Washington and Lee University senior Jennifer Ritter, of Mariposa, Calif., has been awarded the Student Literary Award by Nu Delta Alpha, the national honor society in dance.
The society presents one student per year with the award for dance writing, and Ritter's paper, "Renewing the Spirit of the Modern World," will be published in the next issue of the society's quarterly journal. She will be invited to receive a plaque at the society's annual convention in April in North Carolina.
Ritter is a major in religion with a minor in dance, and her paper synthesizes modern dance and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In the paper, she argues that Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan, pioneers of modern dance, were inspired by Nietzsche to create a cultural and spiritual renewal in a time that was spiritually stagnant.
"Nietzsche was famous for the line 'God is dead,'" said Ritter, "and I think Graham and Duncan had the same feeling in the dance world because they were stuck in the confines of ballet. Their creative spirits were stifled by the constraints of society. So, drawing from Nietzsche, they created modern dance as a renewal for the dance world as well as for their own lives.
"Nietzsche said that the life of the artist is the ideal life, and he drew his inspiration from the Dionysian Greeks, who revered the spirit of creativity. Like Nietzsche, Graham and Duncan also looked to the Dionysian Greeks for inspiration, especially the poses of their statues which, although formulaic, helped the dancers to create the movements of modern dance."
Ritter submitted her paper to the journal at the suggestion of Jenefer Davies, assistant professor of dance and artistic director of the W&L Repertory Dance Company. The paper was a short version of her 25-page capstone paper for her religion major.
"I'm so proud of her," said Davies. ""I've told her that her work is wonderful but it's very satisfying to have a prestigious national entity affirm it."