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Selma Jeanne Cohen Remembered
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Selma Jeanne Cohen Remembered

Francis Sparshott

At the ASA Annual Meeting in 1981 Selma Jeanne Cohen cornered me (outside the Museum of the Cigar in Tampa) and demanded why, in writing voluminously about the philosophy of art, I had said nothing about dance. I said I was not aware of this omission, but she insisted. She said she knew I was interested in dancing, because she had seen me in audiences at dance performances, and I should do something about it. On investigation, I found she was right, and I spent the next decade puzzling about this inexcusable neglect on the part of myself and of most other aestheticians. As a result, about a fifth of my entire career as an academic writer was spent on a line of enquiry on which I would never have embarked without Selma Jeanne’s initial prodding and untiring persistence. No one else ever influenced me in this way.

The obituary in the New York Times for December 26 last year dealt fairly well with Selma Jeanne’s professional achievements and her solid and useful contributions to dance history and education, while taking note of her unforgettable personality, but it did not mention what to me was most striking: the sheer force of her unremitting devotion to the world of dance and the theatre arts generally. There cannot be many people whose lives were turned around by her as mine was, but I cannot believe that her untiring energies did not make many differences in many ways to institutions and individuals. A memorial notice from the ASA would be incomplete without recognition that an extraordinary personal force has been taken from our midst and left a special place that no one else can never quite fill.

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