Michigan Dance Archives at the Reuther Library

(38449) Harriet Berg dancing, 1960s

Recent work on papers donated to the Reuther Library has created new interest in the Michigan Dance Archives, which focuses on the history of dance in the Detroit metro area and across Michigan. The Michigan Dance Archives (MDA) was established in 1994 to acquire and preserve the rich heritage of Michigan dance, and it includes the papers of its founder Harriet Berg. She and her husband, Irving Berg, established and endowed the Michigan Dance Archives to create a resource for dancers, choreographers, teachers and scholars. The archives are derived in part from Berg’s own collection, donated to Wayne State University in several parts beginning in 1984, to honor Ruth L. Murray, professor emerita of dance.

Several personal and organization collections comprise the Michigan Dance Archives as of 2018, with additional collections expected in the future. These collections include technical and choreographic materials, posters and programs, correspondence, photographs, films and videos.

Harriet Berg (born in 1924) has been a choreographer, teacher, performer and arts advocate in the Detroit area for many decades, especially known for her historical dance companies, the Madame Cadillac Dancers and the Renaissance Dance Company. She has taught at all levels, from elementary school to college, notably at Wayne State University, at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit, and at professional workshops such as the annual American Dance Festival. The 88 boxes in the Harriet Berg Papers, dating from the 1940s to 2007, reflect her interest and involvement in all aspects of dance and other performing and fine arts.

The papers of Denise Szykula (born in 1946) reflect her work as a dancer, choreographer, teacher and innovator. Szykula founded Dance Nonce Ensemble in 1973 (later renamed Dance Nonce) and served as its artistic director and choreographer for over 45 years. Her teaching notebooks and choreographic notes are included in the Denise Szykula Papers.

Genevieve Siegel Schoenberg (1910-1985) was a dancer and dance teacher from Ludington, Michigan, who founded the first dance school there and became a noted expert in Spanish and flamenco dance. The Genevieve Siegel Schoenberg Papers, include teaching materials, vinyl records and issues of Dance Magazine.

A small collection donated by Leslie O’Day Benyo, Leslie O’Day Benyo Papers (born about 1952), owner and artistic director of the O’Day School of Dance, includes photos, programs, clippings and other memorabilia.

The Marygrove College Department of Dance Records contain mostly photographs from dance classes and performances from the 1970s and 1980s.

Preserving and making accessible the papers and documents of dancers and dance organizations is a significant contribution to the history of the arts community, and the MDA is an important component of the arts resources held at the Walter P. Reuther Library. These include the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall, Inc., Records, the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit Records and the Detroit Recreation Department Dance Program: Shirley Harbin Records. Various arts and performance histories in the Jewish community of metropolitan Detroit, including the work of Harriet Berg, are preserved within the Jewish Community Archives at the Reuther Library. Materials can be found in the records of the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit Video Collection and the Robert Aronson Papers.

The Wayne State University Dance Department is represented by a collection dating from the 1950s to the 1970s.

The New Detroit, Inc., Records include materials on the Detroit Metropolitan Dance Project, the Dance Theater of Detroit, Harbinger Dance Company, and the Detroit Youth, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee. The Richard McGhee Papers include material on Detroit Contemporary Dance Company, the Modern Dance Group of Central High School, and the Metropolitan Educational and Cultural Activities Association (MECA-A).

The Reuther Library’s oral history collection contains interviews by Nancy Golinko with 5 prominent local dancers: Fannie Aronson, Prudentia Hoffman McCarty, Kathryn Gladney Ellis, Ruth Lovell Murray and Ann Zirulnik.

In these wide-ranging materials, researchers can find resources on many types of dance including ballet, ballroom, contemporary, ethnic, historical, jazz, musical theater and tap. The history of early vaudeville groups to contemporary professional companies, and the work of neighborhood dance schools as well as college and university dance departments, awaits scholars of dance and performing arts history. Dancers and choreographers can find inspiration and continuity with previous artists, as well as gain an appreciation of the legacy of Michigan’s dance history.

The Michigan Dance Archives is actively seeking donations to the collections. If you have materials related to dance in the Detroit area or in Michigan, please contact Louis Jones, field archivist at the Reuther Library, louis.jones@wayne.edu or 313-577-0263.

A special event honoring Denise Szykula, founder of Dance Nonce Ensemble, and the opening of her collection in the Michigan Dance Archives, will be held on Tuesday, September 11, 2018, at the Walter P. Reuther Library, 6-8 p.m. Dancers and dance lovers are welcome. Information about this event at: Wayne State Events or call (313)-577-4024.