Dance Pioneer: Loyce Houlton

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Minnesota Dance Theatre (MDT) talked with dancer, choreographer, and dance historian Judith Brin Ingber, who was friends with Houlton. This is adapted from a story that appeared on the MDT website.

Loyce Houlton teaching (photo courtesy of Minnesota Dance Theater)

In the early 1960s, Loyce was teaching dance at the University of Minnesota and had recently opened her own school in Dinkytown. As Brin Ingber observed, “Loyce was transforming an extremely beautiful old building that included a large studio and a balcony overlooking the dance floor. She was imbuing young people with excitement.”

The local dance landscape in the 1960s included Gertrude Lippincott, who was the first to have a modern dance company in Minneapolis. Lippincott championed the modern traditions of Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey. Lorand Andahazy and Anna Adrianova spearheaded the Russian ballet tradition in Minnesota. Nancy McKnight Hauser introduced European expressionist modern dance at her studios.

Brin Ingber was familiar with the Minnesota dance landscape, and was struck by how Houlton was merging ballet and modern dance, inspired by both Graham and George Balanchine. While Graham emphasized articulation of the torso and upper body to reveal emotion, Balanchine was known for a more angular approach, often in the context of plotless ballets with streamlined unitards and tights. 

In Houlton’s production of “Rite of Spring” the women dance en pointe and draw from traditional ballet in the legs and feet, while employing Graham’s approach with deep spirals and contractions. 

In 1961, Houlton launched what would eventually be known as Minnesota Dance Theatre. Within ten years she had refurbished what is now The Cedar Cultural Center near the University of Minnesota West Bank campus. Brin Ingber recalled, “Loyce’s rehearsals and classes were unforgettable.”

Houlton brought notable teachers to work with students, including several from the Graham company. “Loyce was very ‘of the moment,’” Brin Ingber says. “She went to New York often and brought that New York sensibility to what she was showing and creating, taking influences that were au courant and doing them in her own way.”

Watch a 1979 PBS feature on Loyce Houlton here.