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Born February 20, 1916, in Honolulu, Hawaii, Jean Erdman studied dance from a very young age, learning Hula and tap dance as a child. While studying at Sarah Lawrence College, she met Martha Graham, and was a principle dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Company from 1938-1942. In 1948 she founded the Jean Erdman School of Dance, and the following period, from the 40s to the 60s, was an intensely productive period for her, filled with choreography, teaching, dancing, and touring the world. In 1962 she debuted her most celebrated work, The Coach With Six Insides, which won the 1962 Vernon-Rice and OBIE Awards and was revived twice. The success of this work allowed Erdman much greater creative freedom to pursue her artistic vision, and in 1972 she retired from teaching and opened the Theater of the Open Eye. As the theater's artistic direcor, she eventually presented over a hundred individual works of theater and dance. In 1987, with the passing of her husband Joseph Campbell, she returned to Hawaii where she resides to this day.
In 2006, Erdman authorized her longtime associate Nancy Allison to teach her repertory for the purpose of having the dances notated and to manage future performances. Staging of three of these works was a great success, and in 2008 Allison founded Jean Erdman Dance, which is active to this day.