Preview Cart Checkout

You are here


Willa Cather and the Dance

Willa Cather and the Dance


Anna Pavlova's revolutionary debut in 1910 at the Metropolitan Opera House captivated the nation and introduced Americans to the charms of modern ballet. Willa Cather was among the first intellectuals to recognize that dance had suddenly been elevated into a new art form, and she quickly trained herself to become one of the leading balletomanes of her era. Willa Cather and the Dance: "A Most Satisfying Elegance" traces the writer's dance education, starting with the ten-page explication she wrote in 1913 for McClure's magazine called "Training for the Ballet." Cather's interest was sustained through her entire canon as she utilized characters, scenes, and images from almost all of the important dance productions that played in New York.

In 1916 Cather received a fan letter from the modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis, who apparently introduced her work to Martha Graham. Throughout the 1930s Graham used many of Cather's ideas to shape the face of American dance, while Cather herself was utilizing contemporary dance and ballet themes to add texture and subtext to her literary works. Cather sustained the ballet theme through her oeuvre, often using ballet plots to subvert and reverse the surface readings of her work.

About the Author

Wendy K. Perriman was born in the United Kingdom. She attended the Universities of Lancaster and Bristol and spent fifteen years as an international high school teacher specializing in English, drama, and dance. During that time she choreographed many full-scale dance productions; her dance teams won the YMCA All Germany Command Final in 1983 ('The Dolly Mixtures") and 1984 ("Instep"). Dr. Perriman moved to the United States in 1994. She earned her doctorate at Drew University, winning the Chamberlain Prize for best dissertation. She taught at Drew until moving to North Carolina where she currently resides. She is the author of A Wounded Deer: The Effects of Incest on the Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson.