Eleanor Frampton, Dance Teacher and Advocate, 1896–1973
1964 CLEVELAND ARTS PRIZE FOR DANCE
In the 1930s, Eleanor Frampton was regarded as Cleveland’s leading authority on modern dance. By the
time she died in 1973, she had become a local institution fondly known
Born in Lincoln,
Nebraska, in 1896, Frampton came to town in 1931 to start a dance
program at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM). She was recommended
to the Institute by modern dance masters Doris Humphrey and Charles
Weidman with the proviso that she polish her technique through
intensive summer training. Frampton and Weidman had been acquainted
since 1920 when both traveled from Lincoln to Los Angeles to study at
Denishawn, the school founded by modern dance pioneers Ruth St. Denis
and Ted Shawn.
attended Wellesley College, earned a B.A. in physical education from
the University of Nebraska in 1918, taken summer courses at the Perry
Mansfield Dance Camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and opened a dance
school in her home town. In California, she and her lifelong friend
Helen Hewitt formed a sister duo and went into vaudeville along with
fellow Denishawn dancer Martha Graham. The “sisters” made their debut
on November 22, 1920, and then signed a contract to tour to Australia,
where the vaudeville show folded and the two were left stranded.
Working their way home, they stopped in Honolulu and taught dance for a
year before earning enough money to return to the mainland. Frampton
opened a dance school in Oakland, California, in 1922. For the next
nine years, she continued to tour in vaudeville and take courses in New
York with disciples of German modern dance pioneers Mary Wigman and
Rudolf van Laban.
Cleveland Institute of Music, Frampton trained a group of girls for two
years before presenting her first concert at the Drury Theatre of the
Cleveland Play House. The program featured dances choreographed by
Humphrey, Weidman and Frampton to piano music by Debussy, Prokofiev
and Louis Horst. Local critics praised the dancer-choreographer for her
lightness, charm and incisive gestures. For the next few years the
student-faculty concert became an annual event.
teaching, choreographing and performing, Frampton ran girls’ basketball
and baseball teams for the Cleveland Recreation Department and gave
lectures introducing the community to new trends in modern dance. In
1942 she resigned from CIM and took a job representing a Chicago beauty
supply house. The following year she was named director of the Karamu
Concert Dancers, an energetic ensemble that was nicknamed “Frampie’s
Chicks.” For 10 summers, she took the Karamu dancers to the American
Dance Festival at Connecticut College for advanced training.
the 1950s, Frampton served as publicist for the Cleveland Institute of
Music and began a new career as a freelance dance critic for the Plain Dealer.
She also helped bring major artists to town to teach and perform under
the auspices of the Cleveland Modern Dance Association. For more than a
decade, she choreographed the annual “Anvil Revue” for the Cleveland
City Club. At age 63 she developed an exercise program for older women.
won headlines not only for her work in dance, however, but also for her
battle with Mayor Karl Ertle of Cleveland Heights in 1956. He objected
to the contemporary look of the modest home that was designed for her
by noted Cleveland architect (and Arts Prize winner) Robert A. Little. She sued the mayor and built the house.
trailblazer who laid the foundations for the development of modern
dance in Cleveland, Eleanor Frampton received the Cleveland Arts Prize
in 1964, the first time it was awarded in the field of dance.