Dance comprises an entire world of spiritual and secular ideas, stories, emotions, and human experience, understood and expressed through movement. The rich history of dance in America serves as a reflection and a record of the nation’s increasingly diverse, dynamic culture.

In the Fall of 1999, the Dance Heritage Coalition solicited nominations for America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures: the First 100. Over 900 nominations from across the full range of American dance artistry, forms, and traditions were submitted and vetted through a three-stage process of selection committees made up of experts from across the country.

The list of America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures: the First 100 is intended to heighten public interest in the magnificence and richness of America’s dance heritage and the imperative to document and preserve it for future generations.

An irreplaceable dance treasure has:

– Made a significant impact on dance as an art form
– Demonstrated artistic excellence
– Enriched the nation’s cultural heritage
– Demonstrated the potential to enhance the lives of future generations
– Shown itself worthy of national and international recognition

From 2003 to 2009, the Irreplaceable Dance Treasures were celebrated in a national touring exhibition through a collaborative exhibition to which the DHC archives contributed still images and video clips. This exhibit, which opened at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (New York City), traveled to Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival (Becket, Massachusetts), the Museum of Performance & Design in San Francisco, and the Ohio Cultural Center in Columbus (in association with the Theatre Research Institute at The Ohio University). This national tour garnered interest of hosts outside the DHC archives: later the exhibition was sponsored by Dance Bridge in Boulder and the Denver Public Library (in association with the Carson-Brierly Dance Collection at the University of Denver), both in Colorado, and a final installation at the Hofstra University Museum, Hempstead, New York.

View the installation of the Treasures Traveling Exhibition at 5 sites

The traveling exhibition elicited such interest from the public and dance community that the DHC sought to find a life for the exhibition after it closed. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the DHC support to create an Online Exhibition of the Dance Treasures. This online exhibition will include fresh perspectives on the Treasures, and additional images, references, and resources. As well, the DHC will name 10 more legendary American Treasures. Look for the new Exhibition in early 2012.

The following essays by Martha Ullman West were commissioned as companion pieces of America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures: The First 100.