Miami's Oldest Modern Dance Company, Momentum, Joins Wolfson Archives

Recently, the Wolfson Moving Image Archives, an expansive collection of TV shows, movies, and other moving images that showcase the evolution of South Florida's communities, announced that they would be adding the entire video collection of Momentum Dance Company to their files. Why Momentum Dance Company? Because they are the oldest continuously operating modern dance company in the entire state of Florida, and have a huge repertory featuring work with some of the foremost pioneers and luminaries of modern dance.

The company was founded in 1982 by Delma Iles and Karen Peterson after returning from a fellowship in Paris. "The company was founded out of artistic necessity," says Iles. "Each of us wanted to stay in South Florida and we needed a venue in which to work." Back then there were few other modern dance companies, and most didn't last more than five or six years before they disbanded or were unable to garner enough support to remain in business.

Had it not been for these Miami dance pioneers, future dancers seeking a modern dance career might have had to settle in Paris or New York or some other city with cutting edge dance opportunities.

But Momentum was able to carve a niche in South Florida and open up doors for much of the modern dance scene that followed. Its reputation and extensive repertoire cemented it as a mainstay, and throughout the years they worked with some of the biggest names in modern dance such as Rosario "Charin" Suarez, Hannah Baumgarten, Diego Salterini, Andrea Seidel, Lees Hummel, Irmah DelValle, and others.

Old footage of 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
They performed historic dance works such as Doris Humphrey's 1928 Water Study and 1951 Night Spell, Anna Sokolow's 1984 Poems of Scriabin, Jose Limon's The Exiles, and several works by Isadora Duncan performed by Andrea Seidel.

But much of these historic performances and rehearsals with dance masters that reflects the early moments when Miami's avant-garde artistic communities began to flourish have been slowly deteriorating.

Shot on VHS and Beta, many of these fascinating glimpses into cultural evolution were doomed to gather dust in a warehouse somewhere.

The Wolfson Moving Image Archives surprised the 28-year old dance company by offering to digitize all of the files and make them a part of the permanent video collection. "We've been able to look back at footage of Ina hahn teaching us the 1984 historic dance Water Study which we are performing again this year," says Iles.

"Now that I'm reconstructing it again I can go back to that material and see how was she teaching it? What were the things that she particularly emphasized?"

The Wolfson Moving Image Archives can be accessed by appointment, so any dancers or scholars that want to study the company's rehearsals or performances can now do so. The footage is also used for movie and television productions. Other collections in the archive have been used in movies like Milk and documentaries like Cocaine Cowboys and Ken Burns's The National Parks. Maybe some past Momentum Dance Company students will now unwittingly find themselves making an appearance in future movies.

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Gabriela Garcia