Ailes Gilmour

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Ailes Gilmour
Born (1912-01-27)January 27, 1912
Yokohama, Japan
Died April 16, 1993(1993-04-16) (aged 81)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Nationality American
Known for Dance
Movement Modern Dance

Ailes Gilmour (January 27, 1912 - April 16, 1993) was a Japanese American dancer who was one of the young pioneers of the American Modern Dance movement of the 1930s. She was one of the first members of Martha Graham's dance company.[1] Ailes' older brother was sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

Early life[edit]

Ailes was born 1912 in Yokohama, Japan. Her father was unknown. Her mother, Leonie Gilmour, attended Bryn Mawr College and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, then moved to New York City in the early 1900s to try to establish herself as a writer. In 1907 Leonie traveled to Japan at the behest of Yone Noguchi, the father of Ailes' older brother, Isamu, who had been born in 1904. However, by the time Leonie arrived in Tokyo, Yone was involved with a Japanese woman who had already born the first of their nine children. Leonie's circumstances in Japan were always precarious. Nevertheless, she chose to stay there, teaching to support herself and Isamu, while continuing to edit Yone's writing. When Ailes was born, Leonie chose the name Ailes for her daughter from a poem Beauty's a Flower by Moira O'Neill, the pseudonym of Agnes Shakespeare Higginson. It is a striking coincidence that the words in that poem seemed to predict Ailes' career as a dancer. Moira wrote, "Ailes was a girl that stepped on two bare feet..." Leonie, Isamu, and Ailes lived together in Japan until 1918, when Leonie sent Isamu back to the United States to attend a progressive school in Indiana.

Ailes grew up in a Japanese style house that Leonie had constructed in Chigasaki, a seaside town near Yokohama. Ailes had close Japanese childhood friends, spoke Japanese as well as English, and identified with Japan before she returned to the USA in 1920, at age 8. When Ailes and her mother returned to America, they lived first in San Francisco and then moved to New York City. Leonie was a great believer in progressive education, and sent Ailes to the Ethical Culture Society elementary school, founded in 1876 by Felix Adler. Leonie herself had attended the predecessor to the Ethical Culture Society elementary school when it was called the Workingman's School. For high school, Leonie chose the Cherry Lawn School in Connecticut for her daughter. It was a boarding school that was known for its progressive, coeducational program. The director and founder of the school was Dr. Fred Goldfrank, who was related to one of the founders of the Ethical Culture Society. Ailes greatly enjoyed her time there and formed several friendships that she maintained for the rest of her life.

In 1928, Ailes was the literary editor of The Cherry Pit, the Cherry Lawn's student magazine.[2] After she graduated from high school in 1929, she went on to the Neighborhood Playhouse to study dance and performing arts as a scholarship student. There she met the young Martha Graham and joined her new professional dance troupe.[1] Ailes told Marion Horosko that she introduced Martha Graham to her brother, Isamu, in 1929. Martha had a bust made of herself in bronze.

In 1948, Ailes married anthropologist Herbert J. Spinden.[3]


During the Depression Era, dancers like Ailes and artists like Isamu struggled to find work. In 1932, when Radio City Music Hall opened, Ailes performed at the debut with Graham's company. Their work, Choric Patterns, lasted on stage for just one week. Ailes ruefully observed to Marion Horosko that Radio City Music Hall could succeed only when it became a movie theater with Rockettes.

In the 1930s, Ailes Gilmour appeared on dance programs with a dancer-choreographer Bill Matons. Matons was the Director of the "experimental unit" of the New Dance League, which evolved from the Workers Dance League between 1931 and 1935. Bill Matons was to later become General Hershy Bar, an Anti-war street theater character and publisher. Among the group's later-to-become-famous members were male dancer-choreographers like José Limón and Charles Weidman. In 1937, Ailes and Matons performed in a Works Progress Administration (WPA) recital at the Brooklyn Museum. In 1939, they were in Adelante, a WPA-sponsored Broadway musical. Also in 1937, Matons did the choreography for the Lenin Peace pageant at Madison Square Garden.

On April 16, 1993, Ailes Gilmour Spinden died in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the age of eighty-one.


  1. ^ a b Kisselgoff, Anna (May 29, 1988). "DANCE VIEW; Reflections on Martha Graham's Revolution". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-08-27. Among those in the first and all-female troupe in the 1930s was Ailes Gilmour, who introduced her brother, the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, to Miss Graham 
  2. ^ "The Cherry Pit 1928 Yearbook - Editorial Staff" (PDF). Cherry Lawn School. Retrieved 2008-10-15. 
  3. ^ "Herbert Joseph Spinden". Dictionary of Art Historians. Retrieved 2008-10-15. 

Ailes Spinden gave birth to a son around 1948 who was named Joseph Spinden. He grew up with his mother Ailes and his father Dr. Herbert Joseph Spinden in their house on Croton Falls Road, between the villages of Mahopac and Croton Falls, NY. (My family and myself were very good friends with them during the 1950s, 60's and 70's (Who is this ?)).

Further reading[edit]

  • Noguchi, Isamu. A Sculptor's World. New York: Harper and Row, 1968.