Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Liberal Studies


Tom Mikotowicz

Second Committee Member

Ann Ross

Third Committee Member

Pauleena MacDougall


This project is the result of a literary review of Judson Dance Theater (JDT) and Judson Memorial Church (JMC) and archival research at the Fales Library at NYU, the Andover-Harvard Divinity School Library, the Franklin Trask Library at Andover-Newton Theological College and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. In 1962, JMC in Greenwich Village in New York City and avant-garde dancers in a composition class taught by Robert Dunn came together to create the JDT. JDT involved a symbiotic relationship between these two groups that invigorated the fellowship of the church's congregates and engendered postmodern dance. JMC is one of America's first institutional churches. From the 1910s to the 1970s, it was supported by the Baptist City Society (BCS) as an urban mission. In the 1950s and 1960s, JMC's congregation included officials of national religious organizations and reform Democrats in Greenwich Village. Rev. Howard Moody used the arts as a catalyst amongst these groups to liberate JMC from BCS. One of the ideas circulating among divinity schools and religious organizations was a revitalization of religion in culture through an improved relationship between artists and religious organizations. In 1950, Robert Spike pondered this concept for JMC and young, aspiring artists in Greenwich Village. Between 1957 and 1961, JMC opened an art gallery, sponsored Happenings,1 held forums to discuss artwork, started a literary quarterly that lasted for one issue, and founded the Judson Poets' Theater. The postmodern dances of JDT resulted from an amalgam of various dance, music, and art philosophies. Their dances were a rebellion against the structured theatrical forms of Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Merce Cunningham. Also, they embraced the revolutionary ideas of the Bauhaus Workshop, Antonin Artaud, Marcel Duchamp and Erik Satie. Through John Cage, James Waring, Merce Cunningham, Anna Halprin and Robert Dunn, the choreographers (Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Trisha Brown, David Gordon, Deborah Hay, and a host of others) understood these ideas and embraced or challenged their tenets. The dancers met with Rev. Al Carmines, the assistant minister who ran JMC's Arts Program. They auditioned to present a professional recital of Robert Dunn's composition class in 1962. After some initial hesitance, the church sponsored A Concert of Dance on July 6, 1962 and this concert set a critical standard for what became the genre of postmodern dance. JDT contributed to a revitalized liturgy, the removal of pews from the sanctuary, and the liberation of JMC from the "Westchester [County] crowd." JDT presented the formative dance exhibitions of some of America's most important choreographers, musicians, and artists. Lucinda Childs, Philip Corner, and Robert Rauschenberg choreographed for JDT. The careers of its choreographers influenced dance and theater throughout the world.