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Stealing a dance

The Martha Graham lawsuit demonstrates why dance is the hardest art to copyright, says Nadine Meisner. But it also shows the status of the choreographer at an historical high

By Nadine Meisner   November 2002

How do you own a novel? You write it down on paper. How do you own a ballet? You teach dancers the steps that have come out of your head. Ballet has rarely lived on paper. A few notation systems were attempted in past centuries, but none was particularly successful. Ballets were chiefly stored in the minds and muscles of their performers and creators. But how do you then protect and copyright a memory?

In the 18th and 19th centuries, choreographers were rated so low that it was the composer’s name which usually headed the posters. The ownership of a…

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