Name: Carol Bishop-Gwyn
Place of birth: Toronto, ON
CC: What brought you to writing about dance history?
CB: I had the opportunity to audit a history of modern dance course at Harvard University, given by a young Susan Manning. At that time, Manning was a fourth-year undergraduate student and she was sharp as a tack. She is now a prominent dance historian.
I was at Harvard because my ex-husband was a Neiman Fellow. The fellowship allows journalists to take a year-long leave of absence from their job to expand their professional network and attend courses and workshops at Harvard. I was also permitted to take courses and so I chose to study dance history. During one class we talked about the pioneers of modern dance and I was introduced to Maud Allan. The fact that she was born in Toronto piqued my interest, and I decided to learn more about her.
I had a journalism degree and I loved doing research. For my Maud Allan research, I used many archives, such as the Billy Rose Collection in New York City. At the public library in San Francisco, I read the trial of Maud’s brother who had been accused of murder. I later did research on Maud in England. I loved unravelling Maud’s story and I kept pulling at threads of information about her. My writing on dance started with Maud and I plan to return to her again.
CC: Did you have a strong interest in dance prior to studying with Susan Manning?
CB: Oh yes, always. I took ballet lessons as a little girl. We moved though, and ballet classes were no longer easily accessible. I later took adult ballet lessons when I lived in Ottawa and was working at the CBC. I took classes at the Nesta Toumine studio. Although they are basic, my ballet studies are helping me in my current research on National Ballet founding artistic director Celia Franca. Overall, my writing is mostly from the fan’s seat.
CC: Why did you decide to return to university after your journalism degree?
CB: I decided to go to York University to do a Masters of Fine Arts because the MFA allowed me to focus on my dance research and gain knowledge about modern dance. In the 1980s, I had a small child and as a mother I did a lot of magazine writing. Magazine writing offered me a feasible schedule because I didn’t have to be at a certain place at a certain time other than for conducting interviews.
Halfway through my graduate studies I moved to Moscow where my ex-husband had been located as CBC correspondent. I delivered my last research papers to the university through diplomatic pouch. I had a library card to the Moscow Library and there I continued my research on Maud Allan’s one visit to Russia.
CC: Why did you choose to pursue further studies in England?
CB: After Moscow, we were transferred to England. While we were there, Selma Odom, a professor at York University, was doing her PhD at the University of Surrey. Selma would stay with me while she was in town. The conversations we shared made me enthusiastic about returning to university and continuing my research. I did a Masters of Philosophy at Surrey University and I wrote my thesis on Maud Allan.
Maud Allan was very complex. Although a vaudeville dancer, she had a very strong background in music. She was the protégée and lover of composer/pianist Ferruccio Busoni and in Germany she studied with some of the most important musicians of her time. Maud was highly self-motivated, pursued rigorous artistic training and she socialized with cultural elites. She incorporated her knowledge of classical music within her vaudeville performances, an uncommon combination.