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Who is Twyla Tharp?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Twyla Tharp is an American dance choreographer, born in 1941 in Portland, Indiana. Twyla Tharp is well known throughout the world for her contributions to the art of modern dance, and was privileged to study with many famous figures in American modern dance, including Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, and Merce Cunningham. In addition to being a superb dancer and choreographer, Twyla Tharp is also a talented musician and author, and is sometimes called a Renaissance woman due to her extensive knowledge of a wide number of subjects.

Born in Indiana, Twyla Tharp relocated to Southern California with her parents at a young age. Her mother encouraged her to take dancing lessons in a variety of disciplines including ballet, tap, modern, and jazz. Additionally, young Twyla Tharp took lessons on numerous instruments, painting classes, French, and a variety of other subjects in the humanities. She ended up studying at Barnard College in New York City, graduating in 1963.

At Barnard, Twyla Tharp took advantage of the accessibility of the American Ballet Theater school, and took a number of dance classes outside of the Barnard curriculum. At Barnard, she studied art history, but never lost her fascination with dance, joining the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1963 shortly after her graduation. In 1965, she left to start Twyla Tharp Dance, a company which has gone on to become internationally famous. In 1988, Twyla Tharp dance merged with American Ballet Theater for several years before Twyla Tharp branched out on her own again in 1991.

Twyla Tharp entered the modern dance world in an era when most of the arts were in upheaval. The rebellious period that marked the 1960s in America radically changed the face of modern dance, and Twyla Tharp formed an integral part of that change. The dances she choreographed were marked by great technical skill with a sense of mischief. Dancers were usually classically trained, but could be found running, skipping, or jumping on stage in addition to participating in physically demanding traditional dance. Her dance is dynamic, quirky, and captivating.

Twyla Tharp has received numerous awards and recognitions for her contributions to dance, which include work on many Broadway shows including Movin' Out (2004), When We Were Very Young (1980), and Singin' In the Rain (1985). She has also choreographed for television and the movies. Twyla Tharp has also been a guest choreographer all over the world, from the Paris Opera to the Martha Graham Dance Company.

An iconic figure in American dance, Twyla Tharp has made a lasting contribution to modern dance and musical theater.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By Speechie — On Oct 15, 2011

Wow. Twyla Tharp does sound like a renaissance women, knowing dance, choreography, art, and writing in such great and talented depth. I think choreographers have a tough job, having to show all types of emotion with different dance moves and sometimes even creating their own signature dance moves.

I think Twyla Tharp would be a very interesting person to meet. She seems like a person you could ask what her passions are and she could probably go on for a while about all her different interests. I would love to meet Twyla Tharp. I think all those who are gifted in the arts are very inspiring.

Twyla Tharp should be a judge on one of the modern-day dance competition shows, especially since she is one of the most well-known American modern dance choreographers of all time. She could probably teach all of America a lot more about the beauty and uniqueness of dance, art, and writing.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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