Dance legend Bella Lewitzky, a world renowned choreographer, master teacher and arts advocate, died July 16 in Pasadena, Calif. from complications of a stroke. She was 88.
Through the years, Lewitzky’s belief in freedom of expression led to more than one conflict with the federal government.
In 1951, she was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee to answer questions about possible communist activities in the art world. “I’m a dancer, not a singer,” she replied.
When the National Endowment for the Arts implemented a mandatory obscenity pledge, Lewitzky’s dance company filed a lawsuit and in January 1991, the pledge was declared unconstitutional.
Lewitzky’s modern dance career started in 1934 when she enrolled in a class offered by Los Angeles choreographer Lester Horton at the Norma Gould Studio.
Within three years, she was the leading dancer in the Horton Dance Group and in 1940, she married Newell Taylor Reynolds, an architect and fellow Horton dancer.
She left Horton in 1951 and founded Dance Associates, a school and company that thrived until 1955, when her daughter was born.
As a mother, Lewitzky turned her attention to education. She held teaching residencies across the country and abroad, including stints at the University of Southern California, the Idyllwild School of the Arts and the California Institute for the Arts, where she served as the first dean of dance.
She made a belated New York debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1971 with her Bella Lewitzky Dance Company.
She retired as a performer in 1978 when she was diagnosed with atherosclerosis, but remained active as a teacher, speaker and member of the NEA.
During her career, she received five honorary doctorates, a Guggenheim fellowship, the first California Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement, the National Medal of Arts and the coveted Capezio Award.
Lewitzky is survived by Reynolds, her daughter and two grandsons.