Tales from the Tread: From bear hunt to Broadway


More than 100 years ago, Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp moved to the woods of Strawberry Park in Steamboat Springs. At 7 p.m. Jan. 10, join the Tread of Pioneers Museum at the Chief Theater to discover the legendary Perry-Mansfield in the original 1979 documentary, “A Divine Madness.”

Tales from the Tread

Tales from the Tread columns publish the first and third Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today.

If you go

What: Tread of Pioneers Museum’s Winter Film Series — Perry-Mansfield films

When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 10

Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.

Cost: Free

More information: treadofpioneers.org

We will also show a Colorado State Historic Fund film documenting recent preservation measures to save this national treasure. The screening is part of the Tread of Pioneers Museum’s Winter Film Series at the Chief Theater, held at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday each month.

Perry-Mansfield is nationally renowned for promoting creativity in the arts. The camp’s founders, Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield, have been described as “Renaissance Women.”

Portia was a dancer, teacher, horsewoman, author, explorer and pioneer of both documentary filmmaking and using dance movement as exercise. She had a unique knack for finding young, unknown dance teachers who became legendary founders of modern dance.

Charlotte was one of America’s great directors and drama coaches. Her trademark was incorporating dance into drama. She was also an innovator of children’s theater as a teacher, playwright, and producer.

One summer during college, Charlotte and Portia accompanied Charlotte’s father on a bear hunting expedition in Northwest Colorado. Though they did not like the idea of hunting bears, it was then that they fell in love with the mountains and conceived the idea to start a summer dance camp. This school of dance would unite all that they treasured: beauty, creativity, the wilderness and horses.

In the summer of 1914, the camp was founded in Steamboat Springs with six army tents and an 1880s homestead house, known fondly as “Cabeen.” With help from local coal miners, the two women built the main lodge, a theater and the cabins. Throughout the years, new buildings were added to accommodate an ever-increasing flow of students as well as theater and other arts instruction.

Through the years, many famous artists and performers have graced Perry-Mansfield’s studios: Dustin Hoffman, Agnes De Mille, José Limon, Merce Cunningham, Julie Harris, John Cage, Lee Remick, Jessica Biel, Corey Hawkins and many more.

Today, national and international students take classes from a select group of accomplished faculty from around the world. Students, age 8 years through college take classes daily in dance, theater, music, equitation, art and creative writing. The tradition of Perry-Mansfield remains unsurpassed as the camp continues to prepare emerging artists for the stage.

In the 1920s, the camp became the springboard for a dance company that toured the country’s vaudeville circuits extensively. In the 1930s, Perry-Mansfield became a focal point for the American modern dance movement. Many dancers came to the camp to explore this new style, and Perry-Mansfield became known as a haven for creativity.

Source: Perry-Mansfield archives

Candice Bannister is executive director of Tread of Pioneers Museum.


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