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Jane McLean Papers

Identifier: D020


The Jane McLean Papers contain a selection of photographs, newspaper clippings, programs and other dance related ephemera covering the careers of both Jane McLean (1908-1990) and her elder brother Edward McLean (1905-1982). Both of the McLeans were Colorado natives who traveled to New York City in the mid-1920s to study dance, eventually becoming acquainted with many notable dance figures of the day: Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, Agnes DeMille, etc. Edward suffered a severe back injury that effectively ended his dance career in 1934. Jane toured nationally as a solo performer (1931-1952). She continued to study and teach modern dance in New York before moving to Denver, Colorado in 1949 and then to Casper, Wyoming. In Wyoming, from approximately 1951-1956, Jane established a school and directed a modern dance company (1949-1954) of her own before returning to Denver, Colorado in 1959. She continued to teach modern dance, with an emphasis on Graham technique, at various locations around Denver until shortly before her death in 1990.


  • 1922-1997
  • Majority of material found in 1927-1956


Conditions Governing Use

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Biographical / Historical

Mary Jane McLean was born in Victor, Colorado on October 3, 1908 where her father operated a cattle ranch and mine. She was one of four children along with Edward McLean (1905-1982), Josephine ''Jordie'' Elizabeth McLean Kehoe Chilson (1916-1997) and Francis McLean born to Michael George McLean and Antoinette Sauer McLean. The family appears to have lived in different locations in Colorado and in Santa Fe, New Mexico before finally settling in Denver, Colorado where both Jane and Edward graduated from Cathedral High School.

Jane and her brother, Edward first studied ballet with Lillian Cushing in Denver. Following the lead of her elder brother Edward, who had decided at an early age to become a professional dancer, Jane and Edward McLean began performing ethnic and American Indian based dances in the early 1920s. The two traveled to NYC in Sept, 1922 with a letter of introduction from B.T.S. Hare of Santa Fe, New Mexico to the noted American modernist painter, Walt Kuhn (1877-1949). Whether this introduction was productive in arranging for them to perform their American Indian dances is not yet known, but it does point out that Jane and Edward McLean were capable of utilizing many acquaintances in order to further their respective dancing careers.

The dance company of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, known as Denishawn toured fairly often through Denver, Colorado in years: 1919, 1920, 1922 and 1925. It is probable that the McLeans saw this company during their Denver performances. Edward eventually did dance with the Denishawn company during their American tour of 1926-1927. At this time, Jane continued to study ballet with Luigi Albertieri and Marie Gamberelli (both former teachers of Lillian Cushing) in NYC. This was a productive period for the brother and sister with Edward traveling to Germany to study German modern dance with Gret Palucca (1929-1931) and touring Europe as a performer of American Indian dances. Jane gave her first solo recital in NYC at the La Verne Theater under the sponsorship of Martha Graham, Agnes DeMille and John Murray Anderson in 1929.

From 1927 to 1934 the two siblings also performed together in recitals in Denver, Santa Fe and other cities in the southwest. In 1931 Edward established a dance school in Kansas City, Kansas. The two also operated a dancing school of sorts in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1929-1933) and were known for their annual production of the ''Santa Fe Follies'' (1928-1930). In 1934 Edward McLean severely injured his back during a rehearsal, thereby effectively ending his career. He went on to study, teach and work as a well known bookbinder for, among others, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Detroit Public Library, Denver Public Library, Duke University and the University of Denver until his death in Ouray, Colorado in 1982. Jane McLean continued dancing, eventually performing with the Graham Company for two of their concerts. She was part of the assistant dance group who supported Martha Graham during her ground breaking Carnegie Hall performance on October 11, 1938. Another member of this group was Betty Bloomer, later Mrs. Gerald R. Ford. Throughout the remainder of the 1930s and into the 1940s Jane McLean continued to teach and tour as a solo artist across the United States and into Canada. The motivation for much of her creative output was based on her relationship to Martha Graham and the Graham technique. In 1949 she reestablished a base in Denver, Colorado and over a five year period worked in the Casper, Wyoming area, where from 1951-1956 she directed a school and established the Jane McLean Dance Company (1949-1954). Of note was her recognition of contemporary emerging modern dance icons, Merce Cunningham and John Cage. According to Carolyn Brown's book: ''Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham'' (2007), Jane McLean was responsible for arranging for Merce Cunningham to teach a master class in her Denver studio in April 1951. From 1959 until her death in 1990, Jane McLean continued to teach modern dance, especially the Graham technique in the Denver Metro area. She was married and divorced from the photographer, Myron Tanenbaum (1912-1987).


1.25 Linear Feet (1 container)

Scope and Contents

The collection documents the professional activities of the modern dancer and teacher, Jane McLean and to a lesser extent that of her brother the dancer, Edward McLean. Two scrapbooks kept by Jane McLean are loosely arranged in chronological order. The first scrapbook contains newspaper clippings, photographs, reviews, programs and publicity material, relating to McLean's performing activities. These include information on her solo concerts (1929, 1931-1952), performances in conjunction with her brother, Edward (1927-1934), her involvement with Martha Graham's performances at Carnegie Hall and the Alvin Theatre, NYC (1938). The second scrapbook appears to have been generated by McLean when she moved to Casper, Wyoming in 1951. This scrapbook contains newspaper clippings, reviews and photographs pertaining to her activities as a teacher of modern dance in Wyoming (1951-1956) and the formation of the Jane McLean Dance Company (1949-1954). Loose items, such as newspaper clippings, photographs, letters, brochures, etc. are interfiled within each scrapbook. A separate file folder contains items that provide similar documentation including a letter of introduction to the painter Walt Kuhn (1922) and Jane McLean's contract to appear in Ruth Page's production of "Cinderella" (Pantomime in Three Scenes) at His Majesty's Theatre in Montreal, Canada in December 1931. In addition, there is also a prospectus for the dance school that Edward McLean established in Kansas City, Kansas in 1931. Later materials included letters written by Jane McLean (1970s) as well as a typescript of an undated essay: "Dance thru the Ages" that she had written sometime in the 1940s or early 1950s. There are also photocopies of Edward, Jane and their sister, Jordie Chilson's obituaries (1985, 1990, 1997). Other large loose materials include an assortment of press clippings on Martha Graham as well as a collection of informational posters on a Modern Dance Symposium where Jane McLean was a panelist and teacher that was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1956.


The papers are arranged in four series: 1. Scrapbooks, 1927-1956. 2. Personal Papers, 1922-1989. 3. Newspaper Clippings on Martha Graham (1980's). 4. Posters (1955). __Three dance related books rebound by Edward McLean are located in the Special Collection Bookstacks: 1. "Diaghileff, His Artistic and Private Life," by Arnold L. Haskell, 1935, Simon and Shuster (GV1785.D5 H3 1935 c.2). 2. "The Tragedy of Nijinsky," Anatole Bourman, 1936, Whittlesey House (GV1785.N6 B6 1936a c.2). 3. "Flight of the Swan: A Memory of Anna Pavlova," by Andre Oliveroff, 1932, E.P. Dutton and Company (GV1785.P3 O6 1932 c.2).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Jane McLean-Tanenbaum, 1989.


No further accruals are expected.


No written accession documentation exists for this collection.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and Archives Repository

2150 East Evans Avenue
Denver CO 80208
(303) 871-3428