Famed choreographer Jerome Robbins originally conceived the plot of the musical West Side Story as a tale between rival Italian and Irish gangs on the Lower East Side, so the show would have been called East Side Story. Breakdancing, the 1980s street dance phenomenon, actually was called “b-boying” by its practitioners. These are a few of the nuggets unearthed by Margaret Fuhrer ’06 for her bookAmerican Dance: The Complete Illustrated History.
Fuhrer explores the history and evolution of dance, from Native American rituals that are hundreds of years old to the hip-hop move known as the Dougie. Fuhrer, who is editor-in-chief of Dance Spirit magazine, trained as a classical ballerina until a knee injury in high school derailed her dreams of a career as a dancer. After graduating from Princeton, she earned a master’s degree at New York University in cultural reporting and criticism so she could combine her passions for writing and dance. “Having been inside dance, having felt the way it feels, really does inform the way you write about it,” she says.
To research the book, Fuhrer immersed herself in the archives of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, using its extensive video collection and studying archival material from the 1930s and ’40s. She was fascinated to learn that Native American dances were considered “war dances” by European settlers — in the 1880s the United States government passed a ban specifically targeting the Sun Dance and the Ghost Dance as dangerous practices. The book’s 200 photographs capture the diversity of American dance, from jook-joint jitterbug dancers in Mississippi to Rudolf Nureyev in Swan Lake.