Fonds MsC-185 - Ruth Emerson Wortis fonds

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

Ruth Emerson Wortis fonds

General material designation

  • Textual records
  • Photographic materials

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  • Source of title proper: Title is based on the contents of the fonds

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1957 - 2018 (Creation)
    Emerson Wortis, Ruth

Physical description area

Physical description

39.75 cm of textual records
1172 photographs : b&w prints
46 photographs : b&w negatives
2 photographs : b&w slides
44 photographs : col. slides
1 photograph : col. print
6 optical discs : DVD
2 videocassettes : umatic
3 videocassettes : VHS

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Archival description area

Name of creator

(16 Mar. 1938 - 13 Sep. 2015)

Biographical history

Ruth Emerson (Wortis) was a dancer, choreographer, dance educator, and a pioneer of postmodern dance. She was born in Palo Alto, California on March 16, 1938.
Ruth had her first exposure to dance under the inspiring mentorship of Mim Rosen at University High School in Urbana, Illinois. She was an undergraduate at Radcliffe College, where she spent all her spare time dancing and studied summers at the American Dance Festival in New London, Conneticut with Louis Horst and José Limon. She graduated from Radcliffe in 1958 with a BA in Mathematics. After college, she supported herself by writing school math texts while taking dance classes at the Martha Graham School, the Merce Cunningham Studio, and the Robert Joffrey School of Ballet in New York and performing with the Dancemakers in Boston. In New York she danced with the Pearl Lang Company. She was a founding member in 1962 of the Judson Dance Theatre, pioneers of the formal, minimalist movement style now known as Postmodern Dance.
In 1964, she married theoretical physicist, Michael Wortis, moving first to Berkeley, California, where she danced with Ann Halprin and then to Paris, France, where she performed and choreographed at the Theatre d’Essai de la Dance. From 1968 to 1973, she held a part-time faculty position in the Dance Department at the University of Illinois. She completed an MA in Dance at the University in 1973 under Margaret Erlanger and Jan Stockman Simonds. She founded a dance company, Somedancers, Inc., which performed in Champaign/Urbana from 1974 to 1978. From 1981 to 1987, she taught dance and choreographed musicals at University High School; during this time, she also held a residency at the Radcliffe Institute from 1986-1987.
In the fall of 1987, Ruth, Michael and their two daughters moved to Vancouver, B.C.. She helped to develop the first Provincial Dance Curriculum for B.C. schools under the Provincial Ministry of Education. As a Sessional Instructor at the Centre for the Arts and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Education at Simon Fraser University, she developed and taught a program for student teachers. She also continued to perform and to choreograph locally, offering dance courses at local community centres. She served nationally on the grant selection committee of the Canada Council, Dance Section.
Ruth passed away on September 13, 2015.

Custodial history

The records in Series 1-6 were held by Ruth Emerson Wortis and Michael Wortis until their donation to SFU Library. The DVD's from Series 7 were held by Linda Hof until their donation in 2017.

Scope and content

Ruth Emerson Wortis was a pioneer of modern dance, as well as a prolific choreographer, performer and dance educator. She was one of the founding members of the Judson Dance Group, which itself is credited for the rise of the Postmodern dance movement. This fonds follows the development of Ruth’s career through an extensive collection of performance programs, photographs, music scores, publications and reviews, choreographic materials such as dance and movement scores, and both personal and professional notes. Also seen is the effect of Ruth’s academic and teaching career on her dancing style as, over the years, she shifts slightly from the avant-garde for performance sake towards breaking down gender stereotypes in dance education by encouraging dance for movement’s sake to children and community groups.
This fonds contains seven identifiable distinct series. Series 1: Dance, movement and music scores (1957-2002); Series 2: Photographs (1957-1991); Series 3: Flyers and programs (1959-2002); Series 4: Published reviews and articles (1959-2001); Series 5: Writings and correspondence (1978-2001); Series 6: Ruth Emerson Wortis biographical information (2015-2017); and Series 7: Ruth Emerson Wortis performances and interviews (1989-1998).

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

This collection was donated to Simon Fraser University by Michael Wortis, husband of Ruth Emerson Wortis, in 2016.


The records were received itemized, labeled and, for the most part, organized in chronological order. Items were separated by type, so series-level grouping was already apparent. This order was maintained by the archivist. Significant elements from the donor inventory were used to create titles and descriptions. When a title has been created by the archivist based on the contents of the file it is placed in square brackets. Any remaining details, including the donor’s numbering system, have been included in the “General Notes” section.

Language of material

    Script of material

      Location of originals

      Availability of other formats

      Items from the collection have been digitized and are available through SFU Digitized Collections:

      Restrictions on access

      No known restrictions

      Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

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      The donor provided a detailed inventory. A file list and some item descriptions are available in addition to a series-level description.

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      Description record identifier

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      Simon Fraser University Special Collections and Rare Books

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      Rules for Archival Description



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      Dates of creation, revision and deletion

      Entry created 03 August, 2017. JMH

      Language of description

      • English

      Script of description


        Biographical information was provided by the donor, Michael Wortis

        Accession area