Local Impact, Institutional News

An Oral History of the American Dance Festival

The American Dance Festival this summer celebrates its 40th year of bringing global modern dance to Durham, North Carolina. But the roots of the festival, and of modern dance itself, will always be be tied to Bennington. 

The origins of the American Dance Festival lie in the Bennington School of Dance, which began at Bennington College in Vermont in July 1934. The school's emphasis on modern dance—a developing form that rejected the stylistic and narrative confines of classical ballet—was unprecedented. Its directors, Martha Hill and Mary Josephine Shelly, centered the curriculum on contact with professional choreographers; students trained with modern-dance pioneers like Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey.