Anna Halprin is one of the founders of the American avant-garde in modern dance. Beginning with her work in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she radically expanded the ideas of what could constitute a dance, what kind of personal material was permissible as content in a dance work, and how to give voice to forgotten segments of the population—people of color, the aged, the terminally ill.
Anna (Schuman) Halprin was born July 13, 1920, in Wilmette, Illinois, to Ida (Schiff), daughter of Lithuanian immigrants, and Isadore Schuman, a native of Odessa, Russia. She was the youngest of three, with two older brothers. As her father, who had no education beyond elementary school, went from wholesaling women’s clothing to being a successful real estate entrepreneur, the family rose rapidly into upper-middle-class comfort. Anna’s mother, a housewife with a high school education, indulged her daughter in interpretive dance lessons as a child. Anna also enjoyed exposure to the arts through the model progressive education she received in elementary, middle, and high school in Winnetka, Illinois. By the time she entered the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1937, she knew she wanted to be a dancer. At university, the fiery redheaded performer became the protégée of the chair of the dance program, the distinguished dance educator Margaret H’Doubler, and received her B.A. in 1942. It was at the University of Wisconsin that she met Lawrence Halprin, the son of Hadassah president Rose Halprin, a graduate student in biology who was to become a distinguished landscape architect and environmental designer. They were married on September 19, 1940.
After a brief stint performing on Broadway with Doris Humphrey’s company, Halprin and her husband moved to San Francisco in 1945, where their daughters Daria (1948) and Rana (1951) were born. (Today Daria Halprin Khalighi is an expressive arts therapist and Rana Halprin is a marriage counselor.) In San Francisco, Halprin, who created several of her early solos based on Jewish themes, founded first a dance studio with Welland Lathrop and then her own company, the San Francisco Dancers Workshop, with which she toured Europe to great acclaim in 1963 and 1965. Starting in 1982, Halprin began her annual performances of Circle the Earth: A Planetary Dance for Peace. As an outgrowth of her work with individuals with AIDS, she also founded two ongoing workshop groups for people diagnosed HIV-positive, one for men called Positive Motion, and one for women called Women with Wings.
A recipient of Guggenheim and National Educational Association fellowships, an honorary degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1994, the Dance Magazine Award of 2004, and many other honors and awards, Halprin is also noted for her teaching. She served as a mentor to the leading postmodern dancers, including Meredith Monk, Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, and Simone Forti. Through her performing and teaching—which she continues today, leading movement workshops around the world—Anna Halprin helped to redefine American modern dance as a contemporary ritual and a forum for the artist as a morally and socially engaged individual.
Banes, Sally. Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post Modern Dance (1980); Halprin, Anna. Movement Ritual (1975), and Moving Towards Life (1996); Koegler, Horst. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet (1982).