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Death of Susan Braun, dance archivist

October 3, 1995

In the early 1950s, other than some 16mm films on Russian ballet, very little film documentation of dance existed.  Artist Susan Braun made an about-face in her career in the art world and began to fill the need of documenting dance on film.  She paved the way for a modern art form that encompassed the two, forming the Dance Films Association.

Born July 24, 1916 in New York City to Alfred and Georgina (Ballin) Braun, she was surrounded in her childhood with painting and music.  She studied at the Parsons School of Design, Jamesine Franklin School of Professional Arts, and the Jessie Ansbacher Group at the Art Students League.  At the age of 33, she began studying Isadora Duncan dance technique with Anita Zahn, which she continued for the next four years. 

It is said that the rare records of Duncan’s dance is what inspired Braun to begin work with the New York Dance Film Society.  She eventually became the society's co-director, with Daniel Livingston, its founder.   When the Society stopped functioning in 1956, Ms. Braun established Dance Films Association, a forum for makers of dance films, with a bi-monthly newsletter and a competitive festival each winter.  Its original vision was to be a clearinghouse for the distribution of films on dance, from experimental work to instructional films and documentaries. 

The explosion of work in film and dance that ensued led in turn to DFA’s diversification of work.  Beginning in 1971, their Dance On Camera Festival has continued to present dance film premieres as well as retrospective programs to foster creativity and encourage collaborations between choreographers and filmmakers.  Alongside an archive film library of more than 500 dance film works, DFA maintains a database of distributors and dance film/videos.  In 2007, DFA initiated the Susan Braun Award: The Young Choreographers Initiative to encourage young dance filmmakers.  In 2011 Capturing Motion NYC premiered with an annual high school student film competition with workshops aimed at teaching the art of capturing dance on film.  DFA’s Dance Film Productions initiative creates funding opportunities for mid-level and established choreographers to collaborate with filmmakers on high-quality film projects using HD and 3D technology.

Today Dance Films Association builds upon founder Susan Braun’s vision by encouraging choreographers to enter the world of filmmaking, for filmmakers to discover the rich history of dance, and for audiences to engage with the broad spectrum of these films.  As Gus Reed wrote on DFA’s blog, “Live dance is a disappearing act—temporary, unrepeatable, blink and you’ll miss it.  Film, a medium of fixed images and set durations, is, in many ways, its direct opposite, but the merging of the two mediums gives rise to an art of electrifying contradictions.”

Sources: DanceFilms.org; “Susan Braun, 79, Dance Archivist,” New York Times, October 7, 1995; “Susan Braun.”

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Susan Braun
Full image
Susan Braun.
Courtesy of the Dance Films Association Archives.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Death of Susan Braun, dance archivist." (Viewed on December 16, 2017) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/oct/03/1995/death-of-susan-braun-dance-archivist>.

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