Eleanor Frampton, Dance Teacher and Advocate, 1896–1973


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 as “Frampie.”

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.

Frampton had 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.

At the 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.

Besides 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.

In 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.

Frampton 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.

A 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.

—Wilma Salisbury

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 • info@clevelandartsprize.org