Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: St Denis, Ruth
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

US dancer and choreographer. An enthusiastic student of Eastern culture and dances, she produced elaborate, exotic dancing routines based on Hindu, Egyptian, and Japanese elements. Together with her husband, Ted Shawn, she founded a dance school, training leading figures in modern American dance. She believed in the religious nature of dance, founding the Society of Spiritual Arts in 1931 and later the Church of the Divine Dance in 1947.

She was born in Somerville, New Jersey. Dancing from age six, she began in vaudeville and musicals at age 16 and then became an actor who worked with stage director David Belasco 1898–1905. She choreographed her own first dance, Radha (1906), based on Hindu mythology and using actual East Indian dancers. She toured Europe for three years. She and her husband, Ted Shawn, separated by 1932 (although they never divorced). From 1945 on she appeared with him at his Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and at special events. She continued choreographing and performing dances based on Asian and Egyptian mythology until the mid-1960s, often performing in churches to express her idea of the spiritual nature of her work. In 1939 she published her autobiography, An Unfinished Life.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.