In England, the classic system of mixed farming, cycling fields between crops and livestock, is known as “alternate husbandry.” This practice aims to establish a system of perpetual abundance with each component of the farm fueling the other. I can think of no better name to describe the dual vision of dancing and agriculture espoused by Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers in the early years of modern dance in America. Shawn bought the mountaintop farm in Becket, Massachusetts known as Jacob’s Pillow in 1931 and shortly after that established the first-of-its-kind dance festival of the same name.

Agriculture was, at this point, central to life at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. As outlined in his book The American Ballet (1926), at the core of Shawn’s vision is a relationship to the land. He wanted his dancers and students in training to be outdoors, live away from the...

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