Acclaimed choreographer and director Helen Tamiris used dance to comment on the social issues of her day, including racism, poverty, and war. Born Helen Becker, she chose the name Tamiris early in her career to honor a Persian queen. She began studying modern dance at the Henry Street Settlement at age eight and at age fifteen began dancing for the Metropolitan Opera Company Ballet. In 1927 she performed her first solos at New York’s Little Theater, and earned praise for Prize Fight Studies and Negro Spirituals (a perennial hit that touched on themes of racism and violence) the following year. In 1929 she founded both the School of American Dance and her company Tamiris and Her Group. She also joined the cooperative Dance Repertory Theater from 1930–1932. After lobbying the Federal government for a publicly funded dance program, she ran the Dance Project for the WPA from 1935–1939. In the 1940s she shifted from modern dance to musical theater, choreographing eighteen musicals including the Broadway hit Annie Get Your Gun in 1946. From 1957–1964 she co-directed the Tamiris-Nagrin Dance Company and choreographed her 1959 Memoir, about her Jewish roots, and 1960’s Women’s Song, about the Holocaust.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Helen Tamiris." (Viewed on March 17, 2018) <https://jwa.org/people/tamiris-helen>.