Merce Cunningham and his work has made an indelible mark on my consciouness. It is with mixed emotions that I received this article in the New York Times on Cunningham’s plans for ensuring preservation of his lifelong career as a dancer and choreographer. Cunningham turned ninety on April 16 this year.
I discovered Merce Cunningham in college in New York (where I discovered most great things) and although that time of my life–a selfish immersion in arts–is past, I think about him, his philosophy, his dialogs with John Cage, and his worldview quite often. Here is a video of Cage and Cunningham in their element:
Unfortunately the YouTube poster didn’t date the video but from the two men’s ages it looks to be from the mid to late 50s.
Merce’s time on Earth is limited, as all of ours is in one way or another. You can find him now, as vibrant as ever, on a video series called “Mondays with Merce” on the Merce Cunningham Dance Company website. The videos show the company rehearsing at Merce’s direction and interviews with dancers, artists, collaborators, and of course with Merce himself. Enjoy.
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company website.
“Mondays with Merce”
While I was browsing through sites about 20th century dance and Isadora Duncan I came across an animal-inspired fad dance that in its day was as popular as the foxtrot, but for some unknown reason has been largely lost to us in posterity.*
That dance my friends, is the Grizzly Bear.
From the New York Times, December 6, 1911:
There was no cotillion, a remarkable feature of the Juniors, and waived at this session because of the almost universal desire of the young set for general dancing and the “grizzly bear” and other new features of dancing.
Wikipedia describes the Grizzly Bear as follows:
The Grizzly Bear started in San Francisco, along with the Bunny Hug and Texas Tommy and was also done on the Staten Island ferry boats in the 1900’s. It has been said that dancers John Jarrott and Louise Gruenning introduced this dance as well as the Turkey Trot at Ray Jones Café in Chicago, IL around 1909. The Grizzly Bear was first introduced to Broadway audiences in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1910 by Miss Fanny Brice.
The dance was rough and clumsy. During the dance, the dancers would yell out: “WOOGA CHOOGA!” The genuine Grizzly Bear step was in correct imitation of the movements of a dancing bear, moving or dancing to the side. A very heavy step to the side with a decided bending of the upper part of the body from one side to the other, a decidedly ungraceful and undignified movement when performed as a dance.
It’s a San Francisco native! Who knew?
Here is an image I found on this website of a man and a woman purporting to carry out the Grizzly Bear:
Makes the whole “undignified” thing come to life don’t you think? Though I’m not sure it’s the dance or that guy’s really scary makeup job.
I’m a new fan of this website.
*I’m not sure if that usage works, but I like it.
I’ve almost completely sworn off high heels, unless the evening involves valet parking and no dancing (a rare combination of circumstances). But a low heel is just right. I’m IN LOVE with these Anna Sui’s:
Equal parts Betsey Johnson and Isadora Duncan. Perfect for my collection of frocks from the 20s and 30s. Color me in love. Available here at Shopbop.
If people ask me when I began to dance I reply, “In my mother’s womb, probably as a result of the oysters and champagne–the food of Aphrodite.”