Evolution of Dance in the Golden Era of the American 'Book Musical' [Book Chapter]

Liza Gennaro
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The article provides a detailed description of the evolution of dance in the golden age of the American “book musical.” Choreographers, partnering with writers, composers, and lyricists, developed a collaborative creative approach in which dance, music, and spoken narrative combined to produce the “book musical,” an integrated form in which song and dance emerge seamlessly from spoken dialogue. The creation of dances for a “book musical” requires a method different from that of concert venues, where the initial formative impulse of a dance develops solely from the mind of the choreographer. The Golden Age began with Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (1943), choreographed by Agnes de Mille, and ended with Bock and Harnick's Fiddler on the Roof (1964), directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. The techniques of a director, Ned Wayburn, of Golden Age, were rooted in American Delsarte, military drills, and the hierarchical systems of nineteenth-century ballet spectacles. His strategy for success was a methodically prescribed system for making dances that included six categories of musical theater dancing such as musical comedy technique, toe specialties, exhibition ballroom, acrobatic work, tapping and stepping, and modern Americanized ballet. The performers and dance directors, who were making significant efforts to invent performance acts that showcased unique talents and distinguished them from competitors, borrowed movement vocabularies from a wide range of dance styles.


Gennaro, Liza. “Evolution of Dance in the Golden Era of the American 'Book Musical,'” The Oxford Handbook of the American Musical (2011)