years of persistence and dedication, Selma Jeanne Cohen, AB'41,
AM'42, PhD'46, has translated her love for dance into the art form's
first comprehensive worldwide history. A six-volume, 4,000-page
compendium, the International Encyclopedia of Dance represents 20-plus
years of work by more than 650 contributors from 50 countries. "The
importance of this dance encyclopedia is immeasurable," wrote dance
critic and historian Janice Ross in the Los Angeles Times Book Review.
"Its existence means that from now on, discussions about dance in
America can proceed to a higher level."
editor and editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia, Cohen has long been
interested in such high-level discussions of dance. Amid years of
childhood instruction with Chicago dance teacher Edna McRae, a performance
by the Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo turned the young Cohen into
a dance fan who would eventually borrow every book in McRae's dance
library. By the end of high school, she'd decided to become a dance
historian and followed the subject while studying English language
and literature at the U of C.
Her Ph.D. in
hand, Cohen took her first English teaching job at UCLA, meanwhile
crafting her first article on dance, published in 1950 in The Journal
of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Encouraged, Cohen began to follow
a pattern she described years later, in her preface to the Encyclopedia:
"Individuals, unwilling to settle for other careers, obstinately
pursued their goals in their own ways. Eventually, they found one
another." Just so, Cohen moved to New York in search of other enthusiasts
and met ballet instructor Lillian Moore, who invited her to teach
a dance history class at the High School of Performing Arts, paving
the way for teaching jobs at Connecticut College, the U of C, and
the University of California, Riverside, where she taught from 1983
to 1989 and became a distinguished scholar in 1990.
classroom, Cohen cofounded Dance Perspectives magazine in 1959 and
was editor until it closed in 1976, when she began assembling dance
critics and scholars from around the world to plan the Encyclopedia.
Slowed by the emergent nature of dance scholarship and the Encyclopedia's
ambitious scope, the project would pass through three publishing
houses and nearly two decades before landing, in 1991, with Oxford
University Press, which issued the series in March.
inquiry will be somewhat lighter on its feet. Inspired by her cat,
Giselle, she'll explore the question, What makes the movements of
a cat so beautiful?-C.M.