May their tribe flourish

  • Meenu Thakur Sankalp
  • India
  • May 08, 2015

The merry month of May, named after the Greek Goddess Maia, marks the birth anniversary of many spectacular achievers – and the field of Dance is no exception.

1. Vernon Castle (UK) 

Born on May 2, 1887, Vernon teamed up with his illustrious dancer-wife Irene and is credited with reviving modern dancing through an innovative Ballroom technique. In 1914, Vernon and Irene stunned audiences with their Broadway show, ‘Watch Your Step’. Vernon is also remembered for his jazz rhythms. He died in an air crash during a training flight in 1918, aged only 31.

2. Maya Rao (India) 

A Kathak dancer of repute, Maya Rao was born on May 2, 1928. Maya is well known for popularising Kathak, a North Indian dance form, in South India. She opened a Kathak dance school at Bangalore. Maya trained under the famous Kathak exponent Shambhu Maharaj. Serving as the Vice-Chairperson of Sangeet Natak Academi, Maya Rao was also a recipient of numerous national and international awards. She co-authored her autobiography, ‘Maya Rao - A Lifetime in Choreography’. She died in 2014.

3. Fred Astaire (USA)

A legend who needs no introduction, Fred Astaire, the dancing star of Hollywood for over a decade, is best known for his blockbuster hits Top-Hat (1935) and Funny Face (1927). His partnership with Ginger Rogers transformed the face of Hollywood musicals. He danced and sang in as many as 212 songs in Hollywood movies. His splendid and orchestrated dance movements are remembered to this day. Born on May 10, 1899, Astaire danced for 76 years, before his death in 1987.

4. Martha Graham (USA)

Born on May 11, 1894, Martha Graham is regarded as the Mother of Modern Dance. In a glittering choreography and production career of 75 years, Graham produced the greatest masterpieces in American Dance. Martha Graham’s technique of contraction and release gave a new impetus to modern dancing. The Martha Graham Company of New York is the symbol of the Modern Dance technique. Martha’s contribution in ‘Appalachian Spring’ is one of her many masterpieces. Graham died in 1991, aged 97.

5. Balasaraswati (India)

Born on May 13, 1918, Balasaraswati is referred to as the Queen of Abhinaya (Expression). Balasaraswati was born in a Devadasi (temple-servants) family in an orthodox Tamil society. Balasaraswati is revered as one of the legends of Bharatanatyam. She brought purity of technique and the Guru-Bhakti tradition into Bharatanatyam. Balasaraswati is fondly remembered for popularising Bharatanatyam in the West. She was honoured by the United States as one of ‘America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures’. She was the recipient of the second highest civilian award of India, the Padma Vibhushan. 

6. Dame Margot Fonteyn (UK)

Born on May 18, 1919, Margot Fonteyn is regarded as one of the greatest Ballet dancers. Fonteyn spent her entire dancing career at the Royal Ballet. Encouraged by Queen Elizabeth II, Fonteyn performed principal roles in ballets like Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. The legendary Rudolf Nureyev was her long-time partner, an association that lasted till 1979. It is also believed that Nureyev used to kiss her hands in appreciation during curtain calls, a most apt tribute from a fellow legend. Fonteyn passed away in 1991, aged 72.

7. Bill Bojangles Robinson (USA)

A tap dancer of repute, Bill Robinson was born on May 25, 1878. He was a popular dancing star of the 1930s. Films brought him into the limelight, especially his role with Shirley Temple in ‘The Little Colonel’. Robinson was one of the first African-Americans to succeed in dancing at Hollywood. He was an inspiration for performers like Fred Astaire. The US Congress declared Robinson’s birthday as National Tap Dance Day in 1989 - forty years after his death.

8. Frankie Manning (USA)

Manning was born in Florida on May 26, 1914. He mastered Lindy Hop routines and became the choreographer of Herbert White’s, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. He became a renowned dance instructor after World War II and continued to teach dance till the 1980s – and continued to choreograph well after that.  At the age of 75 he received the Tony Award. He is respected for his contribution to the revival of Swing Dancing. He died in 2009,
aged 95. 

9. Angela Isadora Duncan (USA)

Born on May 27, 1877, Isadora Duncan was an American, but was exiled from the US because she was sympathetic to the Soviets. She broke away from the traditional ballet style and focused on natural movements. She introduced the Greek technique and the use of Greek costumes in Ballet, a path-breaking achievement in those times. She freed Ballet of its rigidity. Duncan died in a tragic automobile accident when her scarf got entangled in a wheel, strangulating her to death.

10. Dean Collins (USA)

Sol Ruddosky (a Jew) by birth, Dean Collins was born on May 29, 1917. Collins is regarded as the original symbol of the Swing technique and Lindy Hop, especially in California, USA. The Hollywood style of Lindy Hop owes much to Collins. He starred in memorable films in the 1940s, after he was named Dancer of the Year in 1935. He worked with the famous Shirley Temple and Arthur Murray. Collins died in 1984. 


The writer is a renowned Kuchipudi danseuse and choreographer


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