Who We Are

Heralded as “One of the nation’s most important institutions” by the New York Times and as “The world’s greatest dance festival” by the New York Post, the American Dance Festival’s sustained record of creative achievement is indivisible from the history of modern dance. Since 1934, ADF has remained committed to serving the needs of dance, dancers, choreographers, and professionals in dance-related fields. Remaining true to the goals of its founding artists, ADF’s programs are developed based on its mission: to encourage and support the creation and presentation of new modern dance work by both established and emerging choreographers, to preserve our modern dance heritage through continued presentation of classic works as well as through archival efforts, to build wider national and international audiences for modern dance, to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the art form and its cultural and historical significance, to provide a sound scientific and aesthetic base for professional education and training of young dancers, and to maintain a forum for integrating and disseminating information on dance education.

ADF’s wide range of programs include:


A five-and-a-half week series of performances and residencies by major established companies and emerging artists from around the world.

  • One of the most important functions of ADF throughout its history has been to provide choreographers with the opportunity to produce new works, many of which are especially commissioned by ADF. ADF has played a critical role in increasing the repertoires of our country’s modern dance companies, having been the site of over 700 premieres, over 440 commissions, and over 50 reconstructions.
  • ADF has supported, commissioned, and helped launch the careers of choreographers such as Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey, Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris, Meredith Monk, Pilobolus, Trisha Brown, Donald McKayle, Martha Clarke, Eiko and Koma, Ronald K. Brown, John Jasperse, Shen Wei, Tatiana Baganova, and Rosie Herrera, among others, most of whom continue to present work at ADF.
  • ADF has co-commissioned or co-presented works with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Baryshnikov Arts Center, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the North Carolina Museum of Art, North Carolina State University, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the North Carolina Dance Festival, and Motorco Music Hall.


THE ADF SCHOOL IS… a training site for those who want to perform, create, research, and build lifelong connections. For over eight decades, it has been a career-defining destination for dancers around the world. ADF provides the critical meeting ground for vibrant, diverse dancing bodies to mobilize, align, and become the leaders our society needs us to be.

  • At the heart of ADF is the Summer Dance Intensive (SDI), where dancers from around the country and around the world come to train and to create, to see and to be seen. Students of all levels are invited to engage in collaborative creative processes with ADF’s diverse and outstanding faculty, extraordinary musicians, and vibrant student body. 
  • The Pre-Professional Dance Intensive (PDI) is designed specifically for the training and education of dancers from the ages of 13 to 17.
  • The Dance Professional Workshops are week-long intensives that provide practitioners and educators with the opportunity to study with the ADF faculty in classes that have been specifically designed to address their needs and interests.
  • ADF provides full and partial scholarships to students based on both talent and need. Approximately, 50% of ADF students that attend summer programs are awarded financial assistance.
  • In 2018, our summer programs were comprised of over 300 students, along with over 60 faculty and musicians, from 25 countries and 36 states.
  • The Winter Intensive in New York offers nine days of classes, panels, performances, and more, allowing students to study with outstanding teachers, learn in a supportive environment that offers individualized attention, hear about the NY dance scene from the artists who are currently creating it, and see open rehearsals and performances from an insider’s perspective.

The Samuel H. Scripps Studios, ADF’s first permanent facility, opened in the summer of 2012. The programs at the studios are dedicated to providing a sound scientific and aesthetic base for all levels of training from beginning to professional. A variety of classes are offered, for the dancer and non-dancer alike, designed to strengthen the body, increase flexibility of movement, and foster an appreciation of dance. The studios serve as a center for creative activity where students learn in a welcoming and non-competitive environment from faculty who are experts in their fields. Over 4,200 students attended classes during its first year of operation.


Giving status and importance to accomplished dance figures and to the profession itself.

