This Week in History


Birth of dance scholar Selma Jeanne Cohen

September 18, 1920
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International Encyclopedia of Dance, Oxford Press.
Edited by Selma Jeanne Cohen.

Selma Jeanne Cohen, who sought to make dance scholarship a respected academic discipline, was born on September 18, 1920. Early in her career, Cohen taught dance history at Hunter College and the High School of the Performing Arts, teaching many future dance company directors such as Arthur Mitchell, Bruce Marks, and Eliot Feld. She wrote a number of scholarly articles about dance, and struggled to make dance a credible subject of scholarly research. In 1959 she founded the quarterly journal, Dance Perspectives. The success of this journal eventually led to the publication of The International Encyclopedia of Dance (1997).

In 1962 she began to teach dance history at the American Dance Festival, which led to the creation of a program to train professional dance critics. She also wrote several books of dance scholarship, including The Modern Dance: Seven Statements of Belief (1966), Doris Humprey: An Artist First (1972), Dance as a Theatre Art: Source Readings in Dance History from 1581 to the Present (1974), and Next Week Swan Lake: Reflections on Dance and Dances (1982). Cohen was also a founder of the Society of Dance History Scholars. In 1981 she was the recipient of the first Dance Magazine Award to a dance historian. Cohen died in 2005.

To learn more about Selma Jeanne Cohen, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia and We Remember.

See also: This Week in History for July 26, 1998 "Selma Jeanne Cohen's "Encyclopedia of Dance"; Wikipedia article on Selma Jeanne Cohen; Dance Performance in the United States.

Source: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 252-254.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Birth of dance scholar Selma Jeanne Cohen." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <>.