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

Creativity and Experimentation: A Snapshot of the CKU Dance Department

A new collection that documents two decades of the Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School Dance Department is now open for research. The materials were donated to the Archives by the former Director of the Dance Department, Jessica Sinclair, and photographer Fred Olds.

Sinclair started teaching modern dance as part of Kingswood School’s physical education program in 1963. During her tenure, the program flourished, and Dance became its own department. Students performed throughout the year at the Performing Arts Winter Festival, the annual Evening of Dance concerts, and at events such as the Guy Fawkes Ball at Cranbrook Academy of Art (CAA).

Alexandra Ohanian in studio, ca 2000. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1982, Sinclair invited Fred Olds to photograph her dancers in collaboration with a fiber installation by Gerhardt Knodel, who was Head of the Fiber Department at CAA at that time. This event led to a twenty-year collaboration between Olds and Sinclair. Olds photographed students in performance, in the studio, and at local and international events.

Dancers perform at the David Whitney Building in Detroit, 1985. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Between 1982 and 2002, the Dance department performed in Chicago, Toronto, and at the David Whitney Building in Detroit, where Sinclair choreographed “Dance in 4 Spaces,” with a grant awarded by the Michigan Council for the Arts. In 1989, Olds traveled with Sinclair and her dancers to the former Soviet Union to perform at the Children’s Palace in Moscow, the Choreographic Institute in Tblisi, and at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory State Theatre in St. Petersburg. Olds remembers that the peak of applause at this concert came for a dancer in a 16-foot-tall dress designed by artist, Nick Cave (CAA ’89).

Susan Loveland in a costume designed by Nick Cave, 1989. Copyright Fred Olds/Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Throughout the years, Sinclair collaborated with a diverse group of fiber artists, sculptors, and architects to infuse creativity and experimentation into her work. The archival collection reflects this process in photographs, ephemera, and video.

– Gina Tecos, Archivist

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