Jane Dudley in Swing Your Lady, photo by Barbara Morgan Jane Dudley in Swing Your Lady (1944). Inspired by her left-wing political beliefs, Dudley advocated dance as a medium for creating communal solidarity, instilling revolutionary ideas, and celebrating the struggles of working people. (Photograph by Barbara Morgan. Jane Dudley Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)


A powerful modern dancer, an influential teacher of Martha Graham's technique, and an innovative choreographer, Jane Dudley seamlessly fused dance with social protest. Born in New York in 1912, she trained with Hanya Holm before dancing with the Martha Graham Company. In 1938, Dudley choreographed her signature Harmonica Breakdown to the sounds of a harmonica and washboard. The solo reflected the difficulties faced by sharecroppers during the Dust Bowl. While Graham often dealt with social issues, Dudley was more radical in her thinking and joined the New Dance Group, which had been founded in 1932 to combine left-wing ideology with modern dance."During that same time, she created similar sociopolitical works for the Dudley-Maslow-Bales Trio. From 1970-1991, Dudley taught Graham technique at the London Contemporary Dance School. She died in 2001 at the age of 89.


Jane Dudley in Harmonica Breakdown, photo by Barbara Morgan Pictured right: Jane Dudley in her solo Harmonica Breakdown (1938). Set to the harmonica blues of Sonny Terry, the solo addressed the struggles of African American workers during the Dust Bowl. Dudley said of her best-known piece, "I think of it as a dance of misery--and defiance rising out of it." (Photograph by Barbara Morgan. Jane Dudley Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)














Dudley-Maslow-Bales trio, photo by Louis Melancon Dudley-Maslow-Bales trio, photo by Louis Melancon


















Pictured above: Jane Dudley with Sophie Maslow and William Bales, in the Dudley-Maslow-Bales trio, which collaboratively produced dances reflecting the populist sensibilities, left-wing political sympathies, humor and humanism of its founders. (Photographs by Louis Melancon, from the archives of the American Dance Festival.)

Learn more in Jane Dudley, an essay by Maureen E. Maryanski.