Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Dr. Stan Garner

Committee Members

Dr. Misty Anderson, Dr. Bill Hardwig, Dr. Casey Sams


This project explores the connections between modern dance and modernism Though initially, these connections might seem inchoate, modern dance provides a way to consider how expressive movement in modernism and gender restrictions prompts a physical response. Dance is inherently stylistic movement, and it is vital to explore how movement offers women a way to engage or respond to modernity. By investigating the role of movement in modernist literature and the particular tension between constraint and freedom that characterized female movement during this period, I argue that expressive movement and embodied performance offers a means of self-exploration and self-actualization. Specifically, it addresses the ways in which the work of Martha Graham is at the heart of this project, running as a thread that connects the intricacies of women’s autonomy, movement, and experience; this performance also conveys how the limited connection between modern dance and modernism allows the dance style, as a form of embodied performance, to be viewed as a form of expressive movement that coalesces and generates other dance styles that are reflective of modernism and its other various artforms. My introduction situates this project’s relevance in the fields of modernist studies and modern dance, which leads into my discussion of historicizing modern dance and elaborating on the artform’s lineage. Chapter Two explores how women’s movement is constrained, yet insurrectionary using Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal. In Chapter Three, I extend my discussion on constraint and liberated movement based on the life and work of Zelda Fitzgerald, primarily focusing on her only novel Save Me the Waltz. Lastly, Chapter Four elaborates on my previous discussions by articulating how the intersection between racial identity and expressive movement are present in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand as well as the dance stylings of Josephine Baker.

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