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“We simply cannot jump or leap high enough to reach the spiritual world. We have to find it everywhere.”Sybil Shearer, in Without Wings the Way Is Steep, Vol I DVD


Like many dancers of her generation, Sybil Shearer was inspired by ANNA PAVLOVA, whom she saw perform twice when she was a child. Though her parents insisted that she complete college, Sybil started her dance career immediately after graduation from Skidmore in 1934 by attending the Bennington Summer School of the Dance in its opening year. There she met leaders in modern dance who recognized her budding genius and mentored her after she moved to New York City to study and to dance.

Choreography sketches from the archives

Sybil always considered herself a soloist, and early on she was recognized as unique and original. Ultimately she was set apart from others by her exquisitely-trained body, her connection to nature rather than the city, her unpredictability as to theme and movement, her humor, and her rare performances, always new. John Martin noted,“Technically she is miraculous; her body does things that are incredible, not only in conception but in execution” (1942) and Walter Terry wrote, “Most innovators become with time more rigid than their conservative rivals . . . Not so with Sybil Shearer. Every year, for those who travel to see her dance, there is a new avenue to be explored.”(1975)

In 1942 Sybil left New York and came to Chicago to teach. There she met Helen Balfour Morrison, who soon became her most important mentor and patron. In 1951 Helen and her husband Robert helped Sybil move to her own studio-residence near them in Northbrook, creating an environment where she was free to create and grow as an artist and where her need for privacy and seclusion was gently mixed with the company of friends, dogs, and visitors. This was a far cry from the “broken rhythm” she had felt in New York, and for a dancer it was an unconventional life. Yet here in solitude she was able to create astonishing works of art.


1970: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, National College of Education

1970: Honored Member of the Founding Faculty and Staff, Roosevelt University

1984: Honorary doctorate, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

1994: Chicago Dance Coalition, Ruth Page Lifetime Achievement Award

1996: Cliff Dwellers Arts Foundation Award for lifetime service to the Arts