What rich research and ongoing conversation was the Accumulation conference! It primarily featured young scholars moving the field of dance history to greater insight and reach. Presentations ranged from movement and dance at HBCUs to the intricacies of creating a living archive of dance to the political economies of avant garde dance–and university dance departments! My keynote picked up on some of these issues. 

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The field of dance history has evolved so much over the last 30 years. Where is it now? What kinds of research does it encourage? Where do embodied research and archives fit into the field? I’m honored to give the Keynote address at this conference on December 8 alongside other scholars asking and answering these questions. (Info here.)


I am very excited to be a fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at New York Public Library in 2021-22. Oh how sweet it will be to back in the library, surrounded by books and fellow fellows!! And to spend time writing about this Culture City.

Choreography as Directing

My essay on Jerome Robbins as a director has just been published! It’s in an inspiring anthology edited by Harvey Young, The Great North American Stage Directors v.3, which looks at the work of Robbins, Elia Kazan, and Lloyd Richards, with contributions by Young, Stuart Hecht, cfrancis blackchild, Everett C. Dixon, and Sandra G. Shannon. To be a choreographer is to be director, Robbins ever in charge.

Culture City: The Rise of the Arts in New York

The consolidation of a municipal cultural policy in New York since the 1950s has shifted the debate about the role of the arts in the city from architecture and buildings to the outdoor environment; from established institutions to activities on the streets and subways; and from a time-bound rehearsed performance to the spectacles of the everyday. If Lincoln Center came to embody the importance of the arts in New York in this era, so too did Jane Jacobs’ “sidewalk ballet” and the common belief that the city’s most compelling attribute was its “theater of the streets.” This book explores how the arts became embedded in structure, policy, economy, streets, habits, schools, subways—and what it means to be a New Yorker.

In progress; photo “Hamlet,” 1964, Central Park (NYPL)

Our Public Seminar essays on the histories of The New School, collected in one place (with new introductory and concluding essays)! Download it here.

Borough Arts Councils

Where the arts occurred in New York City changed in the 1960s-70s. Grand cultural complexes such as Lincoln Center consolidated the performing arts of opera, symphony, theater, and ballet. Television brought the arts to family living rooms, much as radio had done starting in the 1920s. The opening of Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center was broadcast in September 1962 with performances of Copland, Beethoven, and Mahler. And the arts moved outdoors, with Shakespeare in the Park and events on the plaza of Lincoln Center.

The arts also moved into neighborhoods.

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Festival Trucks, etc.

A year ago, I visited the archives at Yale to look at the papers of John Lindsay, the mayor of New York City from 1966-73. I’ve recently gone back to the documents, conjuring a city fifty years ago that faced growing racial tensions and fiscal constraints (minus a pandemic).

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If dance is a kind of knowledge, what kind of knowledge is it? What are the power relations between a moving body and a speaking body? Who has the right to dance what? What does it mean to repeat choreography?

These questions frame the construction of Netta Yerushalmy’s monumental performance project, Paramodernities, which debuted in 2018. And from May 4-9, the questions and conversation will move online, with daily streaming of an installment followed by commentary and chat with noted theorists and artists.

Read more…

(In)Visibilities, Omissions, and Discoveries

Join me and other fabulous panelists! April 30, 4pm.

In conjunction with the Princeton University Art Museum’s exhibition LIFE Magazine and the Power of Photography, this workshop explores the construction of, and research utilizing, image archives. Panelists will focus on discoveries, invisibilities, and active omissions in a range of photographic (or photo-heavy) archives. Discussion will focus on the ways that archives like Life’s are constructed, who is represented in the archives, and who is absent.

Greenwich Village: Dying since 1960?

I chaired a panel at the Society for U.S. Intellectual History conference this past weekend that considered the state of Greenwich Village in the 1950s-60s. Artists such as Judith Malina of the Living Theater insisted that the Village at that time was “the center of the universe!,” while others thought the increase in residential and commercial rent values, the expansion of New York University, and the influx of tourists to the Washington Square area were indications of imminent death. The East Village and SoHo began to claim the mantle of edginess and bohemianism in the 1960s, suggesting that sites of experimentation had moved east and south.

