Perspectives on Contemporary Dance History: Revisiting Impulse, 1950–1970

by Thomas K. Hagood and Luke C. Kahlich


Dance, as an academic field of study, is approaching its ninetieth anniversary. The University of Wisconsin–Madison offered the first dance major program for undergraduates in 1926. At the same time dance was coming into its own in America’s colleges and universities, some extraordinarily talented young artists were moving dance into new, modern territories as a performing art. The flowering of dance on the concert stage and in the university nurtured new discourses for examining the subject. Faculty sought to write about the theoretical and pedagogical underpinnings of the discipline, and about the new idea that dance––like music, theater, and the visual arts––was a product of the same human urge toward creative expression.

It was also fertile ground for scholarly examination and inquiry. Into this rich new geography came two women who, residing in the booming post–World War II San Francisco bay area, had the resources, the vision, and the opportunity to develop “something new in dance”: an annual journal devoted to contemporary dance. Brought into existence by Anna Halprin and Marian Van Tuyl, Impulse, A West Coast Annual of Contemporary Dance was the first and for many years the preeminent link between discourses in dance and society, politics, education, performance, history, philosophy, criticism, science, religion, to name but a few.

Viewed from today, Impulse represents the bedrock for dance as a literary topic worthy of critical analysis, critically aware self-reflection, and provocative and controversial points of view. Over the course of its run (1950–1970), Impulse presented articles, monographs, and perspectives that were unparalleled for breadth of commentary, scope of authorship, and for provocative yet engaging discourses.

Contemporary American dance scholars agree that the first venue for critically informed, aware, and diverse reflections on dance was Impulse. While Impulse was recognized as the platform for dance scholarship during the years of its publication, following its cessation in 1970, only a handful of libraries and collections retained a full complement of its issues. Over time and out of view Impulse began to fade from memory, and many upcoming dance scholars were unaware of its rich history and seminal contributions to the field. Fortunately, as Impulse collected dust on shelves, technologies evolved that offered hope for the preservation of print and media collections. In 2008 a project was initiated to preserve Impulse as a digital collection and bring together a cohort of dance scholars to analyze each issue from today’s point of view. Their collected works are presented in Contemporary Dance History: Revisiting Impulse, 1950–1970. There is no comparable study or project designed to preserve and facilitate access to original source materials in dance at this time.

Perspectives on Contemporary Dance History: Revisiting Impulse, 1950–1970 stands alone as a compendium of critical analyses of the full roster of a publication dedicated to dance. As eminent authors of the time were invited to contribute to issues of Impulse, contemporary dance scholars were invited to contribute to this book that examines Impulse from today’s point of view. This volume revisits the journal’s breadth of commentary, scope of authorship, and provocative yet engaging discourses. In these regards Perspectives on Contemporary Dance History: Revisiting Impulse, 1950–1970 is unlike any other contemporary volume of dance studies.

Perspectives on Contemporary Dance History: Revisiting Impulse, 1950–1970 will be of interest to current and emerging dance scholars, dance historians, cultural theorists, education specialist, arts librarians, and those who seek a model for reclaiming the foundational literature of a discipline.


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