Anne Rudolph & Me

By Margot Grimmer

As a toddler, I bounced off walls. My mom searched for a constructive outlet for my enormous energy. She enrolled me in Anne Rudolph’s creative dance class for three-year-olds at her studio on Michigan Avenue. My mom had studied with Miss Rudolph after seeing her perform with her Isadora Duncan inspired Motion Choir at the Chicago World’s Fair, A Century of Progress, in 1934. Later, she danced in Miss Rudolph’s troupe at the Goodman Theatre and designed costumes for her productions.

A formidable presence with stark white hair, piercing blue eyes and zaftig proportions, Anne Rudolph intimidated her young students. They toed the line, except for me. Restless in the class, I rebelled against all structure. I enjoyed improvising. Unleashed, unpredictable and fearless, I came alive. During one improvisation, I entered the janitor’s closet and emerged with a bucket, mop and box of Soilax. I cavorted about with the bucket and mop. For the grand finale of my solo, I opened the box of Soilax and scattered its powdery contents all over the floor in big lyrical swoops while pirouetting. Miss Rudolph scowled. My mom explained, “Margot is being creative.”

Miss Rudolph hired a professional photographer. He set up a camera on a tripod, umbrellas and big blinding lights on stands. She sought some photos of classes to put on her brochures. During the session, the photographer whispered something to Miss Rudolph. She announced he wanted to take some pictures of children dancing nude and asked for volunteers. The kids recoiled. Miss Rudolph led me by the hand to the center of the studio and pulled down my leotard. I danced exuberantly and thought nothing of it. After all, my parents, Art Institute of Chicago graduates, drew nudes in life study classes. During the Depression, they painted murals for the WPA (Works Progress Administration). Their work hung in art galleries, at the Art Institute and the Springfield State Museum. Afterward, in the reception room, one of the children told her mother that Miss Rudolph had made me dance naked in front of everyone. The shocked mother expressed utter disgust and withdrew her child from the school. I picked up that I had done something terribly wrong. Modesty overtook me. From that moment on, I never disrobed before anyone.

Another time, while waiting for my mom to pick me up, I overheard Miss Rudolph lecture a class of adults. “Wearing shoes is harmful to the feet,” she warned. A barefoot modern dancer, she targeted pointe shoes, worn by ballet dancers, and high heels. Motivated by her words, I marched into the dressing room and threw every shoe out the window onto Michigan Avenue. I throughly enjoyed watching them plummet ten stories and hit the pavement. After the class, the barefooted students rode the elevator to the ground floor to retrieve their shoes from the sidewalk. Miss Rudolph told my mom not to bring me back. As my mom and I walked toward the door, Miss Rudolph called out to my mom. “Margot’s future is in ballet. She’s perfect for it. Take her to Gladys Hight when she’s seven.”

My mom followed her spot-on advice. At seven, I began my serious dance training with Gladys Hight at her Loop studio. I became a professional dancer at the Kansas City Starlight Theatre at fourteen, appearing in ten Broadway musicals. I went onto dance with the St. Louis Muny Theatre, Chicago Music Theatre, Lyric Opera Ballet, Ruth Page’s Chicago Opera Ballet and International Ballet and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in New York City.

Anne Rudolph made her mark with the physically challenged. She fixed countless broken bodies, helping people to regain and improve their range of movement with her body education techniques. Over many years, she invited my parents and me to her parties. At these events, Miss Rudolph, her protege Teena and I improvised to an eclectic selection of music. We had different personalities and styles. I was the classically-trained virtuoso. Anne excelled in comical and dramatic character studies. Teena was spontaneous, raw, poignant and compelling. We soloed and danced together, telling stories and evoking emotions that ruptured from our souls. Sometimes other guests joined us. I loved those impromptu performances. As a teacher, I always ended my classes by dimming the lights to provide cover for the dancers to express themselves in motion. As a choreographer, my ballets evolved from improvisation. I thank Anne Rudolph for the many opportunities to nurture my creativity.

