Since 1934, the American Dance Festival has been a recognized leader in modern dance presenting dance performances, and offering educational opportunities and community programs, while maintaining an international reach.
ADF ensures that modern dance remains a powerful and universal form of human expression and that this art form is accessible to all, now and for generations to come.
ADF at a Glance
A glance into our history and mission.
Heralded as “One of the nation’s most important institutions” by the New York Times and as “The world’s greatest dance festival” by the New York Post, the American Dance Festival’s sustained record of creative achievement is indivisible from the history of modern dance. Since 1934, ADF has remained committed to serving the needs of dance, dancers, choreographers, and professionals in dance-related fields. Remaining true to the goals of its founding artists, ADF’s programs are based on its mission:
- to encourage and support the creation and presentation of new modern dance work by both established and emerging choreographers,
- to preserve our modern dance heritage through continued presentation of classic works as well as through archival efforts,
- to build wider national and international audiences for modern dance,
- to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the art form and its cultural and historical significance,
- to provide a sound scientific and aesthetic base for professional education and training of young dancers, and to maintain a forum for integrating and disseminating information on dance education.
The American Dance Festival traces its origins to the Bennington School of the Dance, founded in 1934 in Bennington, Vermont, by several notable figures in the emerging art of modern dance: Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman. The school, led by Martha Hill, allowed choreographers to experiment and teach dance techniques. A performance series, held in conjunction with the school, provided the choreographers with opportunities to present their newly created works. For one season, in 1939, the festival was held at Mills College in Oakland, California, but returned to Bennington the following year. Beginning in 1948, the festival was held at Connecticut College, and in 1978, it moved to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Courses of instruction in modern dance and performances by professional dance companies have remained at the heart of the festival The school’s curriculum includes classes in modern and contemporary styles, ballet, hip-hop, jazz, African dance forms, composition, improvisation, process, and repertory. Notable attendees of the school include choreographers Anna Halprin, Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, Paul Taylor, Lar Lubovitch, Lucinda Childs, Martha Clarke, Meredith Monk, Trisha Brown, Doug Varone, Brian Brooks, and Kimberly Bartosik.
Performances at the American Dance Festival have included nearly every notable choreographer and performing company since the advent of modern dance.
Hosting performances and residencies by major established companies and emerging artists from around the world.
- One of the most important functions of ADF throughout its history has been to provide choreographers with the opportunity to produce new works, many of which are especially commissioned by ADF. ADF has played a critical role in increasing the repertoires of our country’s modern dance companies, having been the site of over 700 premieres, over 440 commissions, and over 50 reconstructions.
- ADF has supported, commissioned, and helped launch the careers of choreographers such as Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey, Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris, Meredith Monk, Pilobolus, Trisha Brown, Donald McKayle, Martha Clarke, Eiko and Koma, Ronald K. Brown, John Jasperse, Shen Wei, Tatiana Baganova, and Rosie Herrera, among others, most of whom continue to present work at ADF.
- ADF has co-commissioned or co-presented works with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Baryshnikov Arts Center, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Dixon Place, the North Carolina Museum of Art, North Carolina State University, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the North Carolina Dance Festival, Motorco Music Hall, and for the first time in 2022, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a collaboration between ADF, Carolina Performing Arts, Duke Arts, and NC State Live.
Our intensives are a training site for those who want to perform, create, research, and build lifelong connections. For nine decades, it has been a career-defining destination for dancers around the world. ADF provides the critical meeting ground for vibrant, diverse dancing bodies to mobilize, align, and become the leaders our society needs us to be.
- The Summer Dance Intensive (SDI) attracts dancers from around the country and internationally to train and to create, to see and to be seen. Students of all levels are invited to engage in collaborative creative processes with ADF’s diverse and outstanding faculty, extraordinary musicians, and vibrant student body.
- The audition-based Pre-Professional Dance Intensive (PDI) is designed specifically for the training and education of dancers from the ages of 13 to 17.
- The Dance Professional Workshops are week-long intensives that provide practitioners and educators with the opportunity to study with the ADF faculty in classes that have been specifically designed to address their needs and interests.
- ADF provides full and partial scholarships to students based on both talent and need. Approximately 50% of ADF students attending summer programs are awarded financial assistance.
- Our summer programs reach approximately 300 students from around the world.
- ADF also offers educational opportunities outside of the summer season, including the Winter Intensive in New York, with nine days of classes, panels, performances, and more, allowing students to study with outstanding teachers, learn in a supportive environment that offers individualized attention, hear about the NY dance scene from the artists who are currently creating it, and see open rehearsals and performances from an insider’s perspective.
