José Limón in the Péon section of his Danzas Mexicanas, late 1930s. Photo by Barbara Morgan. José Limón in the "Péon" section of his Danzas Mexicanas, late 1930s. Limón's involvement with the arts began during his childhood in Mexico. (Photo by Barbara Morgan. Limón Dance Company Archives.)

One of modern dance's greatest male dancers and choreographers, José Limón (1908-1972) was born in Mexico. He came to the United States as a child, settling in Los Angeles, where he studied painting and music and briefly attended the University of California. He moved to New York in 1928, and in 1929, after seeing Harald Kreutzberg dance, he began to study with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman. He soon joined their company. With his pantherine grace, charismatic presence, and noble bearing, Limón easily became its star. In 1946 he formed the Limón Company; Humphrey agreed to serve as artistic director. Under her guidance he choreographed the now classic The Moor's Pavane (1949), his best known dance. His works had strong emotional and dramatic content, and many celebrated the human spirit. In 1951 he joined the faculty of the Juilliard School's new dance department. He also taught at the Instituto de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and at the American Dance Festival. In the 1950s and 1960s his company toured internationally under the auspices of the U.S. State Department.

José Limón, Photo courtesy of New York Public Library José Limón. Though Limón came to dance as an adult, his charismatic presence and natural athletic ability quickly brought him into demand as a dancer.(Photograph from the José Limón Collection, Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.)

Learn more in José Limón, an essay by Norton Owen.

The Moor's Pavane, 1955, choreographed by José Limón, with Lucas Hoving, Betty
Jones, and Pauline Koner. An adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello, The Moor's
is Limón's best-known work and among the enduring classics of modern
dance. Limón stated that dance "must be intensely and completely human, or it
will be gymnastics, and be mechanical and empty."