The primary organizational principle of American Modern Dancers is biographical. Maynard presents, in basically chronological order, the successive figures who pioneered the development of modern dance in the United States. She concentrates on several key individuals: Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman. She presents an overview of their lives from childhood through a survey of the major steps in their careers. In each case, Maynard emphasizes formative influences and the basic and distinctive style or technique that characterizes their dance, and she explains their influential contributions to American modern dance.
Maynard introduces others who had an impact on modern dance in the United States. Many of these individuals were from Europe, and the author demonstrates the interrelationships between the theories and practice of modern dance in Europe and the United States. Examples include the nineteenth century theorists Delsarte and Dalcroze and the German school of modern dance. Maynard does not provide extensive biographical information about these individuals; rather, she integrates key aspects of their life and work into the context of their contributions, both direct and indirect, to American modern dance.
Another facet of American modern dance that emerges in conjunction with the author’s essentially biographical approach is the role of dance in American education,...
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Olga Maynard is a distinguished writer on the theatrical arts, particularly dance. She has written a number of books for adults, as well as several other books on the appreciation of ballet and opera for younger readers. Her works have been praised by critics for the enthusiasm that they display toward their subjects and the clarity with which Maynard presents complex developments in dance and opera.
American Modern Dancers remains the only book for a juvenile audience on the subject of modern dance as a whole. According to the author, the book is intended not only to relate the history of the foundations of modern dance in the United States but also to be used by teachers in conjunction with dance classes. From this perspective, the discussions of the techniques used by the dancers are particularly helpful. Because Maynard covers modern dance only up to the early 1960’s, teachers using this book would need to find supplemental material that continues the story of American modern dance.