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Dancing Fools for April Fool's


[Jester and ballerina] / photograph, no credit given. New York Public Library
[Jester and ballerina] / photograph, no credit given. New York Public Library

In honor of April Fool's Day, I bring you an image of a jester and a ballerina which I found the other day in the Dance Division's photo collection. We don't know much about this photo, except that it's an example of the kinds of variety dancing performed in the early part of the 20th century.

It turns out there are lots of fools in the Dance Division (not among the staff, of course)!

We have videorecordings of New York City Ballet dancing Peter Martins's* A Fool for You, including one of the work's world premiere on May 14, 1988, as well as clippings and a program documenting performances of the piece. (You will need an NYPL card to access links marked with asterisks.) Other fool-ish works include Gillian Lynne's Fool on the Hill, two different pieces called Fool's Tale – one by Yuriko* and one by Ray Powell – John Cranko's* The Lady and the Fool, Christopher Wheeldon's* Fools' Paradise, and a 1920 piece by Swedish dancer/choreographer Jean Börlin* of the Ballet Suedois, Les Vierges Folles (The Foolish Virgins): 

Our collection even includes mime works like Bob Berky's Foolsfire and Fool Moon, starring Bill Irwin and David Shiner.

Fools abound beyond the 20th century as well. A print from the 19th century depicts a jester carrying a scepter with a replica of his own head.

Even earlier images exist of fools, such as this section from a 12 panel 18th century engraving. This fool is a fine example of the tradition of Morris dancing, a kind of folk dancing which continues to be studied today, and which is documented by numerous books in our collection.

In fact, our records of Morris dancing include several editions of Cecil Sharp James's* The Morris Book, which provides some instructions on the fool's jig. James states that "the purpose of this dance to enable the Fool, who is usually a very clever dancer, to demonstrate his prowess":

And I would be remiss if I didn't include instructions for April Fools Day, a dance brought to Australia by Cornish settlers:

Happy April Fool's Day!


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