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#SouthofUnionSquare — Dance Tour

Our new interactive tool “Virtual Village” brings users on a multitude of virtual explorations of the rich historic neighborhood South of Union Square. In addition to featuring basic information on each one of the two hundred buildings located here, the tool includes nearly forty themed tours that showcase the neighborhood’s many dynamic and varied layers of significance. Join us now on a tour of a series of buildings where tremendous breakthroughs in modern and experimental dance took place; dance was harnessed to advance the mission of a leading labor organization; and a pioneering dance and arts school got its start.

“Virtual Village” Dance Tour, 2020.

80 Fifth Avenue

80 Fifth Avenue, 2020.

The International Workers Order (IWO) was located at 80 Fifth Avenue for its entire lifetime, from 1930 until 1954. This progressive mutual-benefit fraternal organization was a pioneering force in the U.S. labor movement. For a quarter of a century, the IWO fought relentlessly for racial equality, interracial solidarity, industrial unions, and social security programs that would protect working-class people. It also organized theatrical, musical, artistic, and other entertainment productions.

Congressman Vito Marcantonio of East Harlem served as the IWO’s vice president and the leader of its Garibaldi Society. A protégé of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Marcantonio served as a critical link between the IWO and the federal government. He also participated in developing festivals celebrating ethnic heritage, as well as dance troupes, singing groups, orchestras, theaters, and musical galas. One of the IWO’s highly regarded dance troupes was the Russian Radischev Dancers.

64-66 Fifth Avenue

64-66 Fifth Avenue, 2020.

Martha Graham has been called “the Picasso of dance” and “a prime revolutionary in the arts of this century and the American dancer and choreographer whose name became synonymous with modern dance” by The New York Times. This great American modern dance innovator had her first dance studio at 66 Fifth Avenue beginning in the 1930s, remaining here through at least the 1950s. The studio started off as an all-female dance company, and it was while located here that Graham first integrated men into her work and school.

The Martha Graham Dance Company, founded in 1926, is known for being the oldest American dance company. Long after Graham’s death in 1991 it has continued on, now located at 55 Bethune Street in Westbeth.

78 Fifth Avenue

78 Fifth Avenue, 2009.

The Erick Hawkins Dance Company moved to 78 Fifth Avenue in 1965, staying here until the city’s real estate boom forced it to move out in 1987. The company’s founder, Erick Hawkins, was one of the foremost modern dance choreographers of his time, who followed the guiding principle “the body is a clear place.” As such, he elevated the aesthetic components of dance over plot, psychology, and other social and political components. Hawkins furthermore believed in performing to live music, and his company toured with the Hawkins Theatre Orchestra. Much of his work engaged with contemporary composers and visual artists who were connected to our neighborhoods, including Isamu Noguchi and Robert Motherwell.

Erick Hawkins Dance Company program, 1973. Photo courtesy of the Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive.

Before starting his own company, Hawkins rose in prominence as the first man to dance with Martha Graham’s company in 1938, officially joining her troupe the following year. The two were married in 1948, and they divorced in 1954. Hawkins formed his own troupe in 1951, and before he moved to 78 Fifth Avenue, he occupied several structures in the nearby area: a building on 17th Street east of Fifth Avenue, then Martha Graham’s studio, and then a building on Horatio Street.

One month before Hawkins died, on October 14, 1994, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton.

55 Fifth Avenue

55 Fifth Avenue, 2020.

This 1912 office tower at 55 Fifth Avenue was built on the site of James Lenox’s Fifth Avenue mansion. After Lenox’s death, the mansion became the first home of the Institute of Musical Art, now the Juilliard School.

Of the Juilliard School, Frank Rich said: “born when a young country was first discovering that it might have a serious appetite for the arts, Juilliard grew up with both the country and its burgeoning cultural capital of New York to become an internationally recognized synonym for the pinnacle of artistic achievement.” Today the Juilliard School is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading drama, music, and dance schools, with some of the most prestigious arts programs.

40-56 University Place

40-56 University Place, 2019

This 12-story residential building at 40-56 University Place was built in 1926 and became the home of dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille. De Mille was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1973 and won the Tony Award for Best Choreography in 1947 (for Brigadoon). She also received the Handel Medallion for achievement in the arts in 1976, an honor from the Kennedy Center in 1980, an Emmy for her work in The Indomitable de Mille in 1980, and the Drama Desk Special Award and the National Medal of Arts in 1986.

42 East 12th Street

42 East 12th Street, 2013.

In the 1970s, 42 East 12th Street was the home of the Film & Dance Theater.

126-128 East 13th Street

126-128 East 13th Street, 2020.

Since around 2008, this former horse auction mart at 126-128 East 13th Street has been the home of Peridance Dance Studios. According to The New York Times, Peridance was founded in 1983 by Igal Perry, who moved from Israel to New York City in the wake of the 1970s dance boom. Mr. Perry aspired to build a community hub for the city’s performers, whether they belonged to the Broadway and ballet worlds uptown or to the experimental dance scene thriving downtown. “At the time, those worlds rarely overlapped,” William Huntington, Peridance’s international student adviser, said. “Igal found his poetic identity right in between.”

Explore the “Virtual Village”

#SouthOfUnionSquare is an irreplaceable piece of New York, American, and world history, and an unprotected but essential slice of Greenwich Village and the East Village. We hope you’ll enjoy, explore, and advocate for saving this amazing neighborhood as we continue to add new layers of history to the “Virtual Village” tool.

To send a letter supporting landmark designation of these and other historic buildings south of Union Square, click here.

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