Let’s Beguine Again: A Syllabus for Music and Dance

This year the Center is celebrating the life and work of Loja Saarinen for our House Party fundraiser. Lynette Mayman’s post on 1930s fashion offered an excellent guide to dressing à la mode for this historically themed evening event, while highlighting Loja’s freedom and creativity in celebrating her own authentic style. Being curious about the events to which such attire might be worn, I looked to the Kingswood School records to explore its history of music and dance events during that era.

Kingswood School Annual Dance Book, 1932. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

From the abundance of programs and ephemera, it was clear that music and dance were a valued part of the curriculum and school life, and its purpose was elucidated by the educational philosophy in the school catalogs for the 1930s:

“Music and Dance, two of the greatest social forces, and most closely related in essential nature, are organized in the curriculum under the direction of one department for concurrent purposes… The program of work is such as to encourage the fullest and freest development of individual personality which is the basis for true dramatic and musical expression.”

Kingswood School Catalogs, Kingswood School Records (1980-01)

Formal classes in music theory and social dancing (taught in physical education classes under the direction of Luella Hauser) were augmented by extracurricular activities. These included the Glee Club and various kinds of themed and annual dances, which offered students a variety of ways in which they could learn through participation, as well as recitals by visiting performers, which offered learning through observation and listening.

Program for the Mothers’ Day Tea, May 1937. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The Glee Club for girls was formed in 1932 for those interested in singing. They performed one concert per year, the first being held on March 11, 1932. The Club would also perform at other events throughout the year, such as the Mothers’ Day Tea and the ‘Carnival,’ which was an informal jamboree of themed gaiety and fun. The first Carnival, on December 10, 1932, was described as one of “grand vaudeville,” including a fashion show that embraced lovely old fashions and lively modern ones.

The 1937 Carnival was a Masque that traced the development of dance from the fourteenth century to the present time, including the Carole, Pavane, Sarabande, Minuet, Gavotte, Waltz, Schottische, Tango, and Fox Trot. The Glee Club sang songs typical of each period, while three jolly spirits, Dance, Play, and Song, presented the dancers.

Invitation to the Ypsilanti Madrigal Club performance, December 1931. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The first visiting performance was held on December 11, 1931, when the Madrigal Club, a choir of men and women from State Normal College, Ypsilanti, under the direction of Mr. Frederic Alexander, performed as a Christmas gift from Mr. Alexander to Mr. George Booth. The concert of unaccompanied songs and compositions on harpsichord was described as “unusual in character and delightful in content,” and became an annual event at the school.

Other annual visitors included Mildred Dilling, the internationally known harpist, and Cameron McLean, the Canadian baritone who was accompanied by various local pianists, including Detroiter Gizi Szanto. There were also one-time visits by performers such as pianists Stanley Fletcher and Samuel Sorin, singer Marion Anderson, baritone Earle Spicer, and opera singer Alexander Kipnis.

Program of Music printed by Cranbrook Press, April 1932.

Kingswood School Records. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Celebrated teachers of modern dance were invited to give dance recitals including Ted Shawn, Ronny Johansson, and Martha Graham. Visiting in March 1936, Graham gave a comprehensive recital of her work, leaving us with an autographed program—an archival treasure!

Program for Dance Recital autographed by Martha Graham, March 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

While Graham’s dance was reported in the Kingswood Newssheet as casting aside, “all old standards of beauty and grace,” through her use of angles and quick movements rather than the legato rhythm of conventional dancing, her philosophy of the dancer speaks poetically to the purpose of the 1930s Kingswood curriculum for music and dance—drawing out the essence of the individual through social artforms:

“You traverse, you come to the light, you work, you make it right… you embody within yourself as much curiosity, use that curiosity and avidity for life … and the body becomes a sacred garment – it’s your first and your last garment, and as such it should be treated with honor, and with joy, and with fear too, but always with blessing.”

Martha Graham, Martha Graham on Technique

As we celebrate the life and work of Loja Saarinen this year, we celebrate her as immigrant, entrepreneur, designer, and fashionista. Please join us for the Virtual Film Premiere as we support and acknowledge the work of the Center at our House Party, May 21, 2022.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Center for Collections and Research

2 thoughts on “Let’s Beguine Again: A Syllabus for Music and Dance

  1. Don’t forget the Thursday afternoon dance classes held at Kingswood by Mrs Brown, where she taught “Rock and Roll ” and we learned slow dancing.

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