The Samuel H. Scripps Studios, ADF’s first permanent facility, opened in the summer of 2012. The programs at the studios are dedicated to providing a sound scientific and aesthetic base for all levels of training from beginning to professional. A variety of classes are offered, for the dancer and non-dancer alike, designed to strengthen the body, increase flexibility of movement, and foster an appreciation of dance. The studios serve as a center for creative activity where students learn in a welcoming and non-competitive environment from faculty who are experts in their fields. Since 2017, the studios have hosted the Parkinson’s Movement Initiative, a collaborative effort among ADF, NC Dance for Parkinson’s, and Poe Wellness Solutions, that offers free dance and Pilates classes for individuals living with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers.
Offering the breadth of the festival’s resources through our community programs.
- ADF Project Dance is a free, year-round program that introduces the community to dance through creative movement workshops and complimentary tickets to performances, offering over 350 creative movement classes to more than 1,000 students annually.
- Experience Dance works with local non-profits to distribute over 500 free tickets to organizations that work with individuals, families, youth, and seniors in need who otherwise could not attend performances.
- ADF partners with Durham’s Central Park School for Children to offer dance classes as an alternative to more traditional physical education classes.
- The Children’s Saturday Matinee series presents performances by three of the acclaimed professional dance companies that perform during each season. These one-hour performances are specially curated to ignite and inspire the imaginations of children, and each one is followed by a kids’ party complete with live music and activities.
- ADF Go allows patrons ages 18–30 to be able to purchase performance tickets at a discount.
- The Golden Ticket program offers discounted performance tickets to local dance educators.
- Free festival tours provide community members an opportunity to go behind the scenes of the ADF School and see dance in the making.
- The ADF Studio Studios Subsidy Program provides access to rehearsal space at affordable rates for dance artists contributing to the local creative landscape.
Giving status and importance to accomplished dance figures and to the profession itself.
- For distinguished choreographers, ADF has established the $50,000 Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for lifetime achievement in modern dance. Recipients of the Scripps/ADF Award include Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Hanya Holm, Alwin Nikolais, Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, Erick Hawkins, Twyla Tharp, Anna Sokolow, Donald McKayle, Talley Beatty, Trisha Brown, Meredith Monk, Anna Halprin, Fayard & Harold Nicholas, Pina Bausch, Pilobolus, Garth Fagan, Maguy Marin, Eiko & Koma, Bill T. Jones, Murray Louis, Mark Morris, Laura Dean, Ohad Naharin, Martha Clarke, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, William Forsythe, Lin Hwai-min, Angelin Preljocaj, Lar Lubovitch, Lucinda Childs, Ronald K. Brown, Shen Wei, and posthumously in honor of Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, José Limón, Pearl Primus, and Helen Tamiris.
- For distinguished teachers, ADF has established the Balasaraswati/Joy Anne Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching. Recipients of the Chair include Pearl Primus, Daniel Nagrin, Betty Jones, Bella Lewitzky, Ethel Butler, Anna Halprin, Donald McKayle, Bessie Schönberg, Matt Mattox, Pauline Koner, Viola Farber, Mary Anthony, Walter Nicks, Jane Dudley, Sophie Maslow, Pearl Lang, Martha Myers, Carmen De Lavallade, Gus Solomons jr, Gerri Houlihan, Dr. Charles “Chuck” Davis, Linda Tarnay, Douglas Nielsen, Dianne McIntyre, Carolyn Adams, Ruth Andrien, Sharon Kinney, Yang Meiqi, Donna Faye Burchfield, Ana Marie Forsythe, Phyllis Lamhut, Irene Dowd, Zvi Gotheiner, James Sutton, Jaclynn Villamil, Anne Green Gilbert, Liz Lerman, Gabriel “Kwikstep” Dionisio, Ana “Rockafella” Garcia, Bettie de Jong, and Kariamu Welsh.
Humanities and Media Projects
Illustrating how modern dance serves as a special window on American history and culture.
- Produced by ADF, the Emmy award-winning PBS television series Free to Dance: The African American Presence in Modern Dance was a three-part documentary that chronicled the crucial role that African American choreographers and dancers played in the development of modern dance as an American art form.
- The PBS special Dancing in the Light presented six historic dances by pioneering African American choreographers filmed at ADF. Originally recorded for Free to Dance, the works appeared in the series only as brief excerpts.
- Created in 1987, the Black Tradition in American Modern Dance project preserves, celebrates, and creates access to classic dance works by African American choreographers. To date, 23 historic works have been reconstructed on leading US repertory companies.
