Korean Shaman
Korean Shaman

Eleanor King, 1906-1991

photograph by Jane Grossenbacher



Reprinted From The Village Voice: Dance, March 13-19, 1991

(used with permission)

Margot Fonteyn, 1919-91,

Eleanor King, 1906-91

Margot Fonteyn may not have been the first Swan Queen I ever saw, but she was the first one to break my heart. When Odette turned to Siegfried in love and fright and nestled trustingly against him, why did he not understand the sweet steadfastness of her passion -- recognized by everyone in the audience? How could he have fallen for that dark look-alike?

In the early 1950s, it was her Aurora that we stood in line for all day outside the old Met when the Sadler's Wells Ballet came to town; hers was the heated, almost savage Firebird that amazed us so. Even in her mature years, when a partnership with the young Rudolf Nureyev rejuvenated her, she remained impulsive onstage, as if all the years of daily drudgery in technique classes had slipped through her body as easily as breath, animating her, never dominating her.

Images of her glorious dancing studded a recent video-biography, interspersed with interview scenes attesting to her good humor, her modesty, her valor. Stiffened by arthritis, obviously ill, she still brought to mind words said by Frederick Ashton, who made so many splendid roles for her, “I adore her. She is a goddess, and as a goddess she's immortal.” Amen.

A different sort of great lady also died last month. Eleanor King struck out from the Humphrey-Weidman Company in 1935 to concentrate on her own choreography. Teaching led her to professor emeritus status in 1971 when she retired from 19 years work at the University of Arkansas. But she never stood still, in mind or body -- teaching here, choreographing there, studying mime with Etienne Decroux when she was nearly 50, tackling Noh in Kyoto at 54, tai chi two years later, at 70 beginning the study of classical Korean dance in Seoul, making and performing her “East - West dances,” and turning out a wonderful autobiography, Transformations.

In 1987, the audience at a symposium dealing with Leonide Massine's 1930 Le Sacre du Printemps was stupefied when King, a frail and beautiful 81-year-old, burst from her panelist's chair, and started running through the very strenuous choreography. In 1988, we rejoiced over a retrospective program - of fine King solos reconstructed by dancer Andrea Seidel (who had learned and performed them), King herself, and Annabelle Garrison for Gamson's company of soloists. This February, she was in Oak Park, Illinois, for a tribute concert and another King reconstruction, when she had a heart attack, fell, and broke her hip. A friend who visited her in the hospital found her mastering a walker, calling out gaily, “C'est la guerre!” Given her lifetime habit of hatching new plans, death didn't find her waiting passively. - Deborah Jowitt


Drawing reprinted from CCDR Newsletter Number 6, Summer, 1988, page 2




TO LEFT: Eleanor King in Hornpipe. Photo by Barbara Morgan.

ABOVE: Eleanor King in Hornpipe. Photo by Robert Mcafee.

Both Photos from Transformations: a Memoir by Eleanor King, The Humphrey-Weidman Era


September 1983



Santa Fe, New Mexico

Date of Birth: February 8, 1906



Self-employed as Visiting Artist, teacher of dance, choreographer, lecturer



Erasmus Hall High School, Brooklyn, New York 1924

Clare Tree Major School of the Theatre 1925

Theatre Guild School (scholarship) 1926

Professional Dance training, and soloist with the Doris Humphrey-Charles

Weidman Modern Dance Company, New York 1927-35

Mime with Etienne Descroux, Paris 1955

Classical Nihon Buyo, Fujima Fujiko, Tokyo 1958,60

Classical Nihon Buyo, Yoshimara Hanayagi, Kyoto 1960-61




Assistant to Doris Humphrey, Dalton School, New York 1930-31

Assistant to Doris Humphrey, New School for Social Research, New York 1932-33

Perry-Mansfield Theatre Dance Camp, Steamboat Springs, Colorado 1936,45,56

Theatre Dance Company, New York 1938-40

Brooklyn Museum of Art 1937

Dance Instructor, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota 1942-43

Director of Dance, Cornish School of Arts, Seattle 1943-44

Director Eleanor King Creative Dance Studio, Seattle 1944-51

Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas 1952

Rotterdam Dansschool Academie, Rotterdam, Holland 1952,54,55,61

American Cultural Centers, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka 1958,60,67

Associate Professor, University of Arkansas 1960

Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas 1971

Rencontres Internationales de Danse Contemporaines, Paris 1973

Toynbee Hall, London 1954-55

Goldsmith College, London University 1978

College of Santa Fe 1979



TRANSFORMATIONS, a Memoir by Eleanor King, The Humphrey-Weidman Era Dance Horizons, Brooklyn, N.Y. 1978 Vol. I Illustrated. 324 pp.

