A Revolutionary Approach
Anna Sokolow, 1910 - 2000
As New York Times dance critic John Martin wrote in 1939, "Of all the dancers who have associated themselves with the political Left, none have made clearer his intentions than Anna Sokolow."
Yet Sokolow's approach to "revolutionary" dance was unique. Unlike many of her contemporaries, who saw themselves primarily as workers rather than artists, she refused to create works that were more propaganda than art. She said repeatedly that she "never finished a dance with a fist up in the air, or took a red flag out and waved it." Instead, she presented experiences that would resonate with working-class viewers and force them to think for themselves. As critic Marjorie Church wrote, "[S]he desires, not to extoll the virtues or deplore the plight of workers, but to speak of and to working class audiences, in terms of their own experience."
In 1937, the Daily Worker wrote that "Miss Sokolow proved she possesses that rarity known as the soul of an artist," and reviewers for more mainstream periodicals agreed. Martin wrote in the New York Times, "Several years ago when most of the youngsters in this field were apparently convinced that it was their sole mission to enlist recruits for the barricades by fiery choreographic argument, Miss Sokolow exhibited not only a clarity of vision but also an admirable courage in directing her dance into other and more fruitful channels. Her aim was to make a dance art that should grow out of the lives of the masses and have value for them." Similarly, Margaret Lloyd wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, "'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity' is no past revolutionary slogan to her.... It colors her individual style of movement, motivates her choregraphy [sic], is theme and subject, breath and life, of all she is trying to do. But all poetically, all imaginatively. She is an artist, not an agitator."
- Quotation beginning "Of all the dancers" from John Martin, "The Dance: Romanticism," New York Times, March 5, 1939.
- Quotation beginning "never finished a dance with a fist" from Margaret Murphy and Lucille Rhodes (interviewers), outtakes from the film They Are Their Own Gifts, December 17, 1975, cited in Larry Warren, Anna Sokolow: The Rebellious Spirit (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998), 96.
- Quotation beginning "She desires not to extoll the virtues " from Church, "Anna Sokolow and Dance Unit," The Dance Observer, December 1937, 127.
- Quotation beginning "Miss Sokolow proved that she possesses" from Margery Dana, "Anna Sokolow and Unit Seen in New Solo and Group Dances," Daily Worker, November 10, 1937.
- Quotation beginning "'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," from Margaret Lloyd, "Dance is for People," Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 1942.
- Quotation beginning "Several years ago" from Martin, "The Dance: Romanticism."