Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / They came to learn, they came to teach, they came to stay
Pillinger, Barbara B.
Chapter 4: Margaret H'Doubler: pioneer of dance, pp. 33-36
4. Margaret H'Doubler: Pioneer of Dance by Barbara B. Pillinger 'Tis to create, and in creating live A being more intense, that we endow with form Our fancy, gaining as we give The life we image. Lord Byron Byron's words epitomize the life work of Margaret H'Doubler, pioneer of dance. Indeed, H'Doubler has often used this quotation in her writings' to de- scribe the living, creative process that is dance. The Teacher. Born in Kansas in 1889, the daughter of a Swiss artist- photographer-inventor, Margaret H'Doubler spent her early years in Warren, Illinois. She moved with her family to Madison and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1906, graduating with a degree in biology. Due to her enthusiasm and talent for sports, and despite the fact that she lacked formal pedagogical training, H'Doubler was invited to stay on at the university as an assistant in the Department of Physical Education for Women. Her special love was teaching and coaching basketball. H'Doubler's experience with dance, however, was limited to department offerings of aesthetic dance forms. Thus it was with some trepidation that she left Madison in 1916 to study philosophy for a year at Columbia University - with a special mission. Blanche Trilling, director of the department, re- quested that she make a study of dance during her sojourn in New York in an attempt to find an appropriate methodology to provide "something worth a college woman's time."2 "Miss Trilling called me in and said, 'Marge, while you are in New York, I wish you would look into dancing and maybe you could come back and teach dance.' I was horrified. I said, 'Miss Trilling, I teach dance and give up my basketball?' and she said tears came into my eyes, and I said, 'I just couldn't think of that. I don't know anything about dance.... Miss Trilling, I just can't think now of ever giving up basketball.' She said, 'All right, you can keep your basketball.' "3 Discouraged and frustrated at the mimetic, stilted dance forms she found in New York, "Miss H'Doubler wrote a decisive note to Miss Trilling, 'I shall never teach dancing.' "4 H'Doubler finally happened upon the studio and work of Alys E. Bentley, a teacher of music for children. Bentley's more crea- tive approach utilized children's natural expression and movement in the learning process. Lessons often began on the floor! "Miss H'Doubler recalled that this aspect of teaching hit her like a flash. 'Of course, get on the floor where you are relieved from the pull of gravity... and see what the natural, structural movements are.' "5 Although Mary Lou Remley observed that H'Doubler's idea of dance was a direct result of her contact and brief study with Alys Bentley, H'Doubler refutes this interpretation: "This is a mistaken idea. It was while lying on the floor in Miss Bentley's studio that the concept occured to me. When I tried to tell Miss Bentley about it, she didn't even understand it. "6 And so began Margaret H'Doubler's "floor work" and an embryonic no- tion of an exciting, new organic form of dance - one in which students would explore, discover, experience their own structural possibilities and self- realization in the process, rather than merely copy someone else's move- ments. Trilling provided strong support for H'Doubler's experimentation with- 33
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