The Schwarz School of Dance History
Josephine and Hermene Schwarz
Courtesy of Special Collections & Archives, Wright State University
Josephine Schwarz was born in Dayton, Ohio, on April 8, 1908, the fourth of five children to Joseph and Hannah Schwarz. Her eldest sister Hermene was born in 1902, followed by Milton in 1903, Babette in 1906, but she later died in 1909 from meningitis, and Gustave, Gus, in 1915.
Hannah Schwarz took her daughters to see Anna Pavlova dance at Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio, when they were very young. Josephine, Miss Jo, as her friends, students, and colleagues have affectionately known her throughout her life, began her dance career in the Botts Dance Academy, a local school of dance. Her mother enrolled her in dance class to regain her strength after being bedridden with a severe case of the mumps. When her skill and desire outgrew her local teacher, she studied in Cincinnati, Ohio each Saturday. This proved to be expensive so Miss Jo opened a school of dance in her living room at the age of 14. Her sister Hermene played the piano. There were ten students and the lessons cost 10 cents each. This was how Jo earned the money for her own lessons.
Hermene’s interest in learning how to dance grew and after high school she worked in a doctor’s office earning money for both Jo and her to go to Chicago. The sisters spent three summers in Chicago, studying and performing with Russian dancer Adolph Bolm, from the Russian Imperial Ballet, at the Bolm School of Dance. They became members of the Ravinia Opera Ballet Company.
Both Miss Jo and Hermene traveled to Europe in the 1930’s to study at the Hellerau-Laxenberg School in Vienna, Austria. They also studied with modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman.
Miss Jo performed in the Burg Theater in Vienna and also toured with Bolm’s “Ballet Intime” while in Europe.
Josephine and Hermene founded the Schwarz School of Dance in Dayton in 1927. Hermene was the accompanist for the classes when the school began, but soon became teacher, designer of costumes, scenery builder, wardrobe manager, and official photographer. The Schwarz School was one of the first to combine modern dance and ballet training for all students. Miss Jo continued to pursue a performance career and studied with George Balanchine at the new School of American Ballet in New York City in 1934. She studied at the school for three years under Balanchine, as well as with modern dancers Charles Weidmann and Doris Humphrey. She performed professionally on Broadway with the Humphrey-Weidmann Theater Company and was a solo dancer with the Broadway show, “Life Begins at 8:40.” Bother Hermene and Miss Jo presented many concerts in various cities. Hermene continued to run the Schwarz School in Miss Jo’s absence.
Miss Jo’s performance career ended in 1937 with a disabling knee injury. Miss Jo returned to Dayton and rejoined her sister Hermene at the Schwarz School of Dance. The sisters expanded the school and established the Experimental Group for Young Dancers. The group included dancers of various ages, backgrounds, and experience. Most were trained in the Schwarz School. Its purpose was to provide the school’s more advanced dancers an opportunity to gain performance experience by presenting concerts to local organizations. They performed ballets in Dayton, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. Miss Jo gave lectures and demonstration programs for groups in Dayton. Hermene was also director in charge of group activities for the Dayton Recreation Bureau. She organized the first ballet classes at the Linden Center.
Hermene took a leave of absence from the school in 1943 and became the first girl in Dayton to serve as a Red Cross occupational therapist in England and France during World War II. After three weeks of training in Washington, D.C., she spent 3 ½ years overseas mostly working in hospitals with wounded servicemen. Hermene received two citations, one from President Roosevelt for her service in the Normandy invasion, and the other from the captain of the ship which brought her back to America, for her help with the wounded. Following the war, Hermene continued her Red Cross service work at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., lecturing and doing therapy work. While Hermene was serving in Europe, Miss Jo was performing with her group for the Service Club and Base Hospital.
During this time, the Experimental Group for Young Dancers performed for two opera seasons with Metropolitan Opera stars at Memorial Hall and with the Symphony Pop Concerts. The group also performed with the Frigidaire shows from 1945 to 1950. Miss Jo also taught classes at the Harmon Avenue School. By 1952, Hermene was back in Dayton and in full swing in her roles as dancer, teacher, costume designer, and photographer for the Schwarz School of Dance.
The Experimental Group for Young Dancers expanded and evolved into the Dayton Civic Ballet, a nationally known regional dance company. It was the second regional dance company to be established in the United States. Josephine and Hermene continued to run the Schwarz School of Dance until 1984, when it became the Dayton Ballet Dance Center under the Dayton Ballet Association. This merged with the Jon Rodriguez School of Ballet in 1988 and became known as the Dayton Ballet School.
