August 2018 | Dance History Quiz

Fun facts for teachers & students

1Motown musical groups The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Martha and the Vandellas got some of their best onstage moves from which distinguished performer?

a. Bob Fosse
b. Charles “Cholly” Atkins
c. Charles “Honi” Coles
d. Gower Champion

b. Charles “Cholly” Atkins

The tap dancer, a former vaudeville star who worked as a Hollywood extra and in clubs with hoofing partner Charles “Honi” Coles, also created what he called “vocal choreography,” starting with Harlem doo-wop groups in the 1950s. Motown founder Berry Gordy brought him to Detroit in 1964 to give his musical stars performance polish. “He taught us to move in spite of our capabilities,” said Martha Reeves, lead singer of Martha and the Vandellas, who worked with Atkins for more than a decade. “Before he started, he would analyze the songs and he would have a mapped-out set of steps for each vocal movement.” According to The Guardian, at the end of the 1980s, Atkins was asked to recycle the Miracles’ routines for New Kids on the Block. When he died, in 2003, he was surrounded by family and “students” such as Gladys Knight and Mary Wilson.

For more information:

2In the first collegiate dance class in the U.S., the instructor used a human skeleton to demonstrate the anatomical logic behind movements. Who was this instructor?

a. Anna Halprin
b. Martha Hill
c. Doris Humphrey
d. Margaret Newell H’Doubler

d. Margaret Newell H’Doubler

Although she had been a women’s basketball coach rather than a dancer, according to the Dance Heritage Coalition, H’Doubler started the nation’s first collegiate dance class in 1917 at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. When H’Doubler began college there, she intended to study biology or medicine, but a physical education class motivated her to change direction. After a year at Columbia University’s Teachers College, she developed a dance curriculum based on scientific principles, and formed a student performance group, inspiring institutions across the Midwest to add dance to women’s physical education departments. Her influence on dance education was extensive: by the time she retired from the University of Wisconsin in the 1950s, she had written two books, Dance and its Place in Education and Dance: A Creative Art Experience, and her students had gone on to lead dance programs in U.S. colleges, universities, and public and private schools.

For more information:
Margaret H’Doubler, Dance Heritage Coalition

 “Margaret Newell H’Doubler,” Dr. Janice L. Ross, Dance Heritage Coalition

3 A shock of white in an otherwise jet-black head of hair earned which well-known figure in the dance world the nickname Chinchilla?


a. Sono Osato
b. Paul Taylor
c. Alicia Alonso
d. Serge Diaghilev

d. Serge Diaghilev

The Russian impresario, who founded the Ballets Russes in Paris in the early 1900s, was so nicknamed for the white slash in his otherwise black mane. According to Deadline Hollywood, his colorful life with the company and its work with collaborators including Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky inspired two plays: Chinchilla, the 1979 Phoenix Theatre production, and Fire and Air, Terrence McNally’s dramatic account of Diaghilev, Nijinsky, and their inner circle, which opened this winter at New York’s Classic Stage Company. The play captures the romantic tug-of-war between Diaghilev; Nijinsky, his protégé and muse; and dancer Leonid Massine, who eventually replaced Nijinsky as the object of Diaghilev’s affection. This isn’t McNally’s first foray into biographical theatrics: his play Master Class focused on opera diva Maria Callas.

For more information:
Review: Terrence McNally’s Fire and Air Is a Master Class in Dance & Erotic Hunger,” Jeremy Gerard, Deadline Hollywood, February 1, 2018

4 What dance-sport hybrid started gaining popularity in the late ’70s and made an appearance at two Olympic Games?


a. Ski ballet, which combined figure skating and skiing on the slopes, using ski poles as props
b. Rollerjazz, a combination of jazz and roller skating performed in a rink to disco music
c. Acro-tap, a style of tap dance in which performers could earn extra points by adding acrobatic tricks
d. Equestrian ballet, in which riders performed arabesques and other poses on horseback

a. Ski ballet

According to a 2017 Thrillist article, ski ballet was a combination of figure skating and skiing. “In the early 1970s, there came a schism in the world of skiing,” writer Erik Helin notes. “A new generation of athletes looked to buck the traditionalism of standard alpine skiing, and longed for new ways to innovate. What they came up with was freestyle skiing, also called hotdog skiing, also called acrobatic skiing, also called stunt skiing. And it was composed of three elements: moguls, aerials, and ski ballet.” Skiers—wearing short skis for greater mobility—mixed dance elements with figure skating-style jumps and vault-style tricks using elongated ski poles. Ski ballet was never an official Olympic event, although it was featured in the 1988 and 1992 games as a demonstration sport. By 2000, the International Ski Federation officially pulled the plug on ski ballet.

