23 Historic Modern Dance Musicians

One of the sessions I presented at this week’s International Conference of Dalcroze Studies (ICDS3) was on Piano Music for Modern Dance. I began researching these musicians because I wanted to know what music early modern dancers heard in their daily studies. After all, modern dance and modern music once worked together, and I wonder what happened.

Several people asked for a list of the musicians whose works I featured. This is a rather quick compilation, so it’s not in proper bibliographic form and may be missing some details. (I’ll try to write individual posts in future to highlight a few of these people and their work.)

Hazel Johnson Score


  1. Sally Tobin Dietrich –  Notes for Modern Dance with Mary Patricia O’Donnell, 1938, A.S. Barnes & Co. – Both Dietrich and O’Donnell were on the faculty of Teachers College, Columbia University.
  2. Sally Baker Hewitt – Dance Rhythm Music, 1946.
  3. Various, published by Louis H. Chalif – so-called “Greek” dances with choreography and music, 1910s.
  4. Hazel Smith –  Natural Dance Studies, 1928.
  5. Louis Horst – Rhythmic Design (1929) in collaboration with Portia Mansfield and Charlotte Perry of the Perry-Mansfield School, and Sixty Exercises in Rhythmic Movement  (1939). Horst was musician for Martha Graham over many years.
  6. Adda Heynssen* – several books of Music for Modern Dance from 1940s, including Modern Dance Accompaniment: Relationship of Music and Dance.
  7. Daniel Jahn – 11 Choreographic Etudes, 1959)
  8. Norman Lloyd – Accompaniments for the Modern Dance: Technique and Rhythm Studies, Orchesis Publications, 1960. (He and his wife, Ruth Lloyd, played for classes at the early Bennington College summer dance festival. They also wrote books Creative Keyboard Musicianship (scarce but great for studying improvisation) and The American Heritage Songbook.
  9. Jess Meeker, 16 Dances in 16 Rhythms, in association with Ted Shawn, Witmark & Sons, 1956. (Also made recordings including First Primer of Modern Dance.)
  10. Pia S. Gilbert – Music for the Modern Dance. (Musically not my favorite, but the text is interesting from a historical perspective.)
  11. Rupert Thackray – Playing for Dance plus six books of Music for Modern Educational Dance. Very accessible, easy to play and still welcome in today’s classes. Thackray was a musician and teacher from Australia, known to some Dalcrozians there.


  1. John Colman – Two records in association with Hanya Holm: Contemporary Dance for classwork and The Dancer Creates for improvisation or choreography. Colman was a brilliant musician who studied with Jaques-Dalcroze and worked with dancers including Holm, Doris Humphrey, Eleanor King and Kurt Jooss. His records occasionally crop up for sale on eBay, and I have a sample here.
  2. Ernest Lubin – Music for Contemporary Dance in association with Norman Walker.
  3. Sarah Malament – Improvisations for Modern Dance, Series #1, #2 and #3. Very interesting music. One of her performance works is titled There Are Dreams, honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.(She was also the dance class pianist in the movie “Fame.”) I am in the process of gathering more info about her.
  4. Hazel K. Johnson* – Complete Piano Music for the Modern Dance Class and Studio (Microcosm Press) and LP Metamorphoses. Both are quite scarce. Music includes simple ostinato patterns that lend themselves to flexible variation, and modern devices such as playing on the piano stings or preparing the piano with keys and pencils, for example. She was the musician for classes at Barnard when the chair of UMBC’s Dance Dept. was a student. She’s even in one of the pictures in the book!
  5. Cola Heiden – Keynotes to Modern Dance.
  6. Kathleen Merrill* – Studies and Sketches for Modern Dance, apparently self-published.
  7. Freda Miller* – Five LPs: Accompaniments for Technique, Second Album for Dance, Third Album for Dance, Music for Rhythms and Dance, and Fifth Album for Dance. Her compositions Include story ballets such as The Donkey, The Daily Paper and The Pied Piper. I was able to find manuscripts of a few of her works, and found a relative online. More to come!
  8. Kay Ortmans* – Music for Movement No. 1  (1967), She produced others, but this is the only one I have at the moment (another is in the mail to me!).
  9. Cameron McCosh – Music for Modern Dance with Mary Anthony, 1960. There’s also a booklet published with movement exercises to perform with the music. (I videotaped a few students doing some of this and hope to post that eventually!)
  10. Paul Kueter –  Modern Dance: Music and Materials for Technique with Bruce King. The music is based on folk tunes, nicely harmonized.
  11. Evelyn Lohoefer De Boeck – Records include Music for Movement Expression, Drumtalk and Going Places, Listening and Movement and my favorite, Come and See the Peppermint Tree, a children’s album narrated/sung by dancer Donald McKayle. I had this one as a young child and still know all the songs by heart! Someone has posted a download if you are interested:  http://jessibird.net/2010/come-and-see-the-peppermint-tree
  12. Edward Muller – Hoctor Records, various “Modern Dance” – he is unnamed on most of these labels, but I found copyright entries naming him. He also wrote a wonderful article, “Musicians Don’t Look and Dancers Don’t Listen,” in Dance Magazine, 1971.

* If anyone has biographical information about these musicians – Heynssen, Johnson, Merrill, Miller or Ortmans – please contact me!

John Colman LP


(Edited on 10/19/17 to make a few updates and corrections. Of note, There are Dreams was composed by Sarah Malament.)