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Tim Cowart Dance

Michio Ito

The Forgotten Pioneer of Modern Dance.

self characture from 1937

Michio Ito's Broken Bridge

Click here to read: Michio Ito's Broken Bridge

   Dance has the power to build bridges between people, cultures, and time. Michio Ito (1893-1961) worked tirelessly to build bridges between the U.S. and Japan. He taught a dance technique that balanced Eastern and Western aesthetics into an amalgamation that was truly his own style of dancing. Like the haiku form, many of his pieces are brief choreographic essence studies, what he himself termed "dance poems."

From 1916 to 1941 he was recognized as one of the central figures in the burgeoning dance communities in both New York and Los Angeles. Before coming to the US he had already garnered praise for his performances from Claude Debussy, Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, and George Bernard Shaw. In the U.S. he developed and codified his dance technique. He was an effective instructor, a versatile choreographer, and a captivating performer for both theatre and film. He formed a dance company that performed across the country. Thousands of people came out to see his performances at venues like the Hollywood Bowl, and his students Lester Horton, Pauline Koner, Sally Rand and Luigi went on to have notable careers of their own. 

   Ito had been at the height of his career, but on December 8, 1941, within 24 hours of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ito was arrested, labeled an enemy alien, and separated from his family. President Roosevelt's executive order 9066 forcibly removed 120,000 individuals from their homes and careers. Fear of sabotage, not evidence, is what prompted the U.S. to uproot people of Japanese heritage and put them into internment camps for the duration of WWII. Throughout his internment, Ito would be sent to four different internment/prisoner of war camps (Fort Missoula, Montana; Fort Sill Oklahoma; Camp Livingston, Louisiana; and the Alien Detention Station in Santa Fe New Mexico) and eventually he would be sent back to Japan on a prisoner exchange. It is an understatement to say that his career was interrupted. The artistic bridge between Japan and the U.S. that he worked so hard to build with his career was broken. 

   His life was interrupted and so was the legacy of Michio Ito here in the United States. After victory in WWII America was wrapped up in "Americanism" and ready to claim modern dance as a truly American art form. The fact that a Japanese man helped forge the foundation of this art form was quickly brushed aside. Ito is not included in many of the dance history books, and to this day, his name is often excluded from the cannon of modern dance pioneers. This erasure compounds the loss to him and robs new generations of the lessons we can learn from his remarkable life.

   Prior to my career as a dancer, I was a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. I am compelled by the notions of duty, patriotism, and citizenship that Michio Ito must have also wrestled with as a man who lived his life between two nations. Michio Ito's influence on modern dance was seminal but has been overshadowed by other important figures. The reasons for this are complicated but unless there is transparency in looking at our past, how can we move foreward with any sense of clarity? In the United States, we are now living in an era of racial reconciliation, an era of reexamining monmuents, and analyzing our past so that we can move forward with equity and inclusion. Here is an opportunity to be more inclusive. Michio Ito was an artist and an important historical figure who lived throught the Japanese internment. His life and work offer so much for students and scholars alike to grapple with. 

   Now is the time to strengthen the bridges between artists and scholars in Japan and in the United States in pursuit of understanding the Ito legacy. Now is the the time to fill in the gaps of the past and to forge forward together. 

~Tim Cowart

A collection of documentaries about Michio Ito and video examples of some of his choreography.

The following videos were found on Vimeo and Youtube

Michio Ito Pioneering Dancer-Choreographer

Video Trailer posted 2012. 

Click here to read Tim Cowart's Interview with Director Bonnie Oda Homsey in the Dance Films Association's blog.
Click Here to Purchase Michio Ito-Pioneering Dancer-Choreographer on Amazon

Repertory Dance Theatre

Uploaded Aug. 9, 2010

Several examples of Michio Ito's choreography

Etude #9 (1928), Ladybug (1929) to Chopin Waltz in C Sharp Minor, Pizzicati Shadow Dance (1916), The Blue Wave (1923) to En Bateau, Yamada Tone Poems #1 & #2 (1928), Tango in D (1927), Scriabin Preludes (1928) Hope, Warrior, Ecclesiastes, and Taeko's Pavane created as an homage to Michio Ito in 1997.

