Dance Oral History Project
*Online access to over 50 full-length interviews here!
*Listen to the Dance Oral History Project Playlist.
The Dance Oral History Project has been a vital part of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division since 1974. The Project is a distinct 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. 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. Over the course of four decades since its initiation, the Project has pursued interviews with choreographers and dancers working in a wide array of genres and styles, dance historians, writers, administrators, technical artists, and collaborative artists.
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. Audio interviews, which can often be more revealing than edited and published memoirs, bring to life the personalities and forces that shape the course of dance history. The oral histories are created, with an eye toward the Library's existing holdings, as discrete manuscripts to be studied alongside other manuscript materials and documentation of dance in photographs, printed documents and the moving image.
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 due to: age or illness, diminishing participation in a form, archival silences, and limited access to media.
Interviewees are informally nominated to the Project Coordinator by members of the dance community. Often artists who wish to be interviewed have contacted the Coordinator themselves. All interviews are confidential until they are released by the oral author. The Project is based in New York, but interviews in other areas can be arranged, often by cooperatively identifying a local interviewer. This project is still active. Please do not hesitate to contact the Project Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org if you, or someone you know, would like to participate.
COVID-19 Dance Worker Narratives Project
This was a participatory peer-to-peer, remote video interview project designed to capture the personal experiences within the dance community during the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. All dance artists, teachers, students and workers were invited to conduct interviews for the project between May 2020-December 2021.
Speaking of Dancing Project
Made possible by a generous gift from Anne H. Bass, from 2009-2012 the Project recorded new interviews with ten prominent figures in the field unified by a focus on the role of interpretation in dancing. Interpretation, defined most simply as the expression through movement of choreographic ideas, offers so many avenues through which to explore the art of dance, illuminating aspects of the creative process, collaborative relationships and the transmission of choreography from creator to dancer and from dancer to audience.
You can read more about Speaking of Dancing in a blog post from the project coordinator.
Aids Oral History Project
In the late 1980s - 1990s, a major focus of the Project were the lives and work of dance professionals at risk due to HIV and AIDS. More than twenty initial interviews were recorded as part of this effort. Some of the narrators chose to speak about their HIV status but not all did. The interviews do not make up a separate collection, they are held within the archive of dance oral histories. In recording current oral histories, some of the narrators also reflect back on the original AIDS plague years and its impact upon their lives.
At the Library for the Performing Arts:
Audio and transcripts are made available to researchers on the third floor.
Digitized audio can be found in the NYPL Digital Collections and streamed onsite.
Listen to over 50 of our full-length interviews here!
- Listen to excerpts of recent interviews on our Dance Oral History Project Playlist.
Individual authors may place restrictions on public access to their interview for a specified period of time which will be indicated in the interview’s catalog record. Restricted, or unrestricted, these materials may not be copied without the written permission of the oral author or their designated legal representative or the Dance Division.
Dance Oral History Project, Jerome Robbins Dance Division