In 1970, I became director of the Eric Braun School of Dance after the American Ballet Theatre star’s untimely death. On June 3, 1972, I staged a dance concert in Eric’s memory, at Highland Park High School Auditorium. The evening got off to a precarious start. I had set the admission at $2.50. Never again would I have coinage anywhere in the ticket price. A line of people stretched around the block waiting for their 50-cent change. By 7:30 pm over a thousand folks impatiently milled around outside the theatre in 90-degree heat and oppressive humidity. When we opened the doors to the public, a stampede ensued. An elderly man brandished his cane like a sword, swinging it from side-to-side as he walked down the aisle to prevent anyone from getting in front of him. The man was Anne Rudolph’s husband, Dr. Howard Bartfield. He barricaded row 8-center section, while Anne found a pair of suitable seats and threw her shawl over them. As he lumbered down the row to his seat, he knocked over dance critic Ann Barzel’s movie projector, perched on a table.

During the standing ovation at the end of the performance, Eric’s brother Helmut staggered onto the stage in his army uniform, his chest filled with medals and ribbons. When the cheering ebbed, he launched into a sentimental speech, expressing his thanks. Being soused, he had difficulty organizing his thoughts. While slurring his words and swaying from side-to-side, he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose. Two dancers mercifully escorted him off the stage. A stagehand trotted out with a box of flowers. While he presented them to me, the bottom of the box fell out. Anne Rudolph unexpectedly mounted the stage from the audience, gave me a big hug and curtsied with the cast at the final curtain.

The memorial concert, coupled with the critically-acclaimed premiere a month earlier of my multimedia, rock ballet, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, at the Chicago Ballet Guild Showcase, led to the formation of the American Dance Company. Anne Rudolph and Dr. Bartfield became fans. They attended my company’s concerts at the Weinstein Center for Performing Arts in Evanston and at Ravinia in 1973. After a standing-room-only performance of my ballet, Disco Fever, Anne Rudolph told me backstage that she liked the way I blended the precision and airiness of ballet with the earthiness of modern and the theatrical flash of jazz, and enhanced it all with stage technology. “Your work is original, timely, cool,” she said.

The last time I saw Anne must have been in 1980-81. My parents and I attended a concert of hers at a hall somewhere in Lakeview. She shared the bill with a twenty-something dancer who performed her solo while reclining nude on a revolving circular table. Not to be outdone, Anne ripped off her blouse and danced her piece bare-breasted. She played a Fallen Angel, a Bum Lady, drunk, disheveled and disgusting. She was in her seventies at the time. Her vivid and visceral portrayal is forever seared in my memory. It’s a most fitting parting shot of the incomparable Anne Rudolph.

Dancers in Anne Rudolph’s class by Ann Radville Grimmer

Margot’s mother, Ann Radville Grimmer, is on the left. Sophie is in the center. She was a favorite of Anne’s, danced as an occasional soloist in the Motion Choir and taught classes at her school.

A Personal Remembrance of My Teacher/Mentor, Anne Rudolph by Zohara Schuster

Anne Rudolph was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. In her childhood, her family moved back to Bad Oeynhausen, Germany. A superb athlete, Anne caught the attention of Adolph Hitler. He wanted her to train German youth for war. Walking down the corridor to meet him, she changed her mind and left. She did not cooperate and fled Germany to come to America. Anne’s mother resisted her way as she operated an “underground railway” to help Jews escape from Germany. Anne’s mother once demonstrated the courage to hold one’s belief in the face of danger. The scene took place at a civil court in Germany in the town where Anne’s mother lived. The judge ordered everyone to stand and say, Heil Hitler. Her mother remained seated! The judge leaned over his table and calmly asked Mrs. Rudolph to stand and say, “Heil Hitler.” She told the judge that Hitler’s name would never take the place of God’s, and she remained seated.

Anne came to Chicago and connected with Jane Addams and Hull House. She stayed at a beautiful all-women’s hotel affiliated with Jane Addams. Her experience with Hitler inspired her to teach people about the evils of war. She was committed never to train youth for combat. Her compassion led her to help start the rehabilitation center for children with Cerebral Palsy at Michael Reese Hospital. While not a patient in the Michael Reese program, Judy Sampson was a six-month-old child with Cerebral Palsy that Anne nurtured. Years later, I used to assist and watch Anne work with Judy. When Anne was teaching Judy, she was like a human-machine transferring over her healing rhythm that helped release Judy’s spasms until Judy could try to do it herself. Sometimes Anne used counting of how many movement repetitions they did. Still, the counting always changed based on Judy‘s determination and ability. Anne always tried to set up her lessons to make Judy feel successful. Anne’s goals for Judy were for her not to have a distorted body, eventually have a boyfriend, get married, and live a full life. I do know that Judy’s body was not distorted, and she was beautiful. Anne could have dedicated her time to develop her school and dance company but instead offered her time and energy to restore Judy’s health and vitality. Judy was able to live a fuller life because of the dedication of Anne Rudolph. This story compares to that of Hellen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan.

Dr. Howard Bartfield met Anne at one of her concert performances, and it was love at first sight. Howard was a very successful oral surgeon who was always in demand, and he too was generous of spirit. During the Depression, he lost most of his financial investments but still served many clients without charging them. They married, and he became very supportive of her work. Dr. Bartfield, as an oral surgeon, believed in preventative dentistry. Anne was influenced by his work, especially in her Body Education teachings related to preventing physical freedom loss due to aging. His influence led to her discovery of a new way of teaching movement. Two weeks before his death, he was teaching me how to use my toothbrush correctly. I always said that

Anne was in charge of my body, but Howard was in charge of my teeth! They were a perfect couple in supporting each other how to generously give over their talents for the benefit of all humanity. In Germany, Anne had been a modern concert dancer. In Chicago, she continued to give dance concerts. She performed in such venues as the Goodman Theatre, Fine Arts Building Theater and taught modern dance in their dance studio. As a performing artist, Anne’s struggle and conflict were that her passion for dance pushed her beyond her physical capacity. The conflict inherent in the artist’s performance energy was that they overwork their bodies. She observed these tendencies in her dancers, and they were getting injured before their performances. Correcting these tendencies was a significant turning point in her style of teaching. She had to discover a new way to train dancers to minimize their injuries. From her observations, she then developed posture alignment work. She found that the most important movement that reflects how a person moves is through their walk. Anne’s performance energy knew no boundaries, but she claimed that BODY EDUCATION saved her life!    

When she furthered her artistic and educational career, she established her studio on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I was three when I began studying with Anne in that studio. My mother found Anne Rudolph through a connection to a Jewish orphanage. She provided a home for one of the orphans, Merle, who cared for me as a mother‘s helper until she got married. Her one condition for helping my mother was to continue lessons with her teacher, Anne Rudolph. My mother said, “yes, if you take my daughter for lessons too.” That was my innocent beginnings of entering the expressive world of movement. She taught one class for children, but I stayed the whole day. Anne told me later; I used to sit in the corner and watch all the classes quietly. My reward was, I could go into my teacher’s magical box of different colors chiffons and dress up and play monkey with her. That was my beginning of how Anne touched my soul.

As the diaries indicated, she was always worried about meeting the rent. Still, all the lessons to those from the Jewish orphanage were free. She would also run one class into another and offered that it would be free if people wanted to stay to continue the next session. 

I think I was five when Anne closed her school, but she already touched my heart with her unique gift of bringing out my young imagination. I always left wanting more. That sealed my destiny. I was to be part of my teacher’s life. My mother attempted to replace my teacher by setting me up in other dance schools, but with no success. In those classes, I didn’t have the freedom of self-expression. Instead, they replaced freedom of expression with stylized techniques. The teacher made body corrections with a stick! I told my mother that I only wanted to take lessons with Anne Rudolph. She told me that she would get her number, but I would have to call her. I thought of my teacher as if she was larger than life. I was nervous and shy, but I did it. I think this was the beginning of my learning how to work with influential people. When I called Anne, she asked me where I was studying. I told her, “if you want me to be a dancer, then I can only learn from you.” Anne set up my classes at her home on Rush Street off Michigan Avenue.

