Women of Valor


Radical Dance

Anna Sokolow, 1910 - 2000

In the early 1930s, while still dancing for Graham, Sokolow began to work with other groups and to choreograph pieces of her own. As did many other Jewish women dancers, she became associated with a loose coalition known as the "radical dance" movement.

Although modern dancers had always believed dance should be more than mere entertainment, Sokolow and her contemporaries searched for a new, revolutionary approach. Unlike early modern dance pioneers, who often looked to ancient myths and timeless legends, the "radical dancers" saw their art as a potential agent of societal change and found inspiration in events around them. Disturbed by the upheavals of the Depression at home and the rising threat of fascism abroad, they tried to raise consciousness by dramatizing the economic, social, and political crises of their time. Audience members, they hoped, would in turn be inspired to help resolve these crises.

Sokolow's first major composition for a group, Anti-War Trilogy, was performed at the 1933 First Anti-War Congress, sponsored by the American League Against War and Fascism. She continued to portray the dangers of war and fascism in such works as Inquisition '36, Excerpts from a War Poem, and Slaughter of the Innocents. She also examined the oppression of industrial workers (Strange American Funeral), analyzed juvenile delinquency (Case History No.--), and satirized modern society (Romantic Dances, Histrionics).

By the mid-1930s, Sokolow was the youngest American choreographer to lead her own professional dance group, "Dance Unit." In 1936, she staged the first full-evening concert of her own works at New York's 92nd Street Y.

In 1934, Sokolow traveled to the Soviet Union, where she hoped to find a truly revolutionary dance movement. She was disappointed to discover that Soviet dance was in fact less avant-garde than the American "radical dance" movement.

  1. Information drawn from Larry Warren, Anna Sokolow: The Rebellious Spirit (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998), 23-61; Nancy Brooks Schmitz, "Catherine Littlefield and Anna Sokolow: Artists Reflecting Society of the 1930s," Dance: Current Selected Research (1989): 115-123; Stacey Prickett, "Dance and the Workers' Struggle," Dance Research (Spring 1990): 47-61.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Anna Sokolow - Radical Dance." (Viewed on April 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/sokolow/radical-dance>.