TRANSFORMATIONS, a Memoir by Eleanor King

TO THE WEST, Vol. II Dance Horizons, pending



“Indian Dance in the Northwest,” Dance Observer XII, December 1945

“Dance in the Northwest,” Music and Dance in California and the West, 1947

“Dance Gains in the Northwest,” Christian Science Monitor, May 9, 1949

“East Meets West in the Dance,” Northwest Times Weekly, Seattle, January 1950

“The Laughter Lingers, Rakugoka Story Teller's Theatre,” Japan Quarterly VIII. Brush/ink illustrations.
July-September 1951

“Dance an Answer to the Times,” in Dutch translation. Vernieuing, Rotterdam, Holland, April 1955

“Modern Dance in the Arena Theatre,” Dance Magazine XXIV, September 1950

“Another Way,” Journal of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. December 1962

“Magic of Masks,” Dance Magazine XXXVII August 1963

“The Influence of Doris Humphrey,” Focus on Dance V. Composition. American Association of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. 1969

“Kagura, the Search,” Excerpt from Ch. I, THE WAY OF JAPANESE DANCE. CORD (Committee on Research in Dance) Dance Research Monograph One 1971-72

“Sumiyoshi Rice Planting Festival,” excerpt from Ch. 8, THE WAY OF JAPANESE DANCE. CORD News, Volume iii/2, 1971

“Reflections on Korean Dances,” Korea Journal, Seoul Vol. 17, No. 8 August 1977

“Shamanism,” Arirang magazine, Seoul. Winter 1977

“Reflections on Korean Dances,” Arirang magazine, Seoul. Spring 1978

“Transcendent Dance,” Korea Journal, Seoul. Brush/ink illustrations. Vol. 19, No. 9. 1979

“Kagura,” Ch. I from THE WAY OF JAPANESE DANCE, Mime Mask and Marionette, Quarterly Journal of Performing Arts, Marcel Dekker & Co. New York. Brush/ink illustrations. Vol. 2 No. 2, 1979-80

“The Holy-Unholy Shamans,” Korean Culture Vol. 4, No. 4, December 1983

“Dionysus in Seoul: Notes from the field on a shaman ritual in Korea,” Dance As Cultural Heritage, Vol. 1, Ed. Betty True Jones, Dance Research Annual XIV, CORD 1983

“Bugaku: The Dance Two Thousand Years Young,” Ch. II from THE WAY OF JAPANESE DANCE. Mime Mask and Marionette, Quarterly Journal of Performing Arts. Marcel Dekker & Co. New York. Brush/ink illustrations

Special edition, 100 copies of these two chapters, bound in Japanese papers by Virginia Gannon, sold out



One hundred and twenty some solo and group works



Conducting workshops of “The Well Tempered Dancer” (Bach) which synthesize East-West modes of movement. Choreographing programs of “Dance Bridging East-West”



THE GYMP OF ECSTACY: ecstatic dance among Northwest coastal Amerindians contrasted with Southeast Asian shaman dance and that of inspired Western artists such as Isadora Duncan




Margaret Lloyd, THE BORZOI BOOK OF MODERN DANCE (half a chapter)



Thomas Leabhart, ELEANOR KING. FORTY YEARS OF CREATIVE DANCE, 1927-67. Master's Thesis, University of Arkansas



Jane Cowl Romeo and Juliet Essay Contest gold medal 1923

Bennington School of the Dance, Fellowship, 1938

Off-Campus duty assignment to study traditional dance and drama, Japan 1960-6

Fulbright Research grant, dance and drama, Japan 1967

Fulbright Research grant, dance and drama, Korea 1976, renewal 1977

Vogelstein Foundation travel grant 1976-77 for Japan and Bali

Independent study, Sri Lanka, Burma, 1977

Independent study Greece, 1955, 73,80

American Association of Dance Companies, honoree, 1975

Santa Fe Dance Umbrella, dedication, 1980



American National Theatre Association, paper on Rhythm, 1952

American National Theatre Association, workshop demonstration: Experimental Approach to Movement. 1966

Asia-Pacific Dance Conference, Hawaii, sponsored by CORD and American Dance Guild: paper on Dionysus in Seoul, performance of Salutation, a Meditation on the East (Hovhanes), 1978

Lecture-demonstration: Toward New Noh, illustrated with slides, with performance of masked solo “Hagoromo,” and film of Arthur Little's “St. Francis” (first Noh play in English based on rhythmic structure of Japanese Noh); Universities of Maine, Florida, Earlham, Pomona, Radcliffe, St. John's, USC, and other colleges

Lecture-demonstration: Dionysus in Seoul, (Korean Shaman Dance) with performance of “Sal Puri”: Performing Arts Theatre, Lincoln Center, and Korean Cultural Service, New York; Amsterdam Drama School, Holland; UC Davis, Berkeley; London University; Pomona, St. John's College, and for Royal Asiatic Society, Fulbright Forum, American Center, in Seoul, Korea



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