May-June 2016 | Dance History Quiz

dance-hqFun facts for teachers and students.

1 George Balanchine preferred his ballerinas sleek, cool, and American-trained, yet one New York City Ballet principal was known for her solid Old World technique, theatrical flair, and a habit of “flavoring” her steps. Describing her presence in the company, she said, “I was more of a French poodle than a borzoi (Russian wolfhound).” Who was she?

a. Violette Verdy
b. Alexandra Danilova
c. Leslie Caron
d. Aurélie Dupont

a. Violette Verdy

Marina Harss writes in The Nation magazine that when Balanchine asked Verdy to join his company, she was surprised because “with the exception of her fearlessness, Verdy was not his balletic type. During Verdy’s successful time with NYCB, Balanchine created for her the “witty, joyous ballets” Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and La Source, and she excelled in works “that relied on charm, esprit, and brilliant technique” such as Donizetti Variations, Stars and Stripes, and Jewels.

For more information:
“Remembering Ballet Great Violette Verdy,” WNPR, February 12, 2016

“Elements of Style,” The Nation, July 30, 2015

2 The famous poster image of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Judith Jamison in a long-sleeved plain white leotard and white ruffled skirt captures a moment from her solo Cry, which was created by Ailey to mark what special occasion?

a. Jamison’s five-year anniversary in the company.
b. The company’s first performance at Carnegie Hall.
c. Ailey’s mother’s birthday.
d. A visit by Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks.

c. Ailey’s mother’s birthday

Regarding Cry (1971): “In those days none of us could shop at Tiffany’s or Bloomingdale’s, so Alvin decided the nicest present he could give his mother was a ballet,” Jamison says on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater website. “We went into the studio and began moving to the music, and in a few days, Alvin made an enduring work of art. Cheering audiences still have Alvin’s birthday present to his mother.”

3 Yvonne Chouteau, who died in January at the age of 86, was one of five Native American ballerinas from Oklahoma who rose to fame during the 1940s (along with Moscelyne Larkin, Rosella Hightower, Marjorie Tallchief, and Maria Tallchief). A name was coined to represent all five. What was it?

a. The Sooner State Primas.
b. Sun, Star, Wind, Water, and Hope.
c. The Dance-Catchers.
d. The Five Moons.

d. The Five Moons

Five Moons is also the name of a bronze sculpture installation at the Tulsa [OK] Historical Society & Museum that portrays the five ballerinas; a 1967 ballet danced by four of the “five moons”—minus Maria Tallchief, who had retired—was titled The Four Moons.

For more information:

4 MGM musical star Eleanor Powell is considered one of the greatest tap dancers to appear on film. What unusual teaching method did her instructor, Jack Donohue, employ to force her to tap close to the floor (unlike the uplifted, bouncy style favored by most female dancers of the day)?

a. He had her train while balancing several books on her head.
b. He sent her for modern dance training.
c. He had weighted shoes especially made for her.
d. He hung sandbags on a belt around her waist.

d. He hung sandbags on a belt around her waist.

Eleanor Powell began training in ballet and acrobatics at age 11, and at age 12 made her stage debut with Gus Edwards’ Vaudeville Kiddie Revue. Since she was asked if she could tap at every audition, Powell signed up for 10 tap lessons with Donohue, at the fee of $35. Initially unable to pick up any of the steps, or achieve the “close-to-the-floor” quality Donohue demanded, Powell was made to wear the weighted sandbags. Those lessons—according to Dance Heritage Coalition, the only formal tap training Powell ever had—led to her star turn tapping on Broadway in Follow Thru in 1929 at age 17.

For more information:
“Our ‘Queen of Tap Dancing’—Eleanor Powell,” International Tap Association

Eleanor Powell (1912-1982), Dance Heritage Coalition

Tap Dance Hall of Fame: Eleanor Powell, American Tap Dance Foundation

5 Keith Thibodeaux co-founded the Christian ballet company Ballet Magnificat! with his wife, Kathy Denton, in 1986 in Jackson, Mississippi. Years earlier as a youth, Thibodeaux—working under the stage name Richard Keith—appeared on what hugely popular TV series?

a. The Munsters (as Eddie Munster).
b. Leave It to Beaver (as Larry Mondello).
c. I Love Lucy (as Little Ricky).
d. My Three Sons (as Ernie Douglas).

c. I Love Lucy (as Little Ricky).

Thibodeaux was chosen for the role of “Little Ricky” on I Love Lucy because of his resemblance to Desi Arnaz, who insisted the young drummer change his “difficult to pronounce” last name. He also appeared as Opie’s friend Johnny Paul Jason on The Andy Griffith Show, and later was the drummer for the Christian rock band David and the Giants. Kathy Denton was one of the first contracted dancers for the Jackson Ballet Company (Ballet Mississippi), dancing as principal until 1986.

For more information:
“Former ‘I Love Lucy’ star brings Christian ballet to Fort Worth,” Fort Worth [TX] Star-Telegram, February 9, 2016

History, Ballet Magnificat

6 Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan was the first contemporary dance company in China when it was founded in 1973. Founder/choreographer Lin Hwai-min chose that name because “Cloud Gate” is also:

a. A well-known archway that blends classical and modern architectural elements.
b. In legend, where souls pass on the way to heaven.
c. The oldest known Chinese dance.
d. A mountain in China known for its mystical presence.

c. The oldest known Chinese dance.

According to legend, Cloud Gate is the name of the oldest known dance in China, a ritual that is 5,000 years old. Julie Makinen writes in the Los Angeles Times that while Cloud Gate is named for an ancient Chinese dance, “Lin’s works reflect the complex cultural and political history of Taiwan. The troupe, with dozens of dancers, has performed in more than 30 countries; in Taiwan, its outdoor shows regularly attract tens of thousands.” Cloud Gate dancers use diverse movement disciplines and artistic approaches, including tai chi, meditation, martial arts, modern dance, and ballet.

For more information:

7 Vaudeville tap dancer John W. “Bubbles” Sublett was specifically chosen by George Gershwin to originate the role of Sportin’ Life in the 1935 Broadway production of Porgy and Bess. Which other great tap dancer(s) also appeared in the role?

a. Sammy Davis Jr.
b. Derick K. Grant
c. Gregory Hines
d. Howard “Sandman” Sims

a. Sammy Davis Jr. and c. Gregory Hines

Sammy Davis Jr. portrayed Sportin’ Life in the 1959 Hollywood-produced film version of Porgy and Bess. In the 1985 film White Nights, Gregory Hines performs as Sportin’ Life before a Siberian audience. Although he originated the role, Sublett did not sing Sportin’ Life’s two main arias, “There’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” on the 1940 “original” cast album, but can be heard on a 1963 studio recording featuring Leotyne Price and William Warfield.

For more information:
“How John W. Bubbles Changed America,” Modern Times, February 16, 2015