Aline Coleman Smith

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Aline Coleman Smith is considered one of the most important pioneers in bringing Modern Dance to Utah and the Brigham Young University campus. She studied under the masters of the time, including Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis at the Denishawn school in 1927 and Margaret H'Doubler at the University of Wisconsin in 1933.

Early Life and Education

Aline was born in July of 1911 in Provo, Utah to Jacob and Allie Smoot Coleman. Her father was a Provo City Attorney. Her mother, Allie is the grand daughter of Abraham O. Smoot, an important administrator of BYU in its early days, through his second wife, Dianna Tanner Eldredge Smoot. Aline was the oldest of five children. She attended elementary through high school at Brigham Young Training School, which at that time, was still on the same campus as BYU. Aline graduated from high school in three years before attending the Denishawn School of Dance summer camp in Westport, Connecticut.

Aline Coleman Smith, 2011
She later graduated with high honors from BYU in 1933 with a degree in both Physical Education and Education. While a student, Aline also taught as a student dance teacher and received free tuition ($37 a quarter, or semester) as compensation.

Dance Career

Aline started her dance studies at the age of six with Venice Jepperson in Provo, Utah. Through her adolescent years, she also studied Ballet with Bill Christensen at the McCune School in Salt Lake City, Utah and Mildred Lewis Hinckley at Brigham Young Academy.

At an annual bonfire dancing tradition in preparation for the climb up Mount Timpanogos, Aline, 15, was asked by Eugene Roberts, then head of the Physical Education Department at BYU, to teach dance classes at the University. After accepting, she felt she needed further training and left to study at the Denishawn School in New York, the pioneer in producing modern dancers. Many prominent dancers came from the Denishawn School including Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman. While there, Ruth St. Denis choreographed "The Lamp" with Aline in the chorus. This was quite a thrill for Aline to be part of Ruth St. Denis' choreographic process, and to perform the piece with Ruth St. Denis & Ted Shawn as principle dancers on the NYU Lewishon Stadium stage accompanied by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece was set to the music of Franz Listz's Les Preludes.

Aline said of her Denishawn experience:

"This was all a wonderful and memorable experience for me. Besides the dance training, "Miss Ruth" took the class to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Ted Shawn had us reading inspirational dance books and articles to compliment his theory lectures. For someone who had never been outside Utah, this was a broadening experience."
After returning to BYU, around 1929, Aline did most of the Modern Dance choreography, which was her passion. She used "music
Aline and her dancers, 1930's
visualization" when she choreographed, a style of choreography that she learned from Denishawn. She taught many classes, including Ethnic Dance and Modern Dance, which at that time was called "natural," or "interpretive" dance. As this was during the Great Depression era, the University suffered greatly from lack of funds. As a result, Aline and her students often times had to make their own costumes and buy their own music. The only place to rehearse was in the Women's Gym, which dancers had to share with the men's basketball team, since their gym on top of the Training School had been declared unsafe for big crowds. Bleachers were regularly set up or in the process of being taken down, which made it difficult for students to learn dances. Aline would frequently take the dancers to her parents' home three doors down to rehearse in their front room.
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Her sister Martha, a junior high student, would perform as the accompanist for the dances. As Martha learned new songs, the students learned new dances. Aline remembered imagining and choreographing dances in her mind as Martha played at home. Martha would occasionally dance in some of the pieces.

Because of her connection with the Denishawn School in her youth, upon returning to teach at BYU, Ted Shawn and his male dancers performed at BYU. After, Aline choreographed a number for six of BYU's men athletes, who were, surprisingly enough, good dancers and enjoyed performing. She also had significant help from two art majors, Floyd Comaby and Claude Snow during her tenure as a teacher. Floyd designed masks and created character dances, while Claude, who had worked with Ted Shawn, helped create American Indian dances. They were also instrumental in helping with production work. Ariel Davis, a renowned inventor in stage lighting, created lighting effects for performances.

After graduation in 1933, Aline attended the University of Wisconsin to study under Margaret H'Doubler, who was considered the best Dance Education teacher, at the time. The University of Wisconsin was the only school in the nation where one could obtain a Dance degree in the early 1930's. Upon returning to BYU, Aline was one of two faculty members in the Women's Physical Education Department. She taught Modern Dance, Freshmen Gym, Ballroom Dance, and assisted Wilma Jeppson in Folk Dance. Aline taught at BYU for almost 10 years from 1929-1938.

Personal Life

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Aline married Virgil J. Smith in December 1933. After her son, Jay Coleman Smith was born in 1939, Aline taught part time for two years before moving to Boise, Idaho with her husband. There, she sat on the YWCA board for 12 years, assisting in developing departments, particularly for adults who wished to learn to dance.

After a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, Aline saw many beautiful cross-stitch, needlepoint and pettipoint pieces of art, which triggered a 30 year interest in creating some of her own cross-stitching art. She is still a vibrant source for good and has many interests and hobbies at 102 years old.

Legacy

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In retrospect, Aline Coleman Smith has been a catalyst for the beginnings of Modern Dance at BYU. As of 2011, the Dance Department instructs more than 4,500 students every fall and winter semester in a curriculum that varies widely from choreography to pedagogy. The Dance Department also has a strong Contemporary Modern Dance Division, and a performance team, the Contemporary Dance Theatre, formerly known as The Dancers' Company.

In 2014, she was the subject of Kristina Smith's essay "Taking Flight Through Creation," which was featured in the Winter 2015 edition of BYU Magazine.

References

Smith, Aline C. (2010, December 12). Personal interview with Susanne Davis.
Smith, Aline C. (2010, May). Personal interview and article with L. Vernon Floyd
Smith, Aline C. (2011, January). Personal notes from Laraine Miner, niece of Aline Smith

News Links

External Links

Black and White Images

From The Banyan (1933). 1933 ed. Vol. 20. Provo, UT: Student Body of Brigham Young University, 1933. Print.

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