The Schwarz School of Dance reached the community through municipal shows, local television productions, benefits, Brown Bag Ballets for workers and shoppers in downtown Dayton, and thousands of school programs. Many of Miss Jo’s students went on to becoming outstanding performers in the world’s major ballet and modern dance companies. Jeraldyne Blunden, and Schwarz School of Dance alumna, founded the internationally acclaimed Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and credited Miss Jo with opening up dance to African Americans in the 1940’s. Miss Jo was also responsible for beginning the annual Regional Dance America Performance/Choreographic Conferences that bring together ballet directors and their students to discuss and collaborate on choreography for their companies.
Josephine was an active member of the dance community on a national level.
She served as a member of the Dance Advisory Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1978 and 1979 and worked tirelessly to obtain funding for regional dance companies from the NEA. She was honored as one of Dayton’s Top Ten Women in 1970. Miss Jo received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Dayton in 1974 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Wright State University in 1982. She testified before Congress in 1983 for the American Arts Alliance. Josephine and Hermene were honored by the Dayton Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews at their Brotherhood Award Dinner in 1984 for their contributions to dance in Dayton. Miss Jo was the American Dance
Guild Honoree for 1985, and also received the Regional Dance America/Northeast Region Award in 1990. She was named to the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1991. Miss Jo’s accomplishments include several articles that were published in Dance Magazine. The most notable was a series entitled “Primer for Parents,” including articles as “That Grand Institution: The Annual Dance Recital,” and “Three Keys for Building Good Dancers.” She choreographed numerous ballets. Of particular note is “I Watched Myself Grow Up,” which was completed in the early 1950’s and performed in 1953. Miss Jo’s writing included two unpublished book manuscripts, one entitled “A History of Dance for Children,” and an untitled manuscript on dance.
Hermene died in 1986. Miss Jo honored her sister by organizing a commemorative program entitled “Remembrances of Miss Hermene” that was presented in 1987. When Miss Jo was honored by the American Dance Guild in 1985, she emphasized the tremendous contributions her sister had made to her career with the following tribute: “And without doubt, my sister (in homage), whose talents and taste added a beautiful patina to school and company alike, I would not be standing here tonight to thank you for this honor had it not been for Hermene, I assure you.”
Josephine Schwarz has been described by her peers as “artist, dancer, essential teacher, choreographer, visionary, and maker and shaper in the world of the arts.” Miss Jo spent her last years in Colorado, near her brother Gus’s families. She passed away on February 27, 2004, in Boulder, Colorado.
- Hermene Schwarz
- Josephine Schwarz
- Josephine and Hermene founded the Schwarz School of Dance in Dayton.
- Miss Jo pursued a performance career and studied with George Balanchine at the new School of American Ballet in New York City.
- Miss Jo’s performance career ended with a disabling knee injury.
- Miss Jo returned to Dayton and rejoined her sister Hermene at the Schwarz School of Dance.
- The sisters expanded the school and established the Experimental Group for Young Dancers.
- Hermene took a leave of absence from the school and became the first girl in Dayton to serve as a Red Cross occupational therapist in England and France during World War II.
- A number of African-American mothers approached the Schwarz School of Dance, about providing opportunities for their children to enroll in the school. Jeraldyne Blunden, was one of these students, a Schwarz School of Dance alumna. Jeraldyne founded the internationally acclaimed Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in 1968 and credited Miss Jo with opening up dance to African Americans.
- Hermene was back in Dayton and in full swing in her roles as dancer, teacher, costume designer, and photographer for the Schwarz School of Dance. The Experimental Group for Young Dancers expanded and evolved into the Dayton Civic Ballet, a nationally known regional dance company. It was the second regional dance company to be established in the United States.
- She was honored as one of Dayton’s Top Ten Women.
- Miss Jo received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Dayton.
- 1978 and 1979
- Josephine served as a member of the Dance Advisory Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in and worked tirelessly to obtain funding for regional dance companies from the NEA.
- Josephine Schwarz received the OhioDance Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Dance Field.
- Josephine was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Wright State University.
- She testified before Congress for the American Arts Alliance.
- Josephine and Hermene continued to run the Schwarz School of Dance, when it became the Dayton Ballet Dance Center under the Dayton Ballet Association.
- The Dayton Ballet Dance Center merged with the Jon Rodriguez School of Ballet and became known as the Dayton Ballet School.