La Meri and Her Life in Dance
Performing the World
Nancy Lee Chalfa Ruyter
“[A] rigorous biography.”—Dance Magazine
“As a revolutionary performing artist whose interests and achievements were truly groundbreaking, La Meri built a life and career deeply deserving of our attention. Ruyter brings a specialist’s knowledge and sensitivity to a subject that demands closer study.”—Norton Owen, director of preservation, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
“A detailed chronicle of the touring, performing, choreographing, teaching, writing, and day-to-day living of a singularly influential twentieth-century dance artist. Ruyter’s careful attention to the available archival and published sources on and of La Meri makes this biography an invaluable resource.”—Sally Ann Ness, author of Choreographies of Landscape: Signs of Performance in Yosemite National Park
“This full-scale, highly detailed study of the dancer La Meri fills an important gap in the study of ethnic dance. Ruyter demonstrates that La Meri was an important figure in the development of serious dance performance and scholarship.”—Anthony Shay, author of Ethno Identity Dance for Sex, Fun and Profit: Staging Popular Dances Around the World
This intriguing biography details the life and work of world dance pioneer La Meri (1899–1988). An American dancer, choreographer, teacher, and writer, La Meri was ahead of her time in championing cross-cultural dance performances and education, yet she is almost totally forgotten today. In La Meri and Her Life in Dance, Nancy Ruyter introduces readers to a visionary artist who played a pivotal role in dance history.
Born in Texas as Russell Meriwether Hughes, La Meri toured throughout Latin America, Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and the United States in the 1920s and ’30s, immersing herself in different dance traditions at a time when few American dancers explored styles outside their own. She learned about Indian dance culture from the celebrated Uday Shankar, studied belly dancing with the Moroccan sultan’s top dancer, and took flamenco lessons in Spain. La Meri spread awareness and enjoyment of the world’s myriad forms of expression before it was common for performing artists from these countries to tour internationally.
Ruyter describes how La Meri founded the Ethnologic Dance Center in New York City, choreographed innovative works based on various dance cultures for Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and other venues, and wrote widely on the styles and techniques of international dance genres. This long-overdue book illustrates that the popularity of world dance today owes much to the trailblazing efforts of La Meri.
Nancy Lee Chalfa Ruyter, former professor of dance at the University of California, Irvine, studied with La Meri in the 1950s. She is the author of Reformers and Visionaries: The Americanization of the Art of Dance and The Cultivation of Body and Mind in Nineteenth-Century American Delsartism.
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