  • For distinguished choreographers, ADF has established the $50,000 Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for lifetime achievement in modern dance. Recipients of the Scripps/ADF Award include Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Hanya Holm, Alwin Nikolais, Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, Erick Hawkins, Twyla Tharp, Anna Sokolow, Donald McKayle, Talley Beatty, Trisha Brown, Meredith Monk, Anna Halprin, Fayard & Harold Nicholas, Pina Bausch, Pilobolus, Garth Fagan, Maguy Marin, Eiko & Koma, Bill T. Jones, Murray Louis, Mark Morris, Laura Dean, Ohad Naharin, Martha Clarke, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, William Forsythe, Lin Hwai-min, Angelin Preljocaj, Lar Lubovitch, Lucinda Childs, Ronald K. Brown and posthumously in honor of Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, José Limón, Pearl Primus, and Helen Tamiris.
  • For distinguished teachers, ADF has established the Balasaraswati/Joy Anne Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching. Recipients of the Chair include Pearl Primus, Daniel Nagrin, Betty Jones, Bella Lewitzky, Ethel Butler, Anna Halprin, Donald McKayle, Bessie Schönberg, Matt Mattox, Pauline Koner, Viola Farber, Mary Anthony, Walter Nicks, Jane Dudley, Sophie Maslow, Pearl Lang, Martha Myers, Carmen De Lavallade, Gus Solomons jr, Gerri Houlihan, Dr. Charles “Chuck” Davis, Linda Tarnay, Douglas Nielsen, Dianne McIntyre, Carolyn Adams, Ruth Andrien, Sharon Kinney, Yang Meiqi, Donna Faye Burchfield, Ana Marie Forsythe, Phyllis Lamhut, Irene Dowd, Zvi Gotheiner, James Sutton, Jaclynn Villamil, Anne Green Gilbert, Liz Lerman, Gabriel “Kwikstep” Dionisio, Ana “Rockafella” Garcia, and Bettie de Jong.


Offering the breadth of the festival’s resources to the community.

  • ADF Project Dance is a free, year-round program that introduces the community to dance through creative movement workshops and complimentary tickets to performances. Annually, ADF offers over 350 creative movement classes to more than 1,000 students and works with with local non-profits to distribute over 500 free tickets to organizations that work with individuals, families, youth, and seniors in need who otherwise could not attend performances.
  • ADF partners with Durham’s Central Park School for Children to offer dance classes as an alternative to more traditional physical education classes.
  • Free festival tours provide community members an opportunity to go behind the scenes of the ADF School and see dance in the making.


Illustrating how modern dance serves as a special window on American history and culture.

  • Produced by ADF, the Emmy award-winning PBS television series Free to Dance: The African American Presence in Modern Dance was a three-part documentary that chronicled the crucial role that African American choreographers and dancers played in the development of modern dance as an American art form.
  • The PBS special Dancing in the Light presented six historic dances by pioneering African American choreographers filmed at ADF. Originally recorded for Free to Dance, the works appeared in the series only as brief excerpts.
  • Created in 1987, the Black Tradition in American Modern Dance project preserves, celebrates, and creates access to classic dance works by African American choreographers. To date, 23 historic works have been reconstructed on leading US repertory companies.
  • ADF has issued a series of humanities publications including The Aesthetic and Cultural Significance of Modern Dance (1984), The Black Tradition in American Modern Dance (1988), and its sequel, The African American Genius In Modern Dance (1993). In conjunction with its 75th anniversary season, ADF published a highly selective look at American modern dance and its philosophies by Philosopher-in-Residence, Dr. Gerald E. Myers, entitled Who’s Not Afraid of Martha Graham? (2008).
  • The ADF Archives serves as the repository for records of enduring historical value created and collected by ADF including the collections of Laura Dean, Mark Dendy, Harper Theater Dance Festival, and Pearl Primus. The Archives preserves its collections for use by the dance community, including students, scholars, and the general public.
  • Since 2009, the ADF blog has highlighted the diversity of events taking place during the festival through daily online coverage of classes, rehearsals, and performances, as well as interviews with choreographers, faculty, and scholars. For ADF’s 80th anniversary, the blog was titled 80 Faces and featured special stories and memories from eighty people who have been a part of the festival’s history, including modern dance legends such as Ronald K. Brown, Martha Clarke, Bill T. Jones, Shen Wei, Paul Taylor, and Jennifer Tipton.


Special conferences, workshops, and projects designed for dancers, choreographers, and audiences.

  • Since 1984, through the International Choreographers Commissioning Program and the International Choreographers Residency program, ADF has over 486 choreographers from 93 countries on 6 continents to ADF to share, exchange, and experience the work and ideas of people from cultures around the world.
  • ADF’s Institutional Linkages Program has included mini-ADFs in Korea, Russia, India, Japan, China, and Argentina and teaching residencies in 30 countries. ADF has helped develop modern dance in China, Russia, and Mongolia and introduced French, English, Russian, and Chinese modern dance and Japanese Butoh to US audiences.
  • ADF’s Audience Memory Program, directed by Dr. Ruth Day, is conducting groundbreaking research on the way audiences and dancers perceive and remember movement.
  • Since 1995, the International Screendance Festival has explored the ever-evolving relationship between cinema and dance. Audiences have the opportunity to see numerous films over a two-day period specially chosen to represent the best of this film genre.
  • Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism was held at ADF from 1970 to 1991 and again from 2003 to 2010. The three-week residency program allowed dance journalists to develop a deeper understanding of dance and to strengthen their writing and criticism skills.


View the ADF History and Timeline.

View ADF’s most recent 990 and audit documents.