Phoenix Arizona: Remembering Dancer and Choreographer Steve Paxton’s Legacy


Phoenix Arizona: Remembering Dancer and Choreographer Steve Paxton’s Legacy – The world of dance mourns the loss of Steve Paxton, a visionary and pioneering figure in experimental dance and choreography. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Paxton’s profound impact on the art form has left an indelible mark on the dance community. Discover the remarkable journey of this influential artist, from his innovative approach to movement to his lasting contributions to dance history.

How did Steve Paxton die?

Steve Paxton, the visionary and pioneering figure in the realm of experimental dance and choreography, passed away on February 18, 2024, at the age of 84. He battled Parkinson’s disease for a significant period of time before his passing. Despite the challenges he faced, Paxton remained an inspiration to many in the dance community and continued to make significant contributions to the art form. His death was peaceful, surrounded by his loved ones, at his home in Vermont. His legacy will forever be remembered in the hearts and minds of those whose lives he touched.

What did Steve Paxton do for dance?

Steve Paxton’s impact on the world of dance is immeasurable. He was a true pioneer of experimental dance, constantly challenging the conventions and boundaries of the art form. As one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theater, Paxton revolutionized modern dance in the 1960s. He pushed the boundaries of movement and choreography, creating works that were groundbreaking and innovative.

One of Paxton’s most significant contributions to dance was the creation of contact improvisation, a form of dance that involves spontaneous physical interaction between two or more dancers. This unique style of movement allowed dancers to explore the possibilities of connection, weight-sharing, and trust. Paxton’s work was deeply rooted in the exploration of the body’s natural movement and sensations, drawing inspiration from disciplines such as martial arts, yoga, meditation, physics, anatomy, and philosophy.

Moreover, Paxton’s influence extended beyond his own performances. He was a prolific writer and teacher, sharing his knowledge and insights with generations of dancers and students around the world. Through his teachings and workshops, he encouraged dancers to explore the relationship between movement and awareness, using dance as a tool for personal and social transformation.

Why is Steve Paxton important for dance history?

Steve Paxton is an iconic figure in dance history, renowned for his immense contributions and lasting impact on the art form. His work challenged traditional notions of dance and pushed the boundaries of what was possible. Paxton’s innovative approach to movement and choreography paved the way for countless artists and performers.

His legacy is marked by numerous accolades and honors, including the prestigious Bessie Award, the Guggenheim Fellowship, the MacArthur Fellowship, and the Kyoto Prize. Paxton’s influential collaborations with other prominent dancers and choreographers, such as Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Hay, Simone Forti, and Anna Halprin, further solidify his importance in the dance world.

Today, Paxton’s works continue to be performed and adapted by artists and dance companies worldwide. His teachings and insights are still studied and revered, ensuring that his vision and spirit remain alive in the dance community. Steve Paxton’s contributions to dance history are undeniably significant, and his impact will continue to shape the art form for generations to come.


Q: When and where was Steve Paxton born?

A: Steve Paxton was born on January 9, 1939, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Q: What was Steve Paxton’s education and training in dance?

A: Steve Paxton started his dance journey at the age of 12 when he joined a square dance team. He later pursued studies in ballet and modern dance at the University of Arizona and the American Dance Festival. Paxton also had the opportunity to train with renowned figures in the dance world, including Merce Cunningham, José Limón, and Robert Dunn, further honing his skills and expanding his artistic vision.

Q: What are some of Steve Paxton’s most famous works?

A: Steve Paxton’s artistic repertoire includes several iconic works that have left a lasting impact on the dance community. Some of his notable pieces include “Magnesium” (1972), a captivating solo improvisation performed on a gymnasium floor, accompanied by rock music. “Satisfyin Lover” (1967), a group piece that explores various walking patterns and speeds across the stage. “State” (1968), a trio that delves into the dynamics of balance and support between three bodies. “Jag Vill Gärna Telefonera” (1974), a mesmerizing duet that incorporates a telephone as a prop and sound source. And finally, “Goldberg Variations” (1986), a soul-stirring solo improvisation inspired by Bach’s music, performed on a grand piano.

Q: When and how did Steve Paxton create contact improvisation?

A: Steve Paxton created contact improvisation in 1972 through a pioneering exploration of physical contact and weight sharing. Gathering a group of dancers, he invited them to experiment with spontaneous and responsive movement, resulting in a performance called “Contact Improvisations” at the John Weber Gallery in New York. Paxton also played a crucial role in organizing the first contact improvisation jam, providing a space for dancers to gather, practice, and exchange ideas.

Q: How did Steve Paxton meet Nancy Stark Smith?

A: Steve Paxton and Nancy Stark Smith’s paths crossed in 1972 when she attended one of his workshops on contact improvisation as a student at Oberlin College. Captivated by Paxton’s work, she soon started collaborating and performing alongside him, eventually becoming his wife and long-time partner in dance. Together, they developed and nurtured the contact improvisation community, furthering its growth and impact on the dance world. Their artistic partnership left an indelible mark on the evolution of dance improvisation.