by Elizabeth Kendall
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
20 photographs, 256 pages, $12.95
In the beginning, aesthetic (or freeform or barefoot) dancing was closely linked to feminism, the cult of exercise, and dress reform (fashionably corseted women couldn’t so much as raise their arms above their heads). Elizabeth Kendall tells the story through the lives of three remarkable innovators—Ruth St. Denis, Isadora Duncan, and Martha Graham. With their unhampered bodies in flowing costumes, they evolved new dance forms that provoked fierce arguments about Art and Sin. Kendall also shows how the emergence of modern dance was related to less exalted entertainments—vaudeville, ragtime, and partner dancing. This short, unusual cultural history is witty and intelligent.