Date of Award

Summer 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

James Kirylo


This biographical study covers the early life and career of dancer, choreographer, and avant-garde theatre artist, Jean Erdman Campbell (1916-2020). Based on extensive research of historical literature and archival materials, the manuscript traces Erdman’s ancestry and follows the subject through age 32, when she became established as a star of modern dance and prepared for a world tour. The guiding question for this study was what influences shaped the life course, identity and artistry of Erdman, and how might the subject be presented as biography? The researcher examined the influences on Erdman as related to various dance traditions, especially Hawaiian hula, modern training with the pioneers of American dance, the historical and sociological frameworks, plus studies in the fields of mythology, psychology, spiritual and religious traditions, and feminism. Most noteworthy was the close relationship and shared interests of Erdman with her husband, Joseph Campbell, scholar of world religions and comparative mythology. Together, these influences led Erdman to develop an original approach to dance training, choreography, and performance. Erdman’s choreographic themes and aesthetic were grounded in myth, the inner nature of women, spiritual traditions, dream states, and transcendent journeys. The narrative biography includes Erdman’s ancestral history, early schooling, dance training, and first experiments with choreography. Erdman danced in the Martha Graham troupe from 1938 to 1943 and then launched her own company. This biography concludes with the first phase of her artistic work in 1948. Erdman’s career extended into the late 1980s.