I had taken two lessons, and then she shared how she analyzed my body. At eight years old, I was developing a lumbar curvature. She said it needed to be corrected, or my curvature would be in every movement I created. She planned to prepare a program that would entail spinal alignment work. She would give me movement exercises to practice. The following week she would tell me if I was improving. I thought about the plan, and the next week I told her I wanted to do her program. She gave me a visual image. She said, first I had to make my foundation strong, like preparing a cake, and then put the frosting on top. The frosting is the treat, and she compared it to me dancing. I was ready for the challenge, so that was my beginning of learning her methods of prevention, preservation, and joy of the moving body. The joy was me experiencing dance. Again, I never knew who would show up in my so-called “after-school private sessions,” but it was always exciting. I do recall Judy Sampson being in some of my classes. I thought we shared the same goal of trying to make our bodies stronger. Because I was such a dedicated student and was significantly improving from the homework that Anne gave me, she rewarded me by giving me a forever scholarship. These experiences represent my humble beginning of Anne Rudolph becoming my teacher and mentor.

I think I was around 16 when we used to go to the park and sit on the benches for hours, observing how people walked. Some of the questions she would ask me were:

1) Are they dropping their weight to the right or left side? 

2) Are they turning out the right or left foot?

3) From what part of the body are they dropping their weight? Anne always asked if she could see the backs of her students’ shoes. She could tell from how the shoes were wearing out which side her students favored as they walked.

Here are some of Anne’s sayings that I grew up learning.

1) Your feet should be a springboard for lightness in space.

2) Always walk with a lift.

3) Move through your joints, not in your joints.

4) If you hear yourself walking, you’re walking too heavily.

5) An aging body is narrow in the front and broad in the back.

6) Your body should be a long “U,” open in the front and narrow in the back.

7) How your body performs at twenty is nature’s doing, but how your body performs in your later years is your doing!

My life with my mentor was continuous. I was learning Anne’s work without knowing it. There were no schools or teachers offering anything like her method, just hands-on experience with Anne. I never missed a class. I never had any dreams of becoming a great teacher or dancer. I just loved being in her presence and witnessing how she transformed peoples’ bodies and lives to be the best that they could be!

Anne always wanted to write her book. At one point, she chose me to be part of a team that would put the book together. I rejected the invitation because I thought I wasn’t mature enough to work with the other teachers’ egos. One of Anne’s greatest fears was that if she wrote her book, people would draw from it only movement routines, and these routines might not fit with what people needed. Again, routines could stop a teacher from thinking and feeling and not being in the exploratory moments.

Anne had a generosity of spirit like no other. The creative energy combined with the desire to help people often leads an artist to trust people who appear to support you and your work. I’m now going to share something that happened before my time with Anne. It relates to her desire to publish her work. Anne had a wealthy patron who was also her student. This person became one of my teacher’s closest friends. Anne shared all her struggles with surviving as an artist and her movement education ideas. This student was never a dancer or artist, but she was wealthy and intelligent. Eventually, this person broke away from Anne and wrote a book about the work without Anne’s knowledge. Of course, the relationship ended because Anne felt this student stole all her ideas for her benefit and gave Anne no credit! After that experience, Anne was not as trusting. 

In my early 30’s, I was becoming well known for teaching Anne’s work. The television show 20/20 wanted to do a presentation on me. All my friends were very excited, except me! I remembered how one of Anne’s students plagiarized her work for her glory. That urge, however, never came into my body. I called up the producer of 20/20 and told them they’d got the wrong person. I never created Body Education, and I’m only one of Anne Rudolph’s teachers. I directed the producer of 20/20 to seek out the pioneer, Anne Rudolph. With great success, they interviewed Anne for an hour.

