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Bella Lewitzky

January 13, 2018

Bella Lewitzky, a pioneer of modern dance who founded, with Lester Horton, the Dance Theater of Los Angeles, was born on this date in L.A. in 1916. A child of Jewish Russian parents, Lewitzky spent part of her youth in a utopian socialist community in the Mojave Desert. In her teens she moved to the city, and soon became lead dancer of Horton’s company. She was a partner in the development of the Horton Technique, a “whole body,” anatomically savvy, and expressive approach to dance. (Horton Technique particularly influenced the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.) In 1951, Lewitzky was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify about communist activity in the arts. She was an uncooperative witness and later told reporters, “I’m a dancer, not a singer.” The Lewitzky Dance Company, which she founded in 1966, performed in twenty countries on five continents; Lewitzky choreographed more than 50 major works and danced in the company until 1978. In 1990, the Company lost a $72,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts when Lewitzky crossed out an anti-obscenity clause in the NEA acceptance contract. She successfully sued NEA chair John E. Frohnmayer to have the grant reinstated. In 1997, President Bill Clinton presented her with the National Medal of the Arts. She died at 88 in 2004. (Scroll down to see Lewitzky passing on her legacy in the late 1990s, interspersed with clips of her performing in 1948.)

“Art makes us move off our comfortable center, to see, hear and think anew. . . . It can shatter our perceptions. It can clarify our anger. It can help us to understand our sorrow. . . . Art provides the channel for those qualities which endure beyond the turmoil of a chaotic and threatened world.” —Bella Lewitzky