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The Era of Twyla Tharp

In writing about cultural policy or public relations strategies or political wagers, I don’t want to forget the arts themselves. Years in to this research, I still think dance and theater are where the battles of the era are played out most directly. Opera and classical music were established genres, even if there was some attention to creating American versions of European imports. Dance and theater were younger, more rebellious, less institutionalized–and being put on the same platform at Lincoln Center as these older forms. Figuring out what dance and theater belonged at Lincoln Center—and what did not—had stark consequences.

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Public Relations

Lincoln Center was a massive project that took over ten years to complete, went way over budget, and embodied deep contradictions about the arts—and New York. Just the project in need of a public relations firm! And, so, it hired one. Read more…

Deconstructing Fosse

I’m delighted to be part of a special issue of Studies in Musical Theatre devoted to dance and edited by the fabulous pair of Joanna Dee Das and Ryan Donovan. I took the opportunity to recount the process of putting together the installment on Fosse in Paramodernities–and what it meant to include Fosse alongside Graham, Balanchine, and Ailey.

1 of 13 Art Exhibitions to View this Weekend!

‘VOICE OF MY CITY: JEROME ROBBINS AND NEW YORK’ at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (through March 30). The choreographer of “West Side Story” and “Fiddler on the Roof” was born a little over 100 years ago, but this exhibition is so much more than a centenary obligation; it’s an openhearted, deeply moving showcase of Robbins’s work, notes and diaries, full of the joy and anxiety of postwar Manhattan. Robbins, born Jerry Rabinowitz, made creditable paintings and drawings as a teenager, and in his 20s he hit it big with “Fancy Free,” set to a syncopated score by Leonard Bernstein, and evoked here through original footage and Robbins’s sketches of jumping and prancing seamen. He bullied dancers, and infuriated friends when he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, but his engrossing journals, rich with watercolors and watery notes to self, reveal the intense self-doubt that his choreography obscured. What Robbins loved most was New York, the city that was his muse and his helpmeet — and that has been transformed beyond recognition from the days of Jets and Sharks.” New York Times (7 March 2019)

Critic’s Pick: “How solid is this show…”

So says the New York Times about the Robbins exhibition (full review here)! There was also an article in The Times of Israel; a clip on WABC-7 with Sandy Kenyon (also appearing in 6000 cabs!); another on CUNY-TV’s Arts in the City; an Instagram story with New York City Ballet’s Adrian Danchig-Waring; and a poignant account of remembering a beloved dance instructor–and former dancer in West Side Story–through the exhibition.

New School Histories

Exploring the histories of the New School to contextualize and confront pressing issues facing higher education now–essays on what it means to educate adults, lessons from Gerda Lerner, the arts as social research, and more. At Public Seminar here. Much more to come!

Happy 100, Lenny!

Leonard Bernstein was born 100 years ago on August 25. A German documentary titled “West Side Story—Bernstein’s Broadway Hit,” in which I appear, will have its premiere on the Arte channel in Germany on August 19 at 17:30. I am also a part of a story on Bernstein on August 25 on the BBC program “Music Matters”; online streaming here. Both programs discuss the relation of Bernstein and West Side Story to New York City–one of my favorite topics.

On Aesthetic Education

In my attempt to understand the rise of New York as a “culture city,” I am focusing on the rise of Lincoln Center. There’s lots to investigate beyond the demolition and construction of buildings, as crucial as those are to the story. I’ve long known, for instance, that the Lincoln Center Institute–the educational arm of the complex, now a part of the wider umbrella known as Lincoln Center Education–demanded more of my attention. Even more enticing: starting in 1975, for nearly thirty years, the institute had a philosopher-in-residence, Maxine Greene. Read more…

This year has been marked by collaboration: curating an exhibition on Jerome Robbins at a public institution; working with dancers and a choreographer to create a performance piece on Bob Fosse; and now boosting my longstanding collaborative work on the history of New School history as we near its centenary in 2019. Read more…

On James Baldwin and The New School

When Mark Larrimore and I first began discussing teaching a course on the history of the New School, it was clear that a central task would be posing the myths of the school against its realities. Some of the myths relate to actual events, such as the remarkable effort to save and host scholars fleeing fascism in Europe in the 1930s. But many of them are more mythology than fact–and James Baldwin taking a class at the New School is one of the most enduring. In this essay, I explore how that myth informs much of the New School’s struggle to fully tackle racism and discrimination.

