Democratizing Dance: Baltimore's Estelle Dennis Dance Theatre

In 1934, Roland Park native and former Denishawn dancer Estelle Dennis opened her Dance Theatre in a converted carriage house at 100 East Monument Street in Baltimore. In 1935, New York Times dance critic John Martin called Dennis's community theatre "one of the earliest if not actually the first" experiment in the growing movement to broaden the influence of dance both to entertain and to educate.  Dennis’s program blended modern dance and ballet choreography with ethnic music and dance traditions, creating an entirely new American style.

Dennis brought an international sensibility to Baltimore, inviting world-renowned dance companies to rehearse and work with her students. Some of the world’s most famous dancers visited the theatre, including George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, Alicia Markova, Margot Fonteyn, Alexandra Danilova, Martha Graham, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Charles Weidman, and Lincoln Kirstein.

In 1980, Dennis was recognized for her achievements in dance and her contributions to Baltimore by the Maryland Dance Council. Six years later, Dennis transferred sole management of the studio over to her long-time student, friend, and business partner Louise Muse. While working with hundreds of students at the dance theatre, Muse also maintained the records of the studio and has recently donated these to Goucher College. The Estelle Dennis Dance Theatre Collection includes unique photographs, newspaper clippings, correspondence, dance and theater programs, and rare books. The collection will be available to students and other researchers interested in the influence of community dance pioneers Estelle Dennis and Louise Muse.

The Estelle Dennis Dance Theatre exhibit was prepared by Gillian Rathbone-Webber, Class of 2009.