For more information:
5 What is apsara dance?



a.  A ’90s-era club dance that spun off from electronic dance music
b. A classical Cambodian dance inspired by Asian mythology
c.  A Portuguese social dance celebrating St. Anthony’s Day
d. A baroque-era dance performed at the French court

b. A classical Cambodian dance inspired by Asian mythology

Apsaras are nymphs that appear in many Asian myths. Cambodia’s Khmer people derived their name from the former hermit Kambu and the apsara Mera, a “celestial dancer” who married Kambu and founded the nation of the Khmer. Ancient Khmer courts staged dances in Mera’s honor, but the form nearly vanished in the 1970s when the Khmer Rouge regime decimated much of the country’s culture and traditions. In recent years, however, the dance has been making a comeback in Cambodia, and performances are held at venues worldwide, ranging from the Brooklyn Academy of Music to Le Ballet Royal du Cambodge at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The dancers, wearing ornate costumes and headdresses, perform graceful gestures called kbach, which form a sort of alphabet representing elements from nature, such as fruit and flowers.

For more information:
 “Five Dancing Deities in Mythology,” Thought Co., Carly Silver, March 6, 2017

 “Apsara: The Cambodian Dance,” The Diplomat, Omar Havana, May 15, 2014

6 San Francisco Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson, who turns 76 this fall, won a silver medal at the first Moscow International Ballet competition, held in 1969. Which man won gold that year?

a. Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux
b. Mikhail Baryshnikov
c. Peter Martins
d. Alexander Godunov

b. Mikhail Baryshnikov

Tomasson experienced his share of ups and downs preparing for the Moscow International Ballet competition: choreographer Jerome Robbins, who championed Tomasson for a scholarship at SAB, allowed him to dance a solo from Dances at a Gathering, but as Tomasson told San Francisco Chronicle dance writer Allan Ulrich many years later, he had to ransack the Bolshoi costume warehouse to find a costume for his solo from the Black Swan grand pas de deux, and tracking down a rehearsal pianist “was pure hell.” But he received memorable feedback on his silver-medal performance from legendary ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, who was on the jury: “I gave you all my votes,” she told him. The medal-winning dancers’ paths would cross again after the competition; Tomasson joined New York City Ballet in 1970 and stayed until 1985; Baryshnikov joined the company in 1978.

For more information:
20 Years of Helgi,” SFGate, Allan Ulrich, January 23, 2005

Moscow International Ballet Competition history

 “SF Ballet’s impressive 2018 season reflects Helgi Tomasson’s aesthetic,” San Francisco Chronicle, Allan Ulrich, January 17, 2018

 “Baryshnikov Quits Ballet,” New York Times, Anna Kisselgoff, October 16, 1979

7 This spring, Andrew Lloyd Webber announced that a theater in London’s West End would be named after the choreographer who collaborated with him on Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Who is it?

a. Michael Bennett
b. Arlene Phillips
c. Gillian Lynne
d. Tommy Tune

c. Gillian Lynne

Andrew Lloyd Webber announced that the New London Theatre, which he owns, would be renamed the Gillian Lynne Theatre this year in a conversation with TV talk-show host Graham Norton. London’s Telegraph quoted him as saying, “Gillian has been a pioneer of British musical theatre and dance. Gillie’s groundbreaking work on Cats inspired and launched countless careers in dance. It is only fitting that the theatre in which she created Cats is named in her honour.” It will be the first theater in the city’s West End district to be named for a woman. The 92-year-old Lynne, honored as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to the arts, was a logical choice: a former dancer with the Royal Ballet, she began collaborating with Lloyd Webber in 1981 on Cats, for which she served as choreographer and associate director; five years later, the composer approached her to work on Phantom of the Opera.

For more information:
 “A West End theatre dedicated to Gillian Lynne? It’s about time,” Telegraph, Mark Monahan, March 15, 2018

8 What is the New Dance Group?



a. A Chicago-based company that stages flash mobs at public events
b. A Denver-based ballet company that includes performers with a range of body types
c. The original name for what became the Mark Morris Dance Group
d. A 1930s-era group of dancers with leftist politics

d. A 1930s-era group of dancers with leftist politics

Formed in 1932 by left-wing students from New York’s Mary Wigman school, the group dedicated itself to dance that addressed social and political themes, and offered concerts in union halls as well as on concert stages. (Its first program announced, “Dance is a Weapon of the Class Struggle.”) According to the Dance Heritage Coalition, NDG offered inexpensive dance classes to professionals, workers, and children, and the curriculum included forms ranging from Afro-Caribbean and Middle Eastern dance to ballet. The dancers also created a choreographic collective; individuals were not necessarily credited with the specific dance works they created. NDG allied itself with the Workers Dance League and served as a training ground in New York City for African-American dancers including Pearl Primus and Donald McKayle. The group existed in various configurations until 2009, when deficits forced its closure: the Joyce Theater took over its studios, which now operate under the name DANY Studios.