Theater archives

Bella Lewitzky, 1916–2004


I studied with Bella Lewitzky one summer in Los Angeles when I was a teenager. Lester Horton, whose phenomenal leading dancer she’d been, was still alive, but Bella had struck out on her own. The classes were enthralling—a combination of fierce muscularity and a testing ground for her choreographic ideas.

Raised in a utopian socialist community near San Bernardino, she grew up interested in people and averse to compromise—in her choreography, in her classes, and in life. “She cared,” remembers critic Marcia B. Siegel, “about whatever you brought into the conversation or into the room.” And as Murray Louis said, if she told you during a class where to put your toe, you had better put your toe exactly there. She wasn’t being didactic; she was affirming what she believed to be true and right. Asked to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, she famously said, “I am a dancer, not a singer.”

She died July 16 at 88—a dancer who sang the power of body and spirit.