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For more than six decades, Lewitzky, a maverick in the world of modern dance, distinguished herself as a preeminent performer, choreographer, artistic director, educator, public speaker, and civic activist. With an unshakable preference for living in the West, she defied norms that posited New York City as the center of American dance, maintaining the Lewitzky Dance Company in Los Angeles for over thirty years. She is known for two highly publicized encounters with the federal government, risking professional ostracism to stand upon principle. In 1951, Lewitzky was anonymously accused of being a member of the Communist Party and was subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). An “uncooperative” witness, refusing on constitutional grounds to answer invasive questions, Lewitzky responded afterward to reporters with an often quoted sound bite, “I am a dancer, not a singer.” On June 14, 1990, Lewitzky held a press conference at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the scene of the 1951 HUAC hearings. In signing the contract for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, she had refused on constitutional grounds to agree to the newly legislated policy requiring grantees to pledge not to create obscenity. With her were Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley and former blacklisted peers from the film industry. Referring to the McCarthy era, she asked, “How many times must history repeat itself? We must act. Having been witness, I must act.” Supported by the People for the American Way, Lewitzky filed suit, and on January 9, 1991, Los Angeles U.S. District Judge John G. Davies ruled in her favor, eliminating the pledge. As the founding dean of the School of Dance at the California Institute for the Arts (1969–1972), she introduced a multicultural curriculum unlike any in the United States at the time.
At the company’s final performance in May 1997, Lewitzky cautioned her audience,
“The arts are under threat more than ever before…What legacy I have left here will die unless you become responsible for keeping it alive.”
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