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A new book by Sunny Stalter-Pace, the Hargis Associate Professor of American Literature and director of graduate studies in the Department of English, is slated for release on May 15.

This is the second book by Stalter-Pace. This newest work, Imitation Artist: Gertrude Hoffmann and American Popular Performance, is published by Northwestern University Press. It explores Hoffmann’s career as dancer and choreographer who is best known for copying and popularizing European high-brow performances among early 20th-century American audiences.

“I thought my second book was going to be about plays set on the New York City subway” Stalter-Pace said. “I found a vaudeville bill that included a tango dance at the entrance to a subway station. The routine was part of Gertrude Hoffmann’s act. I did more research on her and felt like I had to tell her story.”

Gertrude Hoffmann was born in San Francisco in 1885. She became a legendary Vaudevillian dancer, mimic and choreographer and was one of the first female dance directors and choreographers in Vaudeville and on Broadway. Gertrude Hoffmann was well-known for introducing the United States to the Ballet Russes in 1910 when she mimicked and brought her own version of the ballet to America. She also worked extensively with Oscar Hammerstein I and his son William Hammerstein, and founded the dance group The Gertrude Hoffmann Girls.

The Hoffmann Girls regularly toured in Europe and the United States including appearances at the Moulin-Rouge, engagements in Paris and London, and at least one appearance in Hollywood. Gertrude Hoffmann was also co-director of a dance studio and is credited with various musical compositions.

“Her career pretty much continued through the World War II era,” Stalter-Pace said. “But as I learned about her, I discovered that Gertrude Hoffmann was extremely ambitious, and she had a strong sense of purpose. I also was intrigued by her career success and long collaboration with her husband of many years,”  Max Hoffmann, who served as his wife’s music director and later as her manager, was an accomplished composer and one of the first arrangers to use the ragtime musical styles in his compositions.

The bulk of Stalter-Pace’s research on the Hoffmanns was conducted in the Special Collections and Archives at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The majority of the Hoffmann Papers collection centers on publicity, music and notes from The Gertrude Hoffmann Girls, with a smaller but substantial amount of material from Gertrude Hoffmann’s own performances and some personal family records. In her new book, Stalter-Pace follows Gertrude Hoffmann’s career from the earliest days as a troupe ballet girl through its peak years. She shows her life intersected with those of central figures of 20th-century popular culture, including Florenz Ziegfeld, George M. Cohan, Isadora Duncan and others, and discusses how Gertrude Hoffmann navigated the complexities of performing, gender, race and national identity.

Stalter-Pace also is the author of Underground Movements: Modern Culture on the New York Subway. She received her doctorate degree from Rutgers University and specializes in the interdisciplinary study of modernist performance, literature and urban space.

(Written by Mitch Emmons)

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Sunny Stalter-Pace