Other videos on Michio Ito's Life and Work . . .

Some links to more information on Michio Ito . . .

Link to: The Michio Ito Foundation Link to: Ito M Studio in Tokyo - Michio Ito's brother Link to: Article by Wendy Perron Link to: Ito biography by David S. Shields Link to: U. Washington Chamber Dance Company Michio Ito Repertory Link to: Britannica article Link to: Toyo Miyatake's Photographs of Ito Link to: National Portrait Gallery Link to: Helen Caldwell's archive on Michio Ito
Click Here for a list of resources on Michio ito

Resources in Japanese

Ito, Keiko. “The World-Renowned Dancer Michio Ito: Memories, Documents and Research.” Michio’s Footsteps from 80 Postcards to his Parents and Siblings.” Waseda University, Tokyo, November 11, 2017. Symposium at Ono Memorial Auditorium.

Kato, Maki. Director.“Michio Ito: The man who sold his dream to America.” Youtube, uploaded in nine parts by nukonhyan September 6, 2008. Originally filmed in 2007 by the Japan Broadcasting Corporation Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) Documentary on Michio Ito. Part 1: https://youtu.be/KAiq2rsjgcs, Part 2: https://youtu.be/gQO8nOUjzB4, Part 3: https://youtu.be/rof2L5AquHw, Part 4: https://youtu.be/65wBRfb5dOg, Part 5: https://youtu.be/T9mrZEO0_iI, Part 6: https://youtu.be/XfJKWZO8qTk, Part 7: https://youtu.be/SI9_KjBWosM, Part 8: https://youtu.be/oZqasLCij1g, Part 9: https://youtu.be/h_rUWg1TpcQ.

Kushida, Kiyomi. “The Creation and Characteristics of Michio Ito’s Dance—Explored through the testimonies of those involved in the Ernie Pyle Theatre Stage Show.” Translated by Timothy Cowart. Journal of the Faculty of Letters, Vol. 63. Jissen Women’s University, pp. 24, 2020. 

Senda, Yukinari. “A Pioneer of Modern Dance: A Response to Helen Caldwell’s book The Dancer and his Dances.” Translated by Timothy Cowart. Hayakawa Pub., pp. 57. 

Scholarly Articles

Albright, Daniel. “Pound, Yeats, and the Noh Theater.” The Iowa Review, vol. 15, no. 2, 1985, pp. 34-50., doi: 10,17077/0021-065x.3210.

Cowart, Timothy. “An Interview by Timothy Cowart with Director Bonnie Oda Homsey on her Film Michio Ito: Pioneering Dancer-Choreographer October 27, 2012 – Los Angeles, CA.” Japan Studies Association Journal, vol 12, 2014, pp. 107-117. 

Cowell, Mary-Jean, and Satoru Shimazaki. “East and West in the Work of Michio Ito.” Dance Research Journal. vol. 26, no. 2, 1994, pp. 11-23., doi: 10.2307/1477913.

Cowell, Mary-Jean. Abstract of “From Enemy Agent to Army Choreographer: Michio Ito at the Ernie Pyle Theatre.” 2004 Congress on Research in Dance Conference, Taipei, August 2004. Last modified June 17, 2004.

Cowell, Mary-Jean. “Michio Ito in Hollywood: Modes and Ironies of Ethnicity.” Dance Chronicle, vol. 24, no. 3, 2001, pp. 263-305., doi:10.1081/dnc-100108561. 

Perron, Wendy. Et al. “Michio Ito (1893 to 1961).” WENDY PERRON, 30 May 2021, https://wendyperron.com/michio-ito-1893-to-1961/.

Preston, Carrie J. “Modernism’s Dancing Marionettes: Oskar Schlemmer, Michel Fokine, and Ito Michio.” Modernist Cultures, vol. 9, no. 1, 2014, pp. 115-133., doi: 10.3366/mod.2014.0077

Robertson, Marta. “Floating Worlds: Japanese and American Transcultural Encounters in Dance.” Congress on Research in Dance Conference Proceedings, 2014, pp. 126-135., doi:10.1017/cor. 2014.18.