Research for all

As a member of the Advisory Board of the research libraries of the New York Public Library, I got an early view of the new plans to renovate the Schwarzman building at 42nd Street. This renovation follows years of debate about the fate of the building, particularly a plan that gutted the research purpose of the building and turned it over to circulating collections. The outcry was vociferous enough that it caused a complete reversal—a re-dedication to research as the primary function of that building. Still, figuring out how “research” works in the age of Google in a building that is also a primary tourist destination and is devoted to remaining accessible to all requires some fine-tuned thinking. I think this plan is a good step forward in meeting those goals. (Summary of renovation in this WSJ article, including a quote from me.)

Don’t Stop and Criticize–Go

Dances at a Gathering (1969) is one of Jerome Robbins’ most acclaimed ballets. Danced to Chopin, it is a meditation on relationships and what is revealed when people move together, alongside one another, in companionship. Robbins is rarely sweet—and that’s a word that may be too close to saccharine for it to have a less tainted meaning—but there is an innocence in this ballet that feels unweighted by drama. And drama is something that Robbins is well-known for, both in creating tension and meaning in dance, and in the process of choreography. Read more…

It is the 60th anniversary of the musical and 2018 marks the centenary of the births of Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins. So a German crew has been filming me all week for an upcoming documentary on West Side Story–which included riding through Manhattan in a 1952 cab! And this weekend I’ll be speaking at the Brattleboro Literary Festival about A Place for Us. West Side Story lives.

Martin Segal: Dollars and Joy

I’m back in the archives going through the papers of Martin Segal. Few in the arts might know Segal now but his legacies are everywhere: in the Martin E. Segal Theatre at CUNY, the Lincoln Center awards in his name that support rising artists, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center itself which he co-founded. But those legacies are only the most obvious. He was central to the arts in New York for over fifty years—and not just as a financial supporter. Segal served on the board of major institutions (MOMA, City Center); chaired Lincoln Center Inc. for five years; conceived and started the International Festival of the Arts; and consolidated the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs. He was a part of almost every endeavor that I have been studying over the last couple of years. Read more…

West Side Story lives! New York Public Library has digitized nearly 1400 pictures of the making of the Broadway show, and the curator Doug Reside has animated a few series of the photographs here. Google Cultural Institute will feature an exhibition about the show, to which I am contributing. For now, enjoy running down the streets of New York in 1957 with Maria and Tony (Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert)!

Dancing the Cold War

In 1960, the British Prime Minister told Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev to “get cool, boy.” (Maybe if the Prime Minister had persuaded Khrushchev to dance, as in “Cool” from West Side Story, the admonition might have been more effective.) Hear more at this conference February 16-18 at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.

When Musicals Become Politics

Recently the musical Hamilton became a political hot potato–again. Brendon Victor Dixon of the cast read a statement directed to one audience member, Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence, a plea that the musical’s vision of a diverse America be the vision of the new administration who would “work on behalf of all of us.” President-Elect Trump denounced the statement as rude and asked for an apology. Read more…

I was invited to take the page 99 test on A Place for Us: “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you,” said Ford Madox Ford. My response here.


May I suggest that no book party is complete without dance—at least not one that looks at West Side Story! Here are Michael McILwee and Felicity Stiverson performing part of “Dance at the Gym.” Books, dance, the murals of José Clemente Orozco (with family in the background): my worlds collide.

Research as a Public Good

As I return to research myself, I’ve been asked to be a member of the New York Public Library’s Research Advisory Group. It’s an honor to be among such distinguished company and to be asked to think about how this stalwart institution can strengthen its mission in research. How to articulate, argue for, and act upon research as a public good? Keep us honest and accountable. Send suggestions and comments.

