garde Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, for what amounted to a kind of summit conference on the as yet young, experimental and inchoate art of modern dance. Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and Hanya Holm were all remarkably different dancers; except for Holm, all were American and all had passed through Denishawn, the pioneering if somewhat bizarre and idiosyncratic school of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. The eventual outgrowth of that summer meeting was the American Dance Festival, which flourished at Bennington until it was later transferred to Durham, North Carolina.

In 1936, Holm was forced to make a difficult decision. Three years before, Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany and succeeded in imposing a straightjacket over every aspect of German life and art. Given the fact that Wigman had chosen to remain in Germany and had not chosen to separate herself from the views of the Nazis, and with the mood in the U.S. growing increasingly anti-Nazi, it had become impossible to maintain the school under the Wigman name. Holm offered to let Wigman decide whether or not she should remain in New York and continue the school under her own name, or shut it down and return to Germany. Fortunately, Wigman understood the situation and assured Holm that remaining in America and continuing the Wigman School under Hanya's own name would be agreeable to her. Thus, in 1936, the Hanya Holm School of Dance opened in New York. That Holm's decision to settle in America was a wise one was demonstrated when the Nazis shut down the Wigman school in Germany. Wigman was forced to retire in 1942, not reappearing on the German dance scene until after the Second World War ended in 1945.

In changing the name of the school, Holm chose to close the original school in Steinway Hall and move to a new location at 215 West 11th Street in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan. There the school consisted of a large two-storey room with a good floor surface that provided a dance area of 40 by 45 feet. On the second level was a mezzanine on which were located the business office and faculty lounge, the remainder of the studio on both floors being occupied by dressing rooms and showering facilities. Holm did not limit herself to teaching but also pioneered in the staging of lecture demonstrations at various colleges and what would now be called "workshops," programs in which she stressed movement, relaxation, elasticity, and the handling of space, and which culminated in a dance presented by her and her group. A member of the advisory board of Bennington College (where she taught summer sessions in modern dance from 1934 to 1939), together with Graham, Humphrey, and Charles Weidman, Holm was a founding member of what came to be referred to as the "Bennington Group." This was the most exciting period in the formative history of modern dance, and Bennington College became an electrifying summer mecca for dancers and dance students from all over the country.

After several years of preparation, Holm made her New York debut at age 50 at the Mecca Auditorium (now the New York City Center) on December 29, 1937. She offered Trend, an original composition created for the Bennington Festival the previous summer, which depicted a society being destroyed by its own false values. Trend established her as a major choreographic force in American dance. With scenery by Arch Lauterer and music by Walling-ford Riegger, this 55-minute work was an epic production involving a large company, a sophisticated design, and abstract movements performing on different levels connected by ramps and steps. Reviewing the show, John Martin, dance critic for The New York Times, wrote:

Miss Holm brings to the business of composition a point of view totally different from that of any of our other major choreographers, and opens up a new vista for the production of great dance dramas. "Trend" is far less closely related to "concert" dancing than it is to theater, that heroic type of theater that we are accustomed to call tragedy. It is inevitable in its development, unhurried and driving in its dramatic intensity and makes large demands upon its audience. Though the work falls into sections they are more like scenes in a drama than separate dances, for they grow integrally out of each other. Similarly, the materials from which they are made, are emanations from the emotional situation rather than inventions.

Trend had a theme of social protest found in a number of Holm's dances, which tended to be solemn in tone. On the other hand, her work was not based solely on social criticism. Her choreography could be light-hearted, humorous, and even popular as demonstrated by her later successes with the Broadway musical.

On May 31, 1939, Holm became the first modern dancer to appear on television, a medium so new that it was as yet limited to a small area within New York City. The program, sandwiched in between country singers and a singing guitarist, consisted of an abbreviated version of Metropolitan Daily performed on Channel W2XBS. Not until 18 years later would Holm return to television. By that time, the medium had reached maturity. In October of that year, 1957, NBC presented a one-hour ballet based on the story of Pinocchio, with Mickey Rooney in the title role, Alec Wilder as composer, Mata and Hari as dancing marionettes, and Holm as choreographer. Though The New York Times review was cool, other critics hailed the production.

