Back Carolyn Brown, “The VW Years”

Carolyn Brown (b. 1927)
From Dance in America: A Reader’s Anthology

The Corps de Ballet at Radio Music City Hall, November 6, 1950. Photograph by Phillip Harrington (1920–2009) on assignment for Look magazine. (Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York website)

Dancer and choreographer Carolyn Brown, who is now 92 years old, was the leading female member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company during its heyday. From its founding in 1951, she collaborated for more than twenty years with Cunningham and John Cage in performances that redefined the boundaries of modern dance.

Yet, during the company’s first decade, Brown struggled to make ends meet. While dancing for Cunningham’s fledgling troupe, she also performed occasionally with Sadler’s Wells Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera. But one of her most memorable—and soul-crushing—gigs was with the corps de ballet at Radio City Music Hall.

In the 1950s there was no hint that that, by the time of her retirement from performing as a dancer, the Radio City tourist juggernaut would be “a white elephant fighting to survive while the little modern-dance company, grown a little larger, would be thriving, operating with a budget in the millions of dollars.” In her memoir written fifty years later, Brown recalls what it was like working as a “showgirl” in a spectacle that placed its entire emphasis on being “on your mark” rather than on the quality of the dancing.

Her account of that grueling summer as a Radio City employee is our Story of the Week selection.

Read “The VW Years “ by Carolyn Brown

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