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Claire Holt

Claire Holt (1901–1970) was a pioneer of dance ethnography before it had a name (she described herself as a “choreologist”) and a Javanese dance practitioner. Born in Riga, Latvia, she became part of a dedicated network of Euro-American scholars and arts practitioners who sought to understand East Indies culture from the inside. Colleagues included dance scholars Curt Sachs and Beryl De Zoete; anthropologists Franziska Boas, Ray Birdwhistell, Jane Belo, Margaret Mead, and Gregory Bateson; ethnomusicologists Alan Lomax and Colin McPhee; and painters Miguel Covarrubias and Walter Spies. Holt went on to hold many important yet eclectic posts, including worker at the American Museum of Natural History; founder of the East Indies Institute (later renamed the Southeast Asia Institute); scholar at Columbia University’s Navy School for Military Government (1942); and policy analyst at the US Office of Strategic Services (later renamed Central Intelligence Agency) from 1944 to 1953, before resigning in protest over McCarthyism. She finally located her intellectual and spiritual home at the Cornell Modern Indonesia Project (CMIP) in Ithaca, New York, where her landmark book on Indonesian art, Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change, was published in 1967, three years before her death.

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