Lester Horton and cultural plurality.

by Brittany

How did Lester Horton highlight a particular culture in dance history?

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Mar 02, 2011
Answer from Maria
by: Maria

Dear Brittany,

I believe Lester Horton highlighted the value and existence of different ethnicities within his own cultural context and not only one group in particular.

He was interested in the Native American ethnic groups from a very young age. He studied the Iroquois and Red River Indians, and Penobscot and Ojibway tribes.

When the time to create his choreographic pieces arrived, he used them and their way of life as a working topic. Some examples of this are the "Kootenni warrior's dance" (1932), the "Azteca ballet" (1934) or the "Spell of the Totem" (1938).

Some dance history texts say that he did not specifically try to westernize the native dances and that he tried to stick to their own manners, even by the use of tribal music. This might be true for some of his pieces, but at the same time, Lester Horton is renowned for having had a great ability to translate ethnic dances into commercially acceptable formats, which led him to make choreographies for films from the 1940s through the early 1950s.

His interest for ethnic matters led him to consider social problems of his time like racial violence and injustice. In this sense, he also shines for opening the doors to a real line of afro-descendant dancers (like James Truitte, Carmen de Lavallade, Joyce Trisler and the famous Alvin Ailey), in a society where they where systematically excluded.

You may know that he also included the Greek classical dramas within his repertory, among other things. This shows that he was not strictly focused on one ethnic group alone.

I've never heard of him highlighting just one particular culture. As I understand, from what dance history tells us, he defended cultural plurality. In his case, this was specifically in the name of the Native Americans and Afro-descendant people, because they were part of his own geographical and historical context, which was dominated by a white-European culture which excluded them.

(I hope I'm not doing your homework...! ...kidding...)

Best wishes! Come back with comments or more questions. Interesting concerns like yours are of great value for all of us.



Feb 26, 2015
by: Amy

The post on Lester Horton and contemporary dance was much inspiring for me. I am a dancer but I am a classical dancer. This website has inspired me so much to chase my passion. Keep up the good work guys.

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