1910 -- Birth of a Tradition

Between the specialty dancers who originated routines from the raw material of their own talent and the pioneer choreographers who viewed movement as expression for communication, stand the dance directors of early musical comedy and revue.

Bring on the Dancing Girls!

Excerpted from "Hoofing on Broadway" by Richard Kislan:

The majority of dance directors subscribed to the notion that precision dancing constituted the right and proper action within the chorus line formation.

Whether performed on taps or toe, the precision dance routines demanded an undeviating execution of steps and the willing subordination of the individual personality to the homogeneous look of the chorus line. Since audiences responded best to machine-like uniformity in performance, the dance directors relied on simple steps within a kaleidoscopic array of geometric patterns.

The tradition of precision dance in American show business began in about 1910 with a fad for the unison marches and folk dances that first appeared in the amateur shows of a wealthy English manufacturer named John Tiller. Tiller's chorus of beautiful dancers popularized the "Tiller Line" -- the classic applause-getting kickline finale.

In America, Oscar Hammerstien I imported a troupe of "Tiller Girls" for productions at the Olympia Theatre, as did producers like Charles Frohman, George White, Charles Dillingham and Florenz Ziegfeld. Eventually, American dance directors entered the field and assembled their own troupes for the growing market.

Julian Mitchell poster

Julian Mitchell

The first important dance director of Broadway musicals was Julian Mitchell. He was born 1854 and died June 24, 1926.

Joe Weber and Lew Fields hired Mitchell to stage several of their popular burlesque musicals, and he became the most sought-after dance director of his time. His specialty was the clever movement of groups of people and sets during large ensemble spectacles. Mitchell is credited with inventing the "production number."

Julian Mitchell is best remembered for staging seven editions of Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies. Mitchell and Ziegfeld helped to define the Broadway musical revue.

Mitchell worked on over 75 Broadway musicals. His credits include A Trip to Chinatown (1891), The Wizard of Oz (1903) starring Montgomery and Stone, Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland (1903), and The Pink Lady (1911). Mitchell fell ill in 1925 while working as assistant director for Ziegfeld's No Foolin'. He died on opening night.


Florenz Ziegfeld


     The Early Dance Directors