She lived her life the way she taught, never two classes alike. Her teaching style kept me open to be receptive and flexible for life’s challenges, which prepared me for how to react in our last moments together. I had the great honor to be present at her passing. We went into her bedroom. She was seated at the end of her bed with an air of nobility. She unbuttoned her white blouse and asked me to help remove it from her body. She laid down with grace and ease. Her breathing was relaxed. Before my very eyes, her skin seemed to transform into a heavenly glow. She looked thirty years younger. Her last direction was for me to straighten her out. How fitting because her whole life work focused on the principle of straightness. Then she floated her head, arms, and legs into a uniform cradle position. It appeared as if she was floating in another universe. As she was coming down, I gently embraced her head and upper torso and eased her to her original position. Her eyes turned slightly glossy. Her body gave up her soul, and I knew she was no longer earthbound. Her death was her final DANCE performance, and I was her audience, but never her last curtain call because her work lives on through her students. 

Her final performance was a magical moment based on beauty, not a tragedy.

She was indeed an artist, and her sense of timing was always in the moment!


John Szostek’s Remembrance

I met Anne in 1972 in Chicago. I performed at Otto’s Beer House and Garden Club on North Halstead St. in their outdoor venue. The name of our theatre company was “Geoffrey Buckley’s Commedia dell’ Arte Gelosi Company.” We performed commedia dell’ Arte scenarios. We were Ken Raabe, Jack Phend, Julie Phend, Jane Raabe, Gail Wahlenfeld, myself, and Geoffrey Buckley, England’s foremost mime and Pierrot. That night we performed, “The Household of Pantalone,” and “Pierrot and Mr. Fox.” In the audience one evening was Anne Rudolph and her husband, Howard Bartfield. After the show, Anne approached me and said she enjoyed my acting performance as Pantalone, but as a mover, I was a fraud. She said I needed foundation work. She invited me to come to take classes with her and that classes would always be free. She also said I should come to see her at her home, that she had something for me. 

Intrigued by the fraud statement, I went to her class. She had a studio in the Uptown Hull House Theatre on Beacon St. It was built especially for her. Her classes were mostly floor work and her students a mix of older non-performers and a few professional movers. The work was simple, slow and conscious, and challenging. Her work was very different from any movement class I had every taken. I could feel the deep imbalances in my body resolving themselves. Slowly, over time, I felt more integrated, whole, and free.

I took her up on her offer to visit her at home. We talked about her work and her regrets that she did not have time to write a book about her method. She then gave me a box. Inside were a black velour theatre curtain and an old Fresnel theatre light. She said, “Start a theatre.” Years later I did start a theatre, Piccolo Theatre, in Evanston, IL. The lighting instrument and curtain I donated to Lifeline Theatre. Piccolo Theatre had all new equipment.

Shortly after, I got a teaching position at Governor’s State U. and moved to Homewood, IL. Two years later, I moved to New York City to pursue theatre and Tai Chi studies. Anne’s work served me well, but due to tragic circumstances, I moved back to Chicago. During a street performance at the Custer Fair in Evanston, IL, I fell from a 10′ ladder and injured my back and neck. After a while of suffering through various therapies with little result, I remembered Anne’s work and how, she said, that she embarked on her corrective work by fixing broken dancers. I went back to class with Anne. She offered me private sessions, and I took her up on it. She told me that I would never be able to do the kinds of big, energetic, expressive movements I liked to do but that I should focus on small delicate movements. It was a hard reality to accept. In time I was able to recover a good portion of my lost capacity thanks to Anne’s work and Tai Chi. Thanks to Anne I was able to have a second career in theatre.

