Denis (1879-1986), considered the grandmother of the Dances Of Universal Peace, was one of two women credited
with founding Modern Dance in America, the other being Isadora Duncan. Their approaches to dance differed in that Duncan sought
“the Self in the Universe” while St. Denis sought “the Universe in the Self.”
We may understand
this best by considering Miss Ruth’s assessment of those who have lost their awareness of the Universe in the Self.
She said, “We sever ourselves from the inward inspiration of the Divine Breath and from the free, life-giving currents
of Nature. Within the confines of our minds we create an entirely artificial universe where we finally suffocate and die.”
It is this condition
which Ruth St. Denis hoped to remedy through dance: “I think this age of automation is a case of man in flight from
himself, and I feel that if any one art can bring him back to himself it is the dance, because rhythm is what creates the
universe and everything in it.”
Miss Ruth believed
that thought and dance are synonymous. It follows from this that thoughts of the Divine will inspire sacred dance. The reverse
is also true: the movements of a sacred dance can restore our connection with the Divine. According to Miss Ruth, “The
great mission of the dancer is to contribute to the betterment of mankind. Rhythm in other ages and in other countries has
been part of religion. That was their gift to the gods. Rhythm has been in religion for thousands of years.”
Ruth St. Denis was
the most photographed woman of her time. She was the first American dancer to star in a full-length dance performance. She
toured Europe and America for many years as a soloist and with companies, which included the great Hindu musician, Hazrat
St. Denis founded
Adelphi University’s dance program in 1938, which was one of the first dance departments in an American University.
She founded the Society Of Spiritual Arts and the St. Denis Religious Art Church. With her husband, Ted Shawn, St. Denis co-founded
the Denishawn dance school and company. Some of her notable
students were Martha Graham, Doris Humphreys and Charles Weidman.