Riordan, Kevin. “Performance in the Wartime Archive: Michio Ito at the Alien Enemy Hearing Board.” American Studies, vol. 56, no. 1, 2017, pp. 67-89., doi: 10.1353/ams.2017.0003.

Rodman, Tara. “A More Humane Mikado: Re-Envisioning the Nation through Occupation-Era Productions of The Mikado in Japan.” Theatre Research International, vol. 40, no. 3, 2015., pp. 288-302., doi: 10.1017/s030788331500036x


Carruthers, Ian. “A Translation of Fifteen Pages of Ito Michio’s Autobiography Utsukushiku naru Kyoshitsu.” Canadian Journal of Irish Studies vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 32-43. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/45278149.

Cervantes, Charlotte Ann. “The Effects of Eastern and Western Culture on Michio Ito’s Choreography.” University of California, Irvine. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1991. 

Deng-Huei. “The Evolution of Yeats’s Dance Imagery: The Body, Gender, and Nationalism.” Dissertation, University of North Texas, 2003. 

Rodman, Tara. Altered Belonging: The Transnational Modern Dance of Ito Michio. Northwestern University, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, vol. 78, no. 10, pp. 280, 2018. 

Books/Book Chapters

Caldwell, Helen. Michio Ito: the dancer and his dances. University of California Press, 1977.

Fleischer, Mary. “W.B. Yeats and Michio Ito.” Embodied Texts: Symbolist Playwright-Dancer Collaborations, Brill Academic Publishers, 2007, pp. 149-213. 

Gitelman, Claudia, and Barbara Palfy. On Stage Alone: Soloists and the Modern Dance Canon. University Press of Florida, 2014. 

Preston, Carrie J. Learning to Kneel: Noh, Modernism, and Journeys in Teaching. Columbia University Press, 2017.

Prevots, Naima. Dancing in the Sun: Hollywood Choreographers 1915-1937. UMI Research Press, 1987.

Takeishi, Midori, and David Pacun. 2006. Japanese Elements in Michio Ito’s Early Period (1915-1924): Meetings of East and West in the Collaborative Works. Gendai Tosho, 2006.

Wong. Yutian. “Artistic Utopias: Michio Ito and the Trope of the International.” Worlding Dance, by Susan Foser, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, pp. 144-162. 


“Michio Ito and the Shadow.” Vimeo, uploaded by Corcoran School of Art @ GW Thursday, May 28, 2020. 13 min. https://vimeo.com/423785123.

“Michio Ito Documentary.” Vimeo, uploaded by Repertory Dance Theatre, Friday, December 20, 2013. 20 min 44 sec. https://vimeo.com/82415891.

“Michio Ito: Pioneering Dancer-Choreographer.” Directed and executive produced by Bonnie Oda Homesy. Los Angeles Dance Foundation. 2014. DVD Found on Amazon. 

“Michio Ito – Repertory Dance Theatre.” Vimeo, uploaded by Repertory Dance Theatre, Monday, August 9, 2010, 4 min 57 sec. https://vimeo.com/14008278. 

“Selected Ito Works (1916-1997).” Vimeo, uploaded by Repertory Dance Theatre, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. https://vimeo.com/400386807. 

“Volume 3: Dances of Michio Ito.” YouTube, uploaded by UW Department of Dance, June 3, 2020. https://youtu.be/HwNg17bFIUY. 

Some newspaper clippings about Ito and his Company

“Ito Ballet Dancers Coming: Many Famous Dancers Have Trained Under Michio Ito.” Arizona Daily Star. 13 Jan. 1929, Sun. p. 14. Downloaded Oct 9, 2018.

Kisselgoff, Anna. “Dance: Michio Ito salute.” New York Times, 1979.

Underhill, Harriette. “Michio Itow.” New York Tribune, p. 19, 1917. 

“December will be a month of Dancing.” New York Tribune, p. 8, 1920.

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