Maudelle Bass (Weston)

Lester Horton Dance Group
Art Folklorico de Mexico
Negro Unit of Ballet Theatre

Larger Image
Photo by Johan Hagemeyer.

Maudelle Bass was born in 1908 and grew up in Early County, Georgia. In 1933, Bass moved to Los Angeles and studied at Gray Conservatory of Music and Art. In addition to training with Isobel Keith Morrison, she was the first Black dancer to study under Lester Horton. She was given a scholarship to study with the choreographer and danced with his company as well. 

Beside her experience with modern techniques, Bass studied Nigerian dance under Modupe Paris and Asadata Dafora and at the Fowler School of African Culture. Her other teachers included Tony Massaqua, from whom she learned Liberian dance and culture.

In the 1930s, Bass danced and toured with the Arte Folklorico de Mexico. As a member of the Negro Unit of Ballet Theatre, she played the role of the Priestess in Agnes de Mille’s Black Ritual.

Erin K. Maher’s “Ballet, Race, and Agnes de Mille’s Black Ritual” includes the following passage regarding Bass from the California Eagle:

“Maudelle’s dancing, although grounded on a good foundation of modern technique, is uniquely her own. For she has gone back to primitive Africa for her inspiration. Nevertheless, she has not been content to transplant identically the African dances. The primitive movements, the patterns and the spirit – even the drums – are there. But the ideas she creates from this basic inspiration are her own, drawn from the life around her. It is her dream to re-create through the medium of the African dance, the heritage of racial dignity lost to the Negroes through their century-old experience of slavery and oppression.”

Bass modeled for painter Diego Rivera; he was reportedly “enraptured by her beauty” and in 1939, created three painting depicting Bass. Other artists who painted Bass were Abraham BaylinsonNicolai Fechin, and Robert M. Jackson. She was also a model for photographers Edward Weston, Johan Hagemeyer, and Sonia Noskowiak and for Beulah Ecton Woodard’s sculpture Maudelle.

In 1948, Bass established a dance school in Los Angeles and worked as a lecturer at UCLA. In the 1950s, Bass performed with Pearl Primus.

After her marriage to George Weston, Antiguan dancer and head of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), in 1960, Bass was known as Maudelle Bass Weston as well as by her professional name “Maudelle.”

Bass became a cultural figure within the LA arts community, toured throughout the country and Latin America, taught and lectured about dance, and performed in lecture-demonstrations in New York for many years. She was awarded a lifetime achievement award at the 1983 Celebration of Women in Dance at the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center.

She passed away at 81 years old on June 11, 1989 in Plainfield, New Jersey.

Leave a Reply