Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Virgil Morton Papers
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Overview
Table of contents What's This?
Virgil Leroy Morton (1913-1981) was a dancer and dance teacher focused particularly on folk dancing. In San Francisco, he taught at a number of schools including at Albert Ludwig Studios, Chang's International Folk Dancers, the Marin Folk Dance Society, the Alpine Club Folk Dancers, and San Francisