Sonia Serova: Greek Dance Come to Life by David Soren

This series comprises five items related to modern dance, most including musical scores.

Sonia Serova (1889-1943) trained in dance at the Wordsworth School in London, and was influenced by ancient Greek sports and vase paintings, as a disciplined approach that countered the then-popular trend for “aesthetic” dancing. Her style of modern dance was known as “nature dancing.” She directed the Vestoff-Serova Russian School of Dancing in New York City, founded 1917 on West 72nd Street, along with her husband, Stockholm-born Veronine Vestoff (1865-1941), who it is believed studied ballet at the Russian Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg and performed at the Russian Imperial Academy of Arts, Moscow. Their child Cynthia was born in 1918 and later inherited their school. A film, Sonia Serova Dancers, was produced in 1924 (by Lee De Forest, famous television pioneer) and featured sound synchronized with film. Vestoff, who became a dancing star of the Bolshoi ballet of Russia, also appears in this film. The movie Dance, Girl Dance, directed by Dorothy Arzner, may be partly reflecting her New York school and approach to dance.


Sonia Serova (1889-1943) trained in dance at the Wordsworth School in London, and was influenced by ancient Greek sports and vase paintings, as a disciplined approach that countered the then-popular trend for “aesthetic” dancing. Her style of modern dance was known as “nature dancing.” She directed the Vestoff-Serova Russian School of Dancing in New York City, founded 1917 on West 72nd Street, along with her husband, Stockholm-born Veronine Vestoff (1865-1941), who it is believed studied ballet at the Russian Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg and performed at the Russian Imperial Academy of Arts, Moscow. Their child Cynthia was born in 1918 and later inherited their school. A film, Sonia Serova Dancers, was produced in 1924 (by Lee De Forest, famous television pioneer) and featured sound synchronized with film. Vestoff, who became a dancing star of the Bolshoi ballet of Russia, also appears in this film. The movie Dance, Girl Dance, directed by Dorothy Arzner, may be partly reflecting her New York school and approach to dance.

Serova, who underwent frequent changes to her name, t became the choreographer for Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes often under the Americanized name of Eileen West, one of her and her husband’s many show business names. That the two Russianized themselves in an attempt to capitalize on the mania for the Russian ballet is quite likely and it is not clear even what their real names may have been and how much of their Russian training might be bogus. Thus Serova claimed formal Russian training but no credentials were presented, suggesting that her training was with her husband.

A flip-book where you run the images by with your thumb and the dancer seems to dance before your eyes.

While this trickery seems fraudulent to the modern researcher, it must be remembered that show business and dancing schools had as their first mission to survive and second to make money and third to have a modicum of prestige, so that whatever had to be done to hoodwink the public was considered acceptable. The Vestoff-Serova Russian School of Dance therefore offered popular and classical dance for the public but also specialized in training would-be teachers. A visit to the school on a given day would see the teaching of Baby Dance to 2 to 6 year olds, Vestoff teaching toe dancing technique, Serova teaching Nature Dancing which became a vogue in America despite being vaguely defined.

Vestoff was entrepreneurial too, producing a 200 page volume on home dance instruction complete with abundant illustrations and attempting to take European terminologies and simplify them into clear English. He promised a complete home-study course in 36 lessons. Part of the dance instruction you got at the “Russian” academy of dance that they ran included how to package and sell yourself and make best use of your particular abilities. Vestoff continued to write books and articles which were respected and widely transmitted around the country throught he 1920s-1940s.

Serova was also a writer, having put forth her instruction guide to Nature https://img0.etsystatic.com/068/1/5473384/il_570xN.786903310_jd11.jpgDancing as early as 1916: The Poetry of Motion. Her particular aesthetic guide for her dance art came from a study of ancient Greek athletics and the depictions of movement on ancient black and red figure vases depicting athletes in the pursuit of perfection in their contests. Her ideas of creative, expressive movement among babies became a national trend and is still part of training of infants at dance schools across the country, embodied in her book Baby Work, published in 1917, shortly before the birth of her own daughter. School students, including even the babies, gave recitals annually at Carnegie Hall. She produced a whole series of manuals for children interested in dance over the years after the huge success of her work Baby Dance.

They have been called “pragmatic revisionists” because they believed i reviving age-old traditions of classical dance, especially the connection to the ancient classical world, while at the same time citing the need to eliminate what they considered to be frivolous interpretive dancing by those choreographers and dancers who did not take time to learn the ancient classical traditions of movement. Artistic, yet commercially savvy, they knew that short classes with them could give would-be teachers or dancers a great item for their resume while not taking years out of their lives. Having been hugely successful at their business and intellectual enterprises, they are considered among the most important developers of the popularity of dance in America.

box folder

47 6 Dance program, Dance of the Witches: group dance for 6 babies, dance arr. by Sonia Serova, Dance of the Witches (reference photocopy), 1922-23 undated

47 7 Publications

Baby Work by Sonia Serova, undated (after 1917)

Nature Dancing: a text-book to perfect natural movement (cover subtitle: The poetry of motion) by Sonia Serova, undated (after 1916)

Talented Tots by Sonia Serova, 1925

Name: Serova
Topics: Dancers