New School Histories

NSSR, 1969, New School Archives

Histories of the New School are accumulating: video here of Mark Larrimore and I contending with the question “What Does It Mean to Be a Progressive University?” for Staff Development Day. And I took up the topic of “Women at The New School” here.

A Center for Dance

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Center for Ballet and the Arts about other centers–City Center and Lincoln Center. The tangled relationship between these two institutions reveals the ideals, politics, and challenges of the arts in New York, especially for dance. In short, ballet won at Lincoln Center. Both the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre have their home there. Other forms of dance (modern, Ailey) and smaller ballet companies (Joffrey) have found their home at City Center (as well as at the Joyce, Dance Theater Workshop, Danspace Project, etc). Read more…


Oh how I love a good copy-editor. After years and years of working on a book, someone else goes through the text, word-by-word, comma-by-comma, with an attention to detail that surpasses my own. As a former word-processor, I catch a lot of unforced errors and know that consistency is the primary rule. What I love about the copy-editors is that they find errors that I have long ago stopped seeing. And they ask good questions that clarify meaning and word-choice. All this to say: A Place for Us is in production! (Available in September.)

New York Arts Center: 1953

Mecca Temple, 135 55th St., 1929 (later City Center). New York Historical Society.

The Rockefeller brothers, long committed to philanthropy, began batting around ideas for a cultural center in New York in 1953. The grandiosity of the idea may have been possible only in the minds of people like the Rockefellers, or Robert Moses. When they joined forces, it was inevitable. Read more…

Human Relations

I have long wanted to know more about an oddly named enterprise at the New School called the Human Relations Center. I had a hunch that it was key to the longer story about women at The New School. Some time in the archives confirms that, yep, it is. Read more…


In the most recent Writing History seminar, Nathan Connolly discussed how to narrate large social structures and processes through the tales of individual people. (His much-honored book, A World More Concrete, takes up this question by looking at real estate in Jim Crow Miami.) This is an enduring question for historians, particularly those trained in the politics and ideologies emerging from social history, history from the “bottom up,” the past of plumbers not presidents. How do we make structural forces, such as capitalism and racism, dynamic narratives? How do we engage readers with stories of these forces in lives instead of relying on concepts to do the action? Read more…

Aaron Shkuda and I co-edited a special section in the Journal of Urban History on arts and urbanization in postwar U.S. cities. Articles by Joanna Dee Das, Susannah Engstrom, Matt Reynolds, Jeffrey Trask, Aaron, and me. (Introduction by me as well.) It’s available here!

Painter History

Nell Painter, “Locke Harvard with Gradient 72,” Art History Volume XXVII, Ancestral Arts (2013)

Writing History: the seminar’s name describes its purpose. Luckily, it’s landed at the New School, so that it is easy for me to participate in a conversation that usually occurs only in my head. How can we be more creative in our writing about the past? How can thinking about being a writer make me a better historian? First up this semester: Nell Painter, historian and writer extraordinaire. Now she’s a visual artist. That is a trajectory I love, even if I cannot emulate. Read more…

Curating the Archives

The summer 2014 exhibition is now online! The virtual version includes reflections about the unusual demands of the exhibition from the curators, exhibition designer, and university archivist. Here is my conversation with Wendy Scheir, Director of the New School Archives and Special Collections, about curating the archives. Read more…

Imagining NYC

In this book, Christoph Lindner traces the New York that appears in literature and the visual arts in the early 20th century. He divides the imaginations into two sections, one vertical (skyscrapers), one horizontal (sidewalks), and ties creative pictures to urban plans and forms. In this, he adds an attention to spatiality to that of visuality in modernism. The city is not only seen but walked. Read more…

The City Lost & Found

This exhibit on “Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, from 1960-80,” is on view at the Princeton Art Museum until early June. The curators have assembled an impressive array of photographs, artworks, film, and historical artifacts to reveal how images became an indelible part of urban life during this period. Read more…

Studying NYC

My research, teaching, and daily life are in and about New York City. The city is a laboratory, as is often said in many a grant application — or proposal for a New School. And yet it can be difficult to figure out how to study it when you are in the swirl of the petri dish. My research assistant, Katerina Vaseva, suggested that I pool together resources for students and others interested in understanding this maze: check out the new page here. Suggestions for additions welcome!

