‘News of Workers Dance Leagues’ by Mignon Verne from New Theatre. Vol. 1 No. 2. January, 1934.
Workers Dance League
A program of dances which are drawn from social conflicts will be given by several outstanding groups of the Workers’ Dance League, at City College Auditorium on January 7. The groups are participating are well known to thousands of workers, students, and artists. Unheralded by commercial publicity, they have been dancing for some time at hundreds of affairs for every conceivable occasion of the revolutionary movement. No introduction is needed for the New Dance Group, New Duncan Dancers, the Red Dancers, the Rebel Dancers of Newark, and the Theatre Union Dance Group. These groups stand for dance art that is socially conscious.
From their program we shall be able to gauge the development of the revolutionary dance. On Broadway and in the concert field there has not only been no development, but stagnation and decay. The dance of bourgeois society is dying. Vulgarized inevitably by commercialism, the bourgeois dance loses all value as art. A well known concert group (Doris Humphrey’s) driven by economic necessity, is now performing in cabarets. The more sensitive, intelligent and gifted dancers, especially of the younger generation, have turned from this deplorable condition of bourgeois “art” and have allied themselves with the working class in whose freshness, vigor and courage they find inspiration. Nourished with the ideals of the fighting working class, a full blooded realistic art is rapidly developing.
These young dancers bring’ enthusiasm, a keen awareness of the life about them, they also bring training, technique and unusual talent. From every established school of dancing the more outstanding young dancers have formed or joined revolutionary dance groups. And that is only natural. What dancer who loves the art, can continue to dance the generally effete, stagnant content of bourgeois dancers, even though they have established reputations. The thinking dancer realizes that dance art to be significant must express the force of living reality, and that only by allying the dance with revolutionary ideology can that reality be optimistic. It is not surprising therefore that we find most promising talent from every school among Workers Dance League groups.
These dance groups will present a program refreshing to those who are tired of the ideological confusion and despair of current professional performances. To cheer us the New Dance Group will do a satire on the “Blue Eagle.” And very timely also will be their dance satire Charity. The Theatre Union Group will dance the Anti-War Cycle which was first performed at the antiwar congress in New York recently. Scottsboro will be given by the Red Dancers. The New Duncan Dancers is doing a new dance inspired by the heroic death of Bruno Tesch, the young German worker, who with several other Communists was recently beheaded by the Nazis. The name of this dance is If Need Be, We Give Our Youth. This group will also do a dance celebrating the success of collectivization in the Soviet Union, called Kolkhozniki. The Rebel Dancers of Newark have also composed a new dance especially for this recital. There is no doubt that at this recital the new dance art of the masses will show its strength.
New Duncan Dancers
THE New Duncan Dancers, though comparatively new to the W.D.L., have made rapid progress since their organization in October. Built around an original nucleus of six experienced dancers, the group has expanded to a membership of over thirty and now includes, besides the performing group, a beginners class. The performing group also acts as teachers. To date, they have a number of performances to their credit- the most important being at the Daily Worker affair and the Recognition Rally of the Friends of the Soviet Union, both of which took place at the Bronx Coliseum.
The heterogeneous character of the New Dance Group membership is apparent from the following occupational classification. This very diversity is an encouraging indication of the ever broadening appeal of revolutionary dancing among the masses. There are: 6 sales clerks, 1 shoe worker, 1 needle trade, 1 food worker, 1 social worker, 1 dress designer, 1 professional housekeeper, 1 dress cleaner, 6 office workers, 1 milliner, 4 students, 1 laboratory technician, 1 artist, 1 hairdresser, 2 beauticians, 1 physical therapy technician, 15 teachers, 2 lawyers, 1 model, 1 chemist and 1 sailor.
As a result of the Teachers and Leaders Conference held by the Workers Dance League several months ago, resolutions calling for the formation of a Teachers and Leaders course were adopted. The course aims to present a survey of work essential for the development of leaders and teachers eager to do work in the revolutionary dance movement. It plans to cover both theoretical and practical work. The curriculum follows:
Theoretic training in Marxism- A.B.C. of Communism, Marxism in art.
Theoretical training in the Dance -· Development of the dance as an art form, dance pedagogy, accompaniment to the dance, music percussion, voice, and physiology.
Practical training schools of Dalcroze, Graham, Humphries, and Breect; practical teaching, practical problems in direction of dance projects.
The Nature Friends Dance Group originally started as a technique class for body development and ballet; practical teaching, forming group. According to their report to the W.D.L. council, this performing unit has served as a splendid propagandist agent for the Nature Friends organization. Other beneficial results of their dancing experience, according to this same report, have been the development of self confidence and freedom of bodily motion, plus an appreciation of the values of collective work. At present the group is planning dances, in which any number of people can perform at any one time, and is also beginning work on solo dances.
Needle Trades Workers Dance Group
APPROACHING its first anniversary is the Needle Trades Workers Dance Group which has grown from a dance class into an effective performing group. The group is a section of the cultural department of the Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union and as such receives a partial subsidy from its parent organization. The membership is drawn from every source connected with the needle trades, shops, opposition groups, union members, etc. The Union provides free quarters.
For some time the members of this group worked on technique and small dance themes suggested in their daily activities. One development was a theme called The Picket Line. There was difficulty in working out group compositions dealing with the struggles of needle trades workers, which could be presented at union affairs as a definite part of the union educational program. The acquisition of new workers after projects had been started made evident the need for uniformity in training.
The problem accentuated the basic organizational principle of the Workers Dance League, “groups must be mass in form with a collective leadership.” A request to W.D.L. for another instructor was answered and then proceeded a reorganization of the group into an elementary and an advanced section. This has worked well and both membership and artistic results are growing.
The executive committee which consists of an organizer, a secretary, an educational director, a treasurer, and the two dance leaders, plans all the work in a collective manner and brings its suggestion to the membership each week. Once a week there is a discussion hour which follows a talk by an outside speaker. Recently there was afruitful examination of the role of the revolutionary dancer. These informal forums have proven invaluable in stimulating creative work.
The two dance instructors draw up a plan of work. They then work out in practice the technique necessary to express the themes decided upon. At present the group is working on a dance drama of the life of young needle trades workers. In the various scenes, it deals with various problems that make up the life of those in the needle trades. The scenes are:
1. In a workers’ home (morning), 2. In the boss’s home (morning), 3. In the shop, 4. Speed-up, accidents, discharge 5.Strike, 6. On the picket line, 7. The A.F.L. misleaders and the boss’s henchmen, 8. The settlement committee, 9. N.T.W.I.U.-The leader of the needle trades workers.
All the themes are suggested and developed into dance form by members of advanced group with the help of the dance instructors and with the ideological assistance of a union representative.
Workers Theatre began in New York City in 1931 as the publication of The Workers Laboratory Theater collective, an agitprop group associated with Workers International Relief, becoming the League of Workers Theaters, section of the International Union of Revolutionary Theater of the Comintern. The rough production values of the first years were replaced by a color magazine as it became primarily associated with the New Theater. It contains a wealth of left cultural history and ideas. Published roughly monthly were Workers Theater from April 1931-July/Aug 1933, New Theater from Sept/Oct 1933-November 1937, New Theater and Film from April and March of 1937, (only two issues).
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/workers-theatre/v1n02-jan-1934-New-Theatre.pdf