Federal Dance Project Menu
Salut au Monde, 1937. Salut au Monde, 1937. Poster for the Federal Dance Theatre production choreographed and directed by Helen Tamiris, based on a poem by Walt Whitman. The Federal Dance Theatre was a component of the Federal Dance Project. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, WPA Poster Collection, LC-USZC4-5156 DLC.
Federal arts programs in dance encompass two initiatives. The Federal Dance Project (1936-1939) represented New Deal support under the Works Progress Administration. Following formation of the Federal Theater Project, lobbyists from American Dance Association, New Dance League, and Dance Guild—with notable leadership by Helen Tamiris and Doris Humphrey—helped to bring about the program for dance to provide employment during the Great Depression, to spread availability of dance geographically, and to explore American themes. Dancers were hired in four categories: ballet, modern dance, vaudeville, and teaching. The first performance was Senia Gluck Sandor's The Eternal Prodigal (1936) at New York's Ritz Theater. Six cities participated, producing work with indigenous roots. New York efforts centered on the nascent modern dance form. Chicago, where Ruth Page's Frankie and Johnny (1938) and Katherine Dunham's L'Ag'Ya (1937) evolved, combined classical and modern dance. Under Myra Kinch in Los Angeles, Americana was emphasized. Spanish dancing in Tampa and work based on Native American rituals in Portland were presented successfully. Directed by Malvina Fried with Canton Moss, the Philadelphians created Prelude to Swing (1939), with dancers, a black chorus, and swing orchestra.
Guns and Castanets, with Ruth Page, Bentley Stone and Walter Camryn, ca. 1939. Created by Page and Stone for the Chicago branch of the Federal Dance Project, with costumes by John Pratt, the work was an updating of Bizet's Carmen to the Spanish Civil War. This setting reflected the left-wing political sensibilities of many choreographers involved with the FDP, though the federal program officially discouraged art that promoted political views. (Photograph by Maurice Seymour. Ann Barzel Dance Research Collection, The Newberry Library, Chicago.)