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Sun, 10.05.1919

Joe Nash, Dancer and Dance Historian born

Joseph Nash

*Joe Nash was born on this date in 1919. He was an African American dancer, archivist of African American dance, and essayist.

From New York City, Joseph Nash grew up during the Harlem Renaissance, surrounded by artists such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Duke Ellington. The Harlem Renaissance was a center of cultural and artistic creativity, giving rise to a whole school of modern dance and choreography. Inspired by African dancing and traditional spiritual music, dancers such as Nash began creating new dance styles, weaving culture, modern dance, and spiritual music into one.

After serving in World War II, Nash started reading, learning, and observing the dance movement in New York in the 1940s. He performed with a few trailblazers of New York, including Pearl Primus, who was known for her spiritual and protest dances. Nash performed all over the country as a principal dancer in her company from 1946-1947.

He then first performed on Broadway in Showboat in 1946, and in London in Finian’s Rainbow. Later, Nash became a member of Donald McKayle’s company of New York. He became a regular in Broadway originals, performing in My Darlin' Aida, Flahooley, and Bless You All. Starting in 1948, Joseph Nash became a dance instructor at Marion Cuyjet’s Judimar School of Dance in Philadelphia. His classes became famous in the city dance scene. One of his most talented students, Judith Jamison, became a world-famous dancer, becoming the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Arthur Hall, a dancer, and archivist was also one of his students. He also danced with Alvin Ailey in 1954 when he danced in House of Flowers, choreographed by famous Pearl Bailey. Having declared himself as a teacher and self-taught dancer, he became most famous as a dance historian. Returning to New York, Nash began to fastidiously collect books, articles, recordings, interviews, rare issues of dance magazines, and newspapers.

Using his apartment as a contribution to dance history, he documented black dance memorabilia over decades, spreading everything throughout his apartment. Having danced with the most important and well-known dancers and choreographers of his time, Nash’s knowledge of black dance made him an expert. His apartment was located in Harlem, the location where he began dancing. A familiar figure in New York dance, Nash was often questioned for his dance knowledge and experience. Dance Magazine and the New York Times often quoted him and his contributions to dance magazines and the newspaper. He also gave commentary and photographs to The Black Tradition in American Dance. He also became a historian for the American Dance Festival, giving lectures nationwide and becoming a consultant for the PBS documentary Free to Dance in 2001.

With a life dedicated to dance history and the collection of memorabilia, the massive amounts of books and data in his apartment may have contributed to his death. In 2004, he tripped and fell in his apartment, pinned to the floor by a stack of books. He passed away a few months later at the beginning of 2005 and died of cardiovascular difficulties at age 85.

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