The Carceral City

I walked through Crown Heights a few days ago and came across this odd mobile police unit. Students in my class knew exactly what it was: a M.U.S.T. – a mobile utility surveillance tower. It can be moved to a “place of interest,” a platform elevated from the base, flood lighting, infrared cameras – all monitored by one officer in the lifted hub, the driver’s seat of the van, or, I believe, remotely. If chaos ensues below, that person can call in extra troops with the push of a button from the encased hub, without having to exit to the street. The 21st century version of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, on a city corner near you. Read more…


Translation: to China! I have been selected for a one-week residency at Renmin University in Beijing sponsored by the Organization of American Historians. In June, I will give seminars on U.S. cultural history to faculty and graduate students there. Possible topics: the turn to visuality; the role of cities, urbanization, and institutions; transnational circulation; gender, race, and performance. There’s no doubt, however, that I will learn more from them.

Writing and Walking

This last week has been a rare moment of focus and solitude, huddled in a Writers Colony in the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas. It has reminded me of Kimerer LaMothe’s admonition: writing (really, thinking) requires moving. That wars with the other truism: writing requires putting your butt in a chair, routinely. There is no muse like persistence.

I believe in both. But sharing the dance background that I do with Kimerer, I think moving more often gets forgotten. Read more…

The Art of Structure

John McPhee has been writing about writing in The New Yorker in the past few years and one notable essay was about the centrality of structure to non-fiction writing. Sarah Koenig, the writer and producer behind the podcast hit Serial, says that the appeal of the series rests on knowing how to structure a story. And Frederick Wiseman counseled those of us at a recent seminar about his work to look closely at the structure in his films as a clue to how he made decisions to use which image or footage where.

What’s so magical about structure?
Read more…

Center for Ballet and the Arts

The Center for Ballet and the Arts (CBA) at NYU had an auspicious debut in September. There were the necessary calls to high ideas, grand plans, and donors to thank. But the center of the evening was a ballet class, taught by Mark Morris, with dancers from his company and American Ballet Theatre. What an odd – and exhilarating – experience. Read more…

Dancing in the Streets: The Arts in Postwar U.S. Cities

This collection of essays on the arts in postwar U.S. cities offers a historical perspective on the contemporary embrace of the arts as a tool for urban place-making, neighborhood revitalization, economic boosting, and market branding. Urban historians can add a longer perspective to this trend to explain not only the roots of its current popularity but also more detailed measures of the arts’ impact. These essays look at arts institutions, artists as residents, and artworks themselves from the 1950s-70s to uncover the entangled intersection of arts and urbanization – before the arts became a touted salvation for stagnant economies and run-down neighborhoods. (Introduction [pdf])

Journal of Urban History, November 2015, edited with Aaron Shkuda. Photo: circa 1950s, The Vintage Project

Where Urbanization and the Arts Meet

The rise of Lincoln Center and the transformation of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) reveal how tied stages are to streets. These articles examine how events inside these grand performing arts institutions — their performances, audiences, programming — related to the changing demographics and neighborhoods of New York; how ideas about urbanism and actions on city streets become transfigured in the arts; and how cosmopolitanism became inscribed in city life by these institutions. (Streets and Stages: Urban Renewal and the Arts After World War II [pdf]; The Other West Side Story [pdf]).

Photo: BAM, 1978 (NYPL)

The Arts in Place

Specialists of specific genres of art dominate scholarship on the arts — art historians examine visual art; musicologists analyze music – while social historians most often have investigated popular culture, the artistic realm of a broader populace. This volume brings together social history and the arts to offer methodological insights, particularly on visual and spatial aspects of the past. (“The Arts in Place: An Introduction” [pdf])

Photo by Susanne Faulkner Stevens: Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival, August 1975 (Lincoln Center Archives)