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Oral History Project
The Oral History Project and Archive have been a vital part of the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library since 1974. The Project is a distinct, searchable collection of interviews that have been initiated and recorded by the Library in an effort to add to the existing primary source material available to researchers in dance. The original funders of the Project included the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. This money launched an effort to interview colleagues and associates of eight figures in the dance community: Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Leonid Massine, Alexandra Danilova, Alicia Markova, Ninette de Valois and Lucia Chase. Subsequently, in response to changing sources of funding as well as in an effort to respond to emerging fields in dance scholarship, the Project has pursued interviews with dance historians, writers, administrators, technical artists, choreographers and dancers working in a wide array of genres and styles.
It is the objective of the Project, existing as it does within the context of the largest library devoted to the art of dance in the world, to address gaps in the documentation of this elusive art form. The interviews are created with an eye toward the Library's existing holdings; that is as discrete manuscripts to be studied alongside other manuscript materials on the subject, as well as photographs, printed documents and videotapes.
Criteria for participation in the Project include the individual's significance in the dance community either because of their own work, or because of the proximity of their relationship to an identified subject of interest. A notable achievement or turning point in an individual's life or the history of an institution is one factor that might cause a subject to be recommended for oral history documentation.
Another important criterion for participation is that the subject matter is at risk in some way. An individual may be at risk due to age or illness, or the continuity of the form that they practice may be threatened for demographic reasons. During the 1980s and 1990s a major focus of the Dance Collection's Oral History Project has been the lives and work of dance professionals with HIV and AIDS. More than twenty interviews have been recorded and cataloged as part of this effort. Not all of the oral authors choose to speak about their HIV status or how it affects their careers. Some do. The tapes do not make up a separate collection. They become part of the archive of hundreds of oral histories produced by the Dance Collection over the last 37 years.