- ADF has issued a series of humanities publications including The Aesthetic and Cultural Significance of Modern Dance (1984), The Black Tradition in American Modern Dance (1988), and its sequel, The African American Genius In Modern Dance (1993). In conjunction with its 75th anniversary season, ADF published a highly selective look at American modern dance and its philosophies by Philosopher-in-Residence, Dr. Gerald E. Myers, entitled Who’s Not Afraid of Martha Graham? (2008).
- The ADF Archives serves as the repository for records of enduring historical value created and collected by ADF including the collections of Laura Dean, Mark Dendy, Harper Theater Dance Festival, and Pearl Primus. The Archives preserves its collections for use by the dance community, including students, scholars, and the general public.
- ADF is currently conducting a series of oral histories documenting the Asian Cultural Council’s and the American Dance Festival’s roles in fostering modern dance in China.
National and International Initiatives
Special conferences, workshops, and projects designed for dancers, choreographers, and audiences.
- Since 1984, through the International Choreographers Commissioning Program and the International Choreographers Residency program, ADF has over 486 choreographers from 93 countries on 6 continents to ADF to share, exchange, and experience the work and ideas of people from cultures around the world.
- ADF’s Institutional Linkages Program has included mini-ADFs in Korea, Russia, India, Japan, China, and Argentina and teaching residencies in 30 countries. ADF has helped develop modern dance in China, Russia, and Mongolia and introduced French, English, Russian, and Chinese modern dance and Japanese Butoh to US audiences.
- ADF’s Audience Memory Program, directed by Dr. Ruth Day, is conducting groundbreaking research on the way audiences and dancers perceive and remember movement.
- Since 1995, ADF’s Movies by Movers has explored the ever-evolving relationship between cinema and dance. Audiences have the opportunity to see numerous films specially chosen to represent the best of this film genre.
- Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism was held at ADF from 1970 to 1991 and again from 2003 to 2010. The three-week residency program allowed dance journalists to develop a deeper understanding of dance and to strengthen their writing and criticism skills.
- Mrs. Laura Bush
- Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton
- Mrs. George Bush (1925-2018)
- Mrs. Nancy Reagan (1921-2016)
- Mrs. Rosalynn Carter (1927-2023)
- Mrs. Betty Ford (1918-2011)
Board of Directors
- Curt C. Myers, Chairman
- Jodee Nimerichter, President
- Tallman Trask III, Treasurer
- Nancy P. Carstens, Secretary
- Charles L. Reinhart, Director Emeritus
- Bernard E. Bell
- Natalie W. Dunn
- Ralf Etienne
- Richard E. Feldman, Esq.
- James Frazier, Ed.D.
- Robin Gallant, MSW
- Diane B. Linfors
- Christine Mark
- David Delaney Mayer
- Carlton Midyette
- Adam Reinhart, Ph.D.
- Arthur H. Rogers III
- Judith Sagan
- Rosemarie Sweeney
- Robby Barnett
- Brenda Brodie
- Ronald K. Brown
- Martha Clarke
- Laura Dean
- Mark Dendy
- Garth Fagan
- William Forsythe
- Gerri Houlihan
- Bill T. Jones
- Alex Katz
- Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
- Lar Lubovitch
- Akaji Maro
- Meredith Monk
- Mark Morris
- Martha Myers (1925-2022)
- Ohad Naharin
- Eiko Otake
- Takashi Koma Otake
- Stephen Petronio
- Ted Rotante
- Yoko Shinfune
- Twyla Tharp
- Michael Tracy
- Doug Varone
- Shen Wei
- Jawole Willa Jo Zollar
Notable ADF School Alumni
ADF students have danced with many professional companies, choreographers, and shows, including:
African American Dance Ensemble
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre
Bill T Jones/ Arnie Zane Company
Company Wang Ramirez
Kate Weare Company
Monica Bill Barnes
Rosie Herrera Dance Theater
Shen Wei Dance Arts
Sleep No More
ADF alumni include the following performers, choreographers, teachers, and artists:
Donna Faye Burchfield
Christine Joy Ritter
Ryan Rouland Smith
Jesus David Zambrano
ADF Alumni – would you like to be included in this list? We would love to hear from you!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief summary of your work and accomplishments post-ADF. We would love to know if and how ADF helped your dance career!
2023 Annual Report
In celebration of ADF’s 90th Anniversary, we danced through a festive season with the incredible support of our board of directors and donors and the dedication of our extraordinary staff, faculty, and artists.