Anna Halprin receives lifetime achievement award in modern dance

June 23, 1997

On June 23, 1997, Anna Halprin received the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for lifetime achievement in modern dance. The award, which was presented at a ceremony in Durham, N.C., carried a $25,000 prize, the largest dance award presented annually. The award citation praised her for inspiring "generations of dancers" and for "multi-faceted ideas [that] have transcended traditional boundaries." It was a fitting tribute to a woman who, since the 1950s, has pushed the boundaries of avant-garde dance.

Halprin took interpretive dance lessons as a child, and decided early in life that she would pursue a dance career. Following her graduation from the University of Wisconsin in 1941, she performed for a few years on Broadway, and then moved to San Francisco, where she founded her own company, the San Francisco Dancers Workshop. With the Workshop, she created new pieces that pushed the boundaries of modern dance. One famously controversial piece was the 1969 "Parades and Changes," which included a scene where dancers removed their clothes and wrapped themselves in paper. Nudity in art would soon become relatively commonplace, but at the time it had never been seen in such a mainstream venue as the Hunter College Playhouse, where the piece premiered.

By the late 1970s, Halprin was moving in a new direction, using dance as a form of therapy. In 1981, she staged a dance "exorcism" on California's Mount Tamalpais, where a serial killer was stalking the trails. She also created works that involve the participation of all those present, and an annual spring ritual, "Circle the Earth: A Planetary Dance for Peace." In addition, Halprin worked extensively with people with cancer, HIV, and AIDS, especially through two ongoing workshop groups for HIV-positive men and women. Although she was criticized for her devotion to therapeutic work, she remained an influential teacher of dance. Those she mentored include Meredith Monk, Trisha Brown, and Yvonne Rainer.

The 1997 ADF award was only one of many that Halprin received. She was also honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Education Association Fellowship, and an American Dance Guild Award. In 2000, the Dance Heritage Coalition named her one of "America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures." In an interview following that announcement, she explained her philosophy of art, saying, "I work toward a future where … art is honored for its power to inspire, teach, transform, and heal. I work for a future where all the peoples, creatures, and landscapes of the world are dancing together."

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 587-588;; New York Times, June 7, 1997; June 22, 1997; June 25, 1997; August 26, 2001.

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I had the privilege of dancing in Anna's "Circle the Earth" ritual in San Diego in the 80s and have interviewed this amazing woman twice. The latest was in 2012 for the San Diego Union-Tribune - When I did "Circle the Earth," Anna shared a piece of wisdom that I've used as a mantra. During the workshop preparing for the ritual, a woman felt overwhelmed and ran out of the room. Anna found her and told her it's okay if you need to curl into a ball in the corner and cry, but "Whatever happens, stay in the dance." I've tried to stay in the dance ever since.

American dance pioneer Anna Halprin.

Image courtesy of DLambertNJ.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Anna Halprin receives lifetime achievement award in modern dance." (Viewed on October 2, 2023) <>.


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