As one of the oldest continuously-operating dance training centers in the United States, Peabody Dance has a rich history including pioneering new dance forms, partnering with prominent 20th century American Dance figures, and producing acclaimed professional dancers, choreographers, and directors.
Today, Peabody Dance is keeping in step with the progression of American dance into the 21st century and remains committed to providing high-quality training with its internationally respected faculty; to forming innovative partnerships and collaborative endeavors; and to serving its art form and its community.
Check out the history of Peabody Dance feature story in the Spring 2015 Peabody Magazine
From the very beginning, Peabody Dance has been at the forefront of the evolution of American dance. In December 1914, Peabody offered a dance class based on eurhythmics and became the first school to teach Dalcroze Eurhythmics in the United States. A succession of “firsts” followed, such as: research culminating in a syllabus of American Indian dance steps and ritual dances; exchanges initiated by mid-century dance visionary Carol Lynn, which brought female dancers to Ted Shawn’s program at Jacob’s Pillow and introduced film as a recording method for dance; and Antony Tudor as artist-in-residence at Peabody in the early 1950s, offering classes for male dancers and adagio.
Throughout its history, Peabody Dance has had a close connection with American Ballet Theatre, Juilliard, and major individuals who have shaped American dance. Since the 1950’s, figures such as modern dancer Dale Sehnert, Spanish dancer Maria Morales, tap dancer Mary Jane Brown, ballet visionary Barbara Weisberger, and recent artistic director and choreographer, Carol Bartlett, have developed ground-breaking programs and produced widely acclaimed professional dancers, choreographers, and directors, including recent Peabody Dance alumni now in Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, Mark Morris Dance Group, and American Ballet Theatre.
Peabody Institute offers its first dance class in December 1914, launching Peabody Dance. The class, titled “Dalcroze Dancing and Physical Culture,” was taught by Portia Wagar, a 1912 Peabody Conservatory graduate who studied with Émile Jacques-Dalcroze at his school in Hellerau, Germany.
Gertrude Colburn arrives to teach aesthetic and interpretive dancing, done with bare feet. This style of dance was influenced by American dance pioneer Isadora Duncan. Colburn becomes the director of all “Artistic Dancing.” Ruth Lemmert joins the faculty and becomes director of eurhythmics.
By early 1918, Colburn expands the curriculum to include classes in ballet, making Peabody Dance one of the first places outside New York City to offer rigorous ballet training based on methods used at the Russian Imperial Ballet School.
200 Peabody dancers, musicians and singers collaborate for a production of Orpheus and Eurydice.Ruth Lemmert is cast as Eurydice with Richard Ford as Orpheus. The production is presented again in 1928.
Bessie Evans, sister of Peabody Preparatory founder May Garrettson Evans, is appointed to the faculty in eurhythmics and dance.
Portia Mansfield comes to direct Peabody Dance for the 1932-1933 season after Colburn suffers a fall down a staircase at Peabody in the spring of 1931. Colburn is left paralyzed after the fall and becomes a sculptor. Mansfield, one of the founders of the Perry-Mansfield School, has a strong training background in ballet, as well as in European “expressionist” modern dance.
Mansfield, who describes herself as the creator of plastiques, dance correctives for the remodeling the body and for counteracting the moods caused by city life, expands Peabody’s curriculum. Her classes lay the foundation for the modern dance program.
Bessie Evans becomes the director of Peabody Dance starting with the 1934-1935 season. She leads the program for 13 years.
Peabody Dance marks its 25th anniversary during the 1940-1941 season.
Carol Lynn, Baltimore’s “first lady of dance,” assumes the directorship of Peabody Dance for the 1947-1948 season following the retirement of Bessie Evans. She leads the program for 23 years, one of the longest tenures in Peabody Dance’s history.
Dale Sehnert joins the modern dance faculty at Peabody. Sehnert was a soloist with the Pearl Lang Company, and before that, a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company.
Dale Sehnert is named the director of Peabody Dance upon Carol Lynn’s retirement on June 6.