by Elizabeth Ward

Artist’s book recommendation

Artist’s book recommendation

We asked Elizabeth Ward, who shows her new work at Tanzquartier Wien, to present a book that you can find in our library.

The Elocutionists: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word (Music in American Life) by Marian Wilson Kimber

While researching Dancing’s Demons – a piece about hauntings and how histories that we might not be aware of or acknowledge are acting on the present – I wanted to know more about elocution. My grandfather’s grandmother, also named Elizabeth, was an elocutionist.  I know nothing about her beyond that she immigrated to New York as a teenager, worked as an elocutionist until she married in 1890 at the age of 30, and when unable to care for her children sent them to live with the Shakers. What started as an attempt to understand a personal ancestral history revealed a forgotten performance art.

Popular between 1850 and 1900 elocution was a performance art combining spoken word, music and movement practiced primarily by women in North America.

Elocutionists performed and made popular Delsarte statue posing and movement expression that later informed the practices of turn of the century early modern dancers such as Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, and Maud Allen. This book has problems – I wish the author included non-white elocutionist (such as Tekahionwake E. Pauline Johnson) or had a section on why the book focuses on white women. Even with this glaring problem (or maybe because of it) I found reading about this highly popular but forgotten performance art form very informative to understanding the cultural landscape that western “modern” dance emerged from.