Pioneer Women: Early British Modern Dancers

Early British modern dancers June 2008 - May 2010. Funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Resource Enhancement Scheme, the primary focus of this project was on two previously closed archive collections containing material representing forms of ‘barefoot dance’ that were prominent in early 20th century Britain.


The archives are specific to the work of Madge Atkinson (1885-1970) and Ruby Ginner (1886-1978) (the collection of Bice Bellairs), both pioneers of early British modern dance forms which embraced naturalism and neo-classical ways of moving. In addition, the project processed materials from two solo dancers working in modern dance forms influenced by European practice, Ludi Horenstein (also known as Ludmila Mlada or Rosemary Young) and Leslie Burrowes.

The project undertook vital cataloguing and preservation work to ensure the permanence and accessibility of the materials and records. However, the overall aim was to increase interest and scholarship in these previously overlooked areas of British dance and, more specifically, the practitioners who contributed to the expansion of the art form. The project was a collaboration between the National Resource Centre for Dance, the Department of Dance, Film and Theatre of the University of Surrey and an eminent Dance Historian based at Middlesex University. The project was guided by a select steering group and developed with the expertise of two key dance scholars Professor Rachel Fensham and Professor Alexandra Carter.

Outcomes of the project include an online catalogue of the archives, journal articles, dance reconstructions, a DVD, an academic symposium, an exhibition, two study days and an edited book(Dancing Naturally, to be published 2011). An oral history project has provided valuable supplementary documentation and additional resources to enhance the archives' content and usefulness. An international symposium 'Moving Naturally' was a central event for the research in terms of publicising the high archival and intellectual value of the collections and the project research.

The opening and publicising of these collections, subsequent research into them, and a series of events aimed to re-establish the largely forgotten place of Atkinson, Ginner, Horenstein and Burrowes in dance history.

Project team

  • Professor Rachel Fensham (Principal Investigator, Surrey)
  • Professor Alexandra Carter (Co-Investigator, Middlesex)
  • Helen Roberts (Co-Investigator, NRCD)
  • Emily Churchill (Project Archivist)
  • Laura Griffiths (Project Archive and Research Assistant).

This project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Project outputs

Read the full project report (PDF) including details of the project outcomes and archive collections.