Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp (b. 1941) is an American dancer, choreographer and writer.  She is best-known for her crossover dances, a blend of ballet, modern dance and popular dance.  Among the over 160 pieces she has choreographed are The Fugue, Eight Jelly Rolls, Deuce Coupe, the Bix Pieces and Push Comes to Shove.  She created the dances for the Broadway shows The Catherine Wheel, Singin’ in the Rain, Movin’ Out and the Times They are A-Changin’.   She provided the choreography for the films Hair, Ragtime, Amadeus, and White Nights.  Tharp wrote Push Comes to Shove, an autobiography, and The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life and The Collaborative Habit, two books on creativity.  Her numerous awards include two Emmy Awards, a Tony Award, a National Medal of the Arts and a MacArthur Fellowship. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was a Kennedy Center Honoree.

Tharp comes from five generations of Indiana Quakers.  As a child, she attended Bluff Point Friends Church (New Association of Friends).  She noted, “I learned that there is a right and a wrong way in human relations from the Quaker church at Bluff Point”.  She also remembered, “….the Quaker meetings on Sundays and on Wednesday nights, when the community of Friends set about reconciling all life’s events through love”.  As an adult, however, Tharp seems to have little to do with Friends.  Her Quakerism appears to be cultural, something that appears in families who have been Friends for a long time.  Repeatedly she mentions family traits of modesty, simplicity, service and community.  She also feels that she learned from her mother that women could do anything to which they set their minds, a common belief among Friends.

Tharp looks on dancing as a religious calling.  While rehearsing at Judson Church in 1967, a janitor complained to her that her troupe was dancing on a Sunday.  She responded, “How dare (you) disturb a bunch of broads doing God’s work?”  Her dance Sweet Fields was inspired by her Quaker background and was originally titled Bluff Point.  At one time Tharp used Friends worship to create dance: “My family is Quaker, and the idea of Wednesday meetings was everyone went to the church, and if no one had something to say, everyone sat silently; if someone had something to say, they got up to do it. So I assigned the task of, okay, you’re not going anywhere, you’re not doing anything until you get your mind clear and you stop telling yourself what to do, and if you move, you move. If you don’t, you don’t. And I said to myself, okay, can you carry through on that, and start a new move? And I said, okay, we’ll call that one. Now, how many of those can you generate?” 

I have always adored Twyla Tharp’s work.  I saw Deuce Coupe and Short Stories on television in the mid-1970’s, and Movin’ Out at the Roanoke Civic Center in the late 00’s.  She is a national treasure.

A link to Movin’ Out:

Gary Sandman

August 2019

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