One day after class, she asked if I would give her a ride home. In the car she told me her husband, Howard, had died. She seemed dispirited, sad, and a bit lost, something I had never seen in her. I told her that I moved back to Chicago because I had been in a couple relationship with Arlene Rothlein in New York City and that she was a dancer and actress and that we performed together. I told Anne we were together for nine months when Arlene died suddenly at age thirty-six. Anne’s sadness seemed to melt away. She said nine months was so short a time, and she was grateful for having so many years with Howard. Her energy changed, a kind of resolve to live life fully. She was Anne again.

She gave me permission to teach her work. For that I am grateful. To pass on Anne’s work is so satisfying for teacher and student. This website is part of my commitment to preserving her significant body of work.

Introduction to Anne Rudolph’s Journal

For fifty years she operat­ed the Anne Rudolph School of Modern Body Education and Dance, offering techniques she de­veloped in Germany during the early 1930s. Her students were not only dancers but other people seeking to improve the use of their bodies. They included actors, athletes, physical-fitness buffs and recuperating stroke victims. She lived from 1907-1988.

At the time Anne was writing these diaries she was teaching dance and movement at the Fine Arts Building at 410 S Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

A large building

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She had seen that her work was a benefit to injured dancers. They would arrive at her studio “broken” as she would say. By applying her body education method these dancers were able to get back on the professional stage. Soon non-dancers heard that she could “fix” their bodies, and the nature of her work changed to focus on women’s physical, emotional, and attitudinal health, all through Body Education. Anne began to observe the shop girls who worked along Michigan Ave., and observing their poor posture and concomitant low self-esteem she set about a plan to extend her work to them.

When I met Anne, she was teaching in a studio especially built for her in the new Uptown Hull House Theatre located at 4520 N. Beacon St., Chicago. Sadly, Uptown Hull House Theatre has been turned into a condo complex. 

A clock on the side of a building

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I met Anne in 1972 in Chicago. I was performing at Otto’s Beer House and Garden Club on North Halstead St. in their outdoor garden venue. The name of our theatre company was “Geoffrey Buckley’s Commedia dell’ Arte Gelosi Company.” We performed commedia dell’ Arte scenarios. The ensemble was comprised of Ken Raabe, Jack Phend, Julie Phend, Jane Raabe, Gail Wahlenfeld, me (John Szostek), and Geoffrey Buckley, England’s foremost mime and Pierrot interpreter. One night we performed, “The Household of Pantalone,” and “Pierrot and Mr. Fox.” In the audience was Anne Rudolph and her husband, Howard Bartfield. After the show, Anne approached me and said she enjoyed my performance as Pantalone, but as a mover, she said I was a fraud. Anne said I should come take classes with her and that classes would always be free. She also said I should come to see her at her home. “I want to give you something,” she said.

Intrigued by the “fraud” statement, I went to her class. She had a studio in the Uptown Hull House Theatre on Beacon St. that was built especially for her. Her classes were mostly floor work and her students a mix of older non-performers and a few professional movers. The work was simple, slow and conscious, and challenging. I could feel the deep imbalances in my body. The “fraud” remark was about my feet. I lacked foundation. Slowly, over time, I felt more integrated, whole, and less fraudulent. Along the way I met and worked with Anne’s teachers, Muriel Aronson, Teena Schuster (Sweet), and Jill Lending. Anne gave me permission to teach her work.

Years after Anne’s death I took her up on her encouragement to start a theatre. That is how Piccolo Theatre in Evanston, Illinois started. I taught her work to our ensemble and had a section on our website about her. One day an auction buyer of paper ephemera, Ron Slattery, called me and said he had purchased some paper at an estate sale and there was a diary written by Anne Rudolph. He said my reference to her on the Piccolo Theatre website was the only one he could find. He asked if I wanted to buy it. I did. Months later he called again and said he found another one. I also bought it. What you see here are these two diaries. Anne had always wanted to publish her work. This may not have been what she had in mind, but it is her mind.

I dedicate this website to the life and work of Anne Rudolph, master teacher of movement and dance. If you knew Anne or experienced her work, I would love to add your memory, photos, and expressions of gratitude to this website. You can leave a comment on any post or send me a message using the contact form below.