Harriet Berg creates
the Michigan Dance
MICHAEL H. MARGOLIN
SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
s a young adult, in her first dance class at what
was then Wayne University, Harriet Berg
"never could catch up technically, but (direc-
4 ` for of dance education) Ruth Murray en-
couraged my potential as a choreographer."
In the subsequent years — this was the
, early 1940s — Berg caught up, passed many
i of her peers and continues to outstrip many
4,k of her juniors in her ceaseless energy, en-
thusiasm and projects. Now, at 71, she is as
excited about the Michigan Dance Archives, an ex-
hibit opening April 28 at the Walter P. Reuther Li-
brary, as a 17-year:old going to her senior prom.
Several years ago when Harriet and her husband,
Irving Berg, retired art department chairman at
Cass Technical High School, moved to an apartment
in the Park Shelton, they were faced with decades
of dance memorabilia: Harriet's collections of posters,
books, letters and programs amassed during the
years as she "tried to catch up."
The logical choice: toss. "I couldn't," said Berg. "Im-
So, in 1984 she gave her collection of memorabil-
ia to Wayne State University.
"The Bergs gave this material to the Purdy-Kres-
ge Library ... but they were not equipped to organize
and make it available to the general public ... so it
was transferred here and we, in turn, established
the Dance Archives in 1995," says Dr. Les Hough,
director of the Reuther library.
The Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Ur-
ban Affairs was founded in 1960 as an archive of la-
bor history. Since then, through donations, it has
acquired a number of significant collections: the Tony
Spina Photo Collection, Women's History Sources
and the Jewish Communal Archives, among others.
"The Bergs' collection was the impetus to estab-
lishing the Michigan Dance Archive," says Hough,
who estimates that there are about 10,000 items in
Hough defines an archive as "document(ing) in a
variety of ways aspects of human experience." In a
range of materials, "we document everyday life ...
Documenting Harriet Berg's endeavors would re-
quire some sort of perpetual motion machine: to meet
her is to engage in some mutual topic broached with-
out preamble. There's no time to say "no" (which Berg
THE DETRO IT JE WISH NEWS
wouldn't take as an answer anyway). Her work in
and for the community has been unique.
"I was going to be a writer ... (but) dance changed
my life — gave me a direction," says the "born and
As an art-education student at Wayne State Uni-
versity in 1943, Berg took required dance classes.
(Wayne State has been one of the foremost dance ed-
ucation centers in the United States.) With encour-
agement from Ruth Murray, the head of dance
education at the time, and Irving, Berg went to Ben-
nington College and took classes with Martha Gra-
Back then, the Graham technique was the most
singular, cutting-edge modern dance around. As a
member of the Rebel Arts,New Dance Group, Berg
and the group performed wherever they could in the
'40s, and organized a concert for peace at the DIA;
she also helped to sponsor Graham's first Detroit vis-
it. "The early '50s were the flowering of American
modern dance," says Berg.
The collection grew out of "obsessiveness — want-
ing to know, to share with students. As art-educa-
tion students, we were taught to keep a visual file
(as a teaching aid). Wherever I traveled, I picked up
books on dance, programs from local concerts, posters
of dance companies; (I saved) correspondence, for in-
stance, with artists such as ... Jose Limon."