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 a selection committee 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.

What is an Irreplaceable Dance Treasure?

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.

National Tour Exhibit Presented at 5 Locations

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 the 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.

More Information:  100+ Dance Treasures

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

Alvin Ailey Suzanne Farrell Mark Morris
NEW! Josephine Baker (coming soon) Federal Dance Project Arthur Murray
American Ballet Theatre Bob Fosse Daniel Nagrin
American Bandstand Frederic Franklin NEA Dance Program
American Dance Festival Loïe Fuller Native American dance
Fred Astaire Savion Glover New Dance Group
Charles “Cholly” Atkins Martha Graham New York City Ballet
George Balanchine José Greco Nicholas Brothers
Balasaraswati Anna Halprin Bronislava Nijinska
Ballet Russe Erick Hawkins Alwin Nikolais
Mikhail Baryshnikov Margaret H’Doubler Rudolf Nureyev
Michael Bennett Martha Hill Nutcracker, The
Bennington School of Dance Gregory Hines Ruth Page
Busby Berkeley Hip-Hop Anna Pavlova
Adolph Bolm Hanya Holm Eleanor Powell
Trisha Brown Lester Horton Pearl Primus
John W. Bubbles Hula Jerome Robbins
Irene and Vernon Castle Doris Humphrey Bill “Bojangles” Robinson
Charleston, The Sol Hurok The Rockettes
Lucia Chase Michael Jackson Ruth St. Denis
Christensen Brothers Jacob’s Pillow San Francisco Ballet
Jack Cole Jerome Robbins Dance Division, NYPL Savoy Ballroom
Honi Coles Robert Joffrey Bessie Schönberg
Aaron Copland Bill T. Jones School of American Ballet
Merce Cunningham Master Juba Ted Shawn
Asadata Dafora Judson Dance Theater Oliver Smith
Jacques d’Amboise Gene Kelly Anna Sokolow
Dance Notation Bureau Lincoln Kirstein Square dance
Dance Theater Workshop Bella Lewitzky Swing dance
Dance Theatre of Harlem José Limón Maria Tallchief
Alexandra Danilova Eugene Loring Helen Tamiris
Chuck Davis ‘Iolani Luahine Paul Taylor
Carmen de Lavallade John Martin Twyla Tharp
Agnes de Mille Sophie Maslow Jennifer Tipton
Edwin Denby Matteo and Carola Goya Antony Tudor
Jane Dudley Donald McKayle Edward Villella
Isadora Duncan Meredith Monk Charles Weidman
Katherine Dunham Lillian Moore
Garth Fagan