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Houston Modern Dance Council

Identifier: RG E 0075

Scope and Contents

This collection focuses primarily on Roberta Stokes and her modern dance endeavors. From 1975 to 1988, Stokes served as a pioneer of the modern dance scene in Houston. This collection consists of photographs, promotional materials, scrapbook pages, audio tapes, video cassettes, transcripts, correspondence, and drawings.


  • 1966-1989
  • Majority of material found within 1977 - 1987

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish or reproduce materials from the Houston Modern Dance Council Collection must be obtained from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center or the appropriate copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

In 1975, Roberta Stokes became the Dance Curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum (CAM), where she started as an instructor for the Art After School program in 1966. During this year, Roberta Stokes organized the First Annual Modern Dance Gathering, a collective performance showcasing Houston’s modern dance companies. The Gathering started with six dance groups. By 1979, it was a ten day event featuring fourteen groups. In 1980, CAM came under new ownership and the Gathering became the responsibility of Modern Dance Council, an organization created to sponsor the annual event. The performances were hosted in the Rice University gymnasium for one year before moving to the Rice Memorial Center. The Gathering ended in 1984 due to an overall decline in passion for the project. More information on these Gatherings can be found in Series 2 of this collection.

In 1977, Stokes founded the CAM Choreographers Program. This program began with choreographers Jim Clouser, Farrel Dyde, Sandra York, Mary Wolff, Sonya Zarek, Polly Motley, and Laura Fly. They met once a week for two years, leading one another in improvisational exercises and eventually staging site-specific performances across the city. In one such series, the choreographers were assigned to different art exhibitions, such as a Bauhaus exhibit at MFAH, and the Rothko Chapel, to perform in. In another, the choreographers led audiences into the downtown tunnels for interactive pieces. This group disbanded after two years when Stokes no longer wanted to be the leader of the group.

Under Stoke’s direction, the Council served to promote modern dance in Houston. The Council incorporated dance companies such as the the Roberta Stokes Company, which was founded in May 1980, and other groups like the Jim Clouser’s Space/Dance/Theatre. In addition to the Gathering, the Council held educational events including movie screenings at the Rice Media Center and free improvisation workshops for the modern dance community.

Shortly after the Houston Modern Dance Council formed, the Houston Dance Coalition, an umbrella organization for various types of dance in Houston, formed and drew the attention of many modern dancers and choreographers. The Modern Dance Council disbanded in late 1984 when Stokes decided to direct all focus towards her own company. As of August 2019, the Houston Dance Coalition is still active and producing the annual Dance Salad Festival, a showcase reminiscent of the early Modern Dance Gatherings.

In 1984, the Modern Dance Council initiated an oral history program to chronicle the development of modern dance in Houston. This was the last program created by the council, made possible by a grant from the Cultural Arts Council of Houston. Barbara Thompson Day, a local historian, conducted these interviews with Houstonians active in the modern dance scene from 1950-1984. Transcripts and audio tapes of these interviews can be found in Boxes 1 and 2 of this collection.

The Roberta Stokes Company closed in 1990 after ten active years. A painter before her dance career began, Stokes returned to painting following the end of her company. She returned to the stage for a solo performance with Travesty Dance Group, co-owned by her daughter, Karen, in 2007. Karen has since carried her mother’s torch into her own modern dance company, Karen Stokes Dance. As of 2019, this company is still operating and staging performances in Houston.


2.25 Linear Feet (4 boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection is organized by event, material type, and date.

Series 1 Oral History Project; 1985

Series 2 Modern Dance Gatherings; 1977-1984

Series 3 Modern Dance at the Contemporary Arts Museum; 1968-1980

Series 4 Roberta Stokes Company; 1979-1989

Series 5 Modern Dance Across Houston; 1976-1986

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Roberta Stokes in 1985

Processing Information

Processed by Elizabeth Alden Eckman, August 2019

Houston Modern Dance Council
Elizabeth Alden Eckman
August 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • August 2019: Reprocessed

Repository Details

Part of the Houston History Research Center Repository


African American History Research Center
Houston Public Library
1300 Victor Street
Houston, Texas 77019
Houston History Research Center
Houston Public Library
550 McKinney St.
Houston, Texas 77002