In 1941, Holm had established the summer dance program at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where she continued to teach each season until 1983. She had first gone to Colorado as early as 1933, when she had been invited to teach at the Perry-Mansfield School in Steamboat Springs. When word reached her associates in Colorado that she had formed her own company, she was immediately invited to present her first recitals there. She and her troupe were warmly received everywhere, and from then on Hanya maintained close association with the state and especially with Colorado Springs and its annual festival. For this, she devised some of her most original and memorable dances, including Dance of Introduction, From This Earth, Metropolitan Daily, and What Dreams May Come.

Bound to New York or touring for much of the year, Holm found her annual eight-week sessions in Colorado Springs to be the ideal environment for renewal. The freedom, the relaxed way of life, the expansiveness of the country, and the majesty of the mountains served to renew her spirits and her creativity, and she continued her working vacations as director of the dance festival until she was 95. She was also instrumental in bringing many of the most highly regarded dancers in America (including, among others, Alwin Nikolais and Valerie Bettis ) to the festival, so that for decades the unlikely setting of Colorado Springs became one of the most important centers of dance in the country. Her son Klaus, who used the name Klaus Holm and who had become a noted specialist in theatrical lighting, designed the lighting for several of his mother's productions in Colorado Springs and in New York. The year 1941 had also seen the dissolution of Hanya Holm's dance company, the financial burdens having proved to be more than she could bear. Her summers at Colorado Springs thus became all the more important for it was there that she was able to continue her choreographic work. With the end of her company came the virtual end of her dancing career; except for a few appearances with her students in Colorado, the last in 1948 when she was 60, she ceased to perform in public. Instead, Holm embarked on a completely new phase of her career, the composing of dances for the American musical stage.

Following in the footsteps of Agnes de Mille , another modern dancer and choreographer who achieved her greatest successes on Broadway with her now legendary choreography for Oklahoma! (1943), Holm undertook to design the dances for the musicals The Eccentricities of Davey Crockett (from Ballet Ballads) and The Insect Comedy (both 1948). She directed the first and collaborated with José Ferrer on the direction of the second. That same year, she choreographed the now legendary Kiss Me Kate. Based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, this Cole Porter musical dealt with a modern-day comedy duo, formerly married to one another and reunited to perform a musical version of the Shakespearean comedy. This play-within-a-play format required Holm to create dances appropriate for the Renaissance sequences as well as for the modern period, the result being a choreographic extravaganza ranging from the Viennese-style waltz "Wundabar," the soft-shoe number "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," the perky "We Opened in Venice," the raucous "Tom, Dick and Harry" on to the beguine "Were Thine That Special Face." Kiss Me Kate was followed almost at once by Holm's second Porter musical, Out of This World. Although visually one of the most beautiful productions to open on Broadway and endowed with one of Cole Porter's loveliest songs (the now forgotten "Use Your Imagination"), Out of This World suffered from a weak book and from a star, Charlotte Greenwood , who, however beloved from her many appearances in films, was not strong enough to carry an entire show. The production was a failure, and Holm's choreography did not receive the plaudits that had become customary.

After choreographing My Darlin' Aida (1952), The Golden Apple (1954), and the unsuccessful Reuben, Reuben (1955), she dazzled Broadway once again with her choreography for My Fair Lady, based on George Bernard Shaw's 1914 comedy Pygmalion. One of the most successful musicals of the decade, it featured such dances as the rowdy "With a Little Bit o'Luck," the cheery "Get Me to the Church on Time," the clever "The Rain in Spain," and the mischievously satiric "The Ascot Gavotte." She followed this triumph with the dances for a British production of Where's Charley? (1957), for the highly successful Camelot (1960), and for Anya (1965).

As a choreographer for musical comedy, Holm amazed her contemporaries with her ability to submerge the trademarks of her concert dances to develop something equally original for the musical-comedy form. She adapted herself to the American musical genre while at the same time advancing it to another level—doing so, moreover, in old age, when a lesser artist might have become frozen and set in her ways. In addition, Holm supplied choreography for such nonmusical productions as E=MC2 at Columbia University (1949) and Federico Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding for New Stages (1949). She also did the choreography for a single Hollywood film, The Vagabond King (Paramount, 1956).

Hanya Holm was a warm, blue-eyed blonde, remembered by her students for her tenacity and drive. She was tiny (5′2″), weighed about 110 pounds, and, with her somewhat squat figure, looked rather ordinary. Certainly she did not look like any of the modern dancers of the day, though there is no doubt that there lay, behind the bland façade, the stuff of genius. Endowed with an inflexible will and a rigid self-discipline, she drove herself without stint and expected her students to do the same. As a teacher, she stressed the basic nature of movement rather than any particular technique. Though her vision broadened from experience and maturity and was expanded by her exposure to American concepts of modern dance, she never changed her basic view of dance as sheer movement within the limits of the body's natural ability. She put emphasis on clarity and precision in movement, the use of the dancing body in space and its relationship to depth, width, and height. In performance, her dancers appeared to be reaching out for some desired yet unobtainable goal, a characterization of Western creative expression whether in philosophical speculation or the creation of dances, dramas, or symphonic music. In the words of her biographer Walter Sorell:

Most important of all … has been Hanya's approach to technique based on her philosophy of setting the dancer free and giving him the tools with which to develop his individual creative ability. At a time when the stress was on the dancer's psychodramatic experience, Hanya kept away from it and taught, above all, the kinetic experience, the logic and understanding of movement per se.

In 1947, nearing 60, Holm realized that she would be unable to organize another company of her own and gave up her studio. Thereafter, she conducted her classes at Michael's Studio on Eighth Avenue (until 1959) and then at the Dance Player's Studio on Sixth Avenue. Eight years later, when the building housing that studio was torn down, Holm accepted the fact that, at nearly 80, her career as a school mistress was at an end. After more than 30 years, the Hanya Holm School of the Dance simply ceased to exist. Nevertheless, Holm continued to take pupils and freelanced at one studio or another—especially at the Nikolais-Louis Dance Theater Lab and the Juilliard School in New York—lecturing and giving master classes deep into her 90s. On June 10, 1984, at age 96, she was presented with the Samuel H. Scripps Award of $25,000 at the opening of the six-week American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina. In her last years, Holm became somewhat disenchanted by developments in modern dance, once complaining:

Technique here in America has become everything today. If I see one more leg extension, I've had it…. Form becomes formula. Technique becomes logic. And there is a security in a major leg extension. But it means nothing. The simplest thing is to shun the emotions and emphasize technique. But you become like a nice stove that doesn't give any heat.

Active in many areas of the dance world, Holm pioneered in the use of improvisation, advanced the concept of lecture demonstrations, and was one of the first to support the Dance Notation Bureau, an organization designed to preserve dance in written form through the dance notation system devised by Rudolf von Laban. In 1952, following up similar gifts made by Ted Shawn with Ruth Saint-Denis and by Doris Humphrey with Charles Weidman the year before, she donated her entire collection of dance memorabilia—some 500 photographs, 10 scrapbooks, and 200 programs—to the New York Public Library. There they remain a major component of the library's Dance Collection, one of the most important in the world. Together, these materials document her entire professional life from her days with Wigman in Germany to the height of her career in America, as well as illustrating the career of Wigman and those of such dancers as Bettis and Eve Gentry . Hanya Holm died of pneumonia at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City on November 5,1992. Although her obituaries gave her age as 99, she was actually 103.


Chujoy, Anatol and P.W. Manchester. The Dance Encyclopedia. New York, 1949, 1967.

The Free Library of Philadelphia, Theater Collection.

Robertson, Allen and Donald Hutera. The Dance Handbook. London: 1988, Boston, MA: 1990.

Sorell, Walter. Hanya Holm: Biography of an Artist. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1969.

suggested reading:

Holm, Hanya. "The Dance, the Artist-Teacher, and the Child" in Progressive Education, 1935.

——. "Dance on the Campus—Athletics or Art?" in Dance Magazine. February 1937.

——. "The German Dance in the American Scene" in Modern Dance. Edited by Virginia Stewart, 1935.

——. "Mary Wigman" in Dance Observer. November 1935.

——. "The Mary Wigman I Know," in The Dance Has Many Faces. Edited by Walter Sorell. New York, 1951 (revised ed. Columbia University, 1966).

——. "Trend Grew on Me," in Magazine of Art. March 1938.

Kriegman, Sali Anne. Modern Dance in America, 1981.

Sorell, Walter, ed. The Mary Wigman Book, 1973.

Wigman, Mary. The Language of the Dance. English translation, 1966.

Robert H. Hewsen , Professor of History, Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey