Updated: May 16, 2021
Hi, and welcome back to another blog with STU Arts Dance. Did you know that March is the International women’s month? And what better way to celebrate than to give credit to some of the most amazing and talented group of women in the dance world! Without further ado, here are 5 brilliant women you may not know who not only inspire us all, but also set history for women in dance.
1. Ana Pavlova
Russian Ballet Dancer, Ana Pavlova is best known for changing the look of ballet among young dancers. With her frame being rather petite, and short; she defied the norm of what was usually very tall and slim women in dance. However, her size did not stop her from becoming one of the best dancers in ballet during the 19th century. Her change in the way dancers look introduced a wider scope of women to give dancing a go. Not only did she change the rules for size among dancers, she has also been credited to create the modern pointe shoe, completely changing the game for dancers universally (and probably saving millions of dancers from broken toes, ouch!)
2. Josephine Baker
Legendary dancer Josephine Baker is credited to be one of the first African American female entertainers in history. Born as Freda Josephine Baker (later legally changed to Josephine Baker after renouncing her American citizenship to move to Paris) was nicknamed the “Black Pearl” and “Bronze Venus” as she rose to fame from New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, and then as a performer in Foiles Bergère. Baker was then dubbed as a symbol of the Jazz era, and was well-known for being the first woman of colour to star in a film ZouZou (1934).
Fun fact: Baker wasn’t just a talented dancer, she also worked as a French Resistance Agent during World War II. She worked secretly against the Nazi Regime by smuggling secret messages through music sheets! She was an outspoken supporter of the Civil Rights movement and refused to perform for segregated audiences when she returned to the United States for a tour. Iconic!
3. Misty Copeland
Now I may be completely biased here but to say I LOVE Misty Copeland would not do justice for how iconic this woman is! Misty Copeland is an African-American dancer best known for being a soloist dancer for the American Ballet theater, making her the first Black dancer in its 75-year long history to be promoted from principal dancer to a soloist. Contrary to most professional dancers, Copeland didn’t start dancing until her teenage years, however consistency is key, with years of practice and dedication she became one of the greats. Now Copland still dances for the American Ballet Theater but is determined to change the image of Ballet’s strict ideology of “what a ballet dancer should look like'' by advocating for diversity within the dance community, writing a book for young dancers, and appearing in TV and film. Simply put Misty Copeland has changed the face of ballet.
4. Martha Graham
Born in 1894, Martha Graham has been recognized as a primal artistic force in the 19th century and was named the “dancer of the century” by TIME Magazine. She historically created 181 ballets and a new dance technique that has been compared to the classical world due to its impact and influence. Her new and innovative approaches to dance revolutionized it and irreversibly set dance to new standards. In 1986 she was awarded for the Local One Centennial Award for Dance which is “not to be awarded for another 100 years.” In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford declared Martha Graham the United States’ highest civilian honour the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and declared her a “national treasure” making her the first dancer and choreographer to receive this honour (imagine being declared a national treasure, wow!). Additionally, in 1985 President Ronald Raegan designated her among the first recipients of the United States the National Medal of Arts. Wow is all I can say.
5. Leslie Caron
While not officially being the first woman to bring dance to American audiences she can be dubbed as one of the first and most influential women to do so. Born in 1931, she started dancing at a young age and became a member of the company Ballet des Champs Elysée’s where she was then spotted by legendary dancer and film star Gene Kelly, who offered her a role in An American in Paris (which won six academy awards) and featured a sixteen-minute long dance sequence. While she shifted to more acting-heavy roles, she still holds the title of one of the legends of dance within the film industry.
Women are nothing but powerful. While these women have changed the dance world, at the end of the day, dance is to be enjoyed by everyone. You do not have to be the next Martha Graham or Misty Copeland to put on your favourite songs and jam it out, but we should acknowledge the hard work that these women have done to the dance industry. One way you can celebrate International Women’s month is to dance for all the women who inspire you, it can be your mother, sister, neighbour or your colleague. Send them a message of thanks and dance with them to your favourite songs! If you are interested in starting your dancing journey, come join us at STU Arts Dance where we believe that Everyone Can Dance! To find out more information on how to get started, check out our website here to get started. Can’t wait to see you out there!
Happy International Women’s Month!