Charles Weidman was one of the giants of American modern dance and a pioneer in the development of the art form. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1901, his artistic interest and abilities were evident from an early age; from the time he attended his first performance of the Denishawn Company he was determined to become a dancer, and at age 19 he received a scholarship to the Denishawn School. Weidman soon became a leading Denishawn dancer partnering Martha Graham and replacing Ted Shawn in important roles. He performed with the company in vaudeville throughout the United States and in concerts in England and Asia.
During an extended tour of the Far East, his interest in Asian dance forms was aroused, and he began studies with a Japanese teacher.
In 1927, he and Doris Humphrey left Denishawn in protest against the romanticism of the repertory, and together they established a company and a school devoted to exploring a new aesthetic. It was the work of this company and that of their contemporaries, Martha Graham and Hanya Holm, that has come to be known as modern dance.
Humphrey and Weidman established new principles of technique involving gravity, fall and recovery, sustained, suspended, and vibratory movement. Incorporating these innovative techniques, the two pioneers choreographed many works together, among them Lysistrata (1930), School for Husbands (1933) and Alcina Suite (1934).
After Humphrey’s retirement from performing in 1945, Weidman continued to create dances, perform, and teach. He was especially popular at colleges and universities throughout the United States where he taught many master classes and repertory workshops. He established a school and company of his own – The Charles Weidman School of Modern Dance and the Charles Weidman Theatre Dance Company. In 1960, he created and established the Expression of Two Arts Theatre in New York City where, despite the limitations of the small space , he presented regular weekly performances until his death.
Charles Weidman was happy to create and present dances wherever there was an audience for them. Although his first interest was the concert stage, his work was equally successful in the theater, opera, and nightclubs. His large body of work reflects his serious humanist concerns, his wit in depicting human foibles, and, most importantly, his artistic clarity as a choreographer.
In his long teaching career, Weidman influenced a great many dancers. Among the best-known artists and directors who studied with him are: Jose Limon, Jack Cole, Gene Kelly, Sybil Shearer, Eleanor King, Bob Fosse, and Alvin Ailey.