Dance for Export: Cultural Diplomacy and the Cold War

by Naima Prevots
Introduction by Eric Foner

book coverAt the height of the Cold War in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower inaugurated a program of cultural exchange that sent American dancers and other artists to political "hot spots" overseas. Never before had dance, theater, and music received direct government support. The funding was a godsend to cash-starved American dance companies, not only keeping them afloat but putting them on the international map.

Among the artists chosen for international duty were José Limón, who led his company on the first government-sponsored tour of South America; Martha Graham, whose famed ensemble crisscrossed Southeast Asia; Alvin Ailey, whose company brought audiences to their feet throughout the South Pacific; and George Balanchine, whose New York City Ballet crowned its triumphant visits to western Europe and Japan with an epoch-making tour in 1962 of the Soviet Union. The success of Eisenhower’s program of cultural export led directly to the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

As historian Eric Foner points out in his introduction, Dance for Export offers a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse of the politics of the American dance world in the 1950s. Although the panel of experts that chose the attractions went out of its way to be fair, it could not escape the prejudices of the time, disdaining both popular dance forms such as tap and the avant-garde work of modern dance. Naima Prevots draws upon the minutes of the panel and other previously unexamined sources, including congressional committee hearings and formerly classified State Department documents, to tell the story of the Eisenhower program of cultural export. She explains the complex set of political, fiscal, and artistic interests that shaped the program and, in the process, casts a clear light on the ever-uneasy relationship between government and the arts in the United States.

Naima Prevots is a professor of dance at American University and the author of Dancing in the Sun: Hollywood Choreographers, 1915–1937 (UMI Research Press, 1987) and American Pageantry: A Movement for Art and Democracy (UMI Research Press, 1990).

Title: Dance for Export
Author: Naima Prevots
Pub date: 1998
7 x 10 in., 174 pp., 49 illus.
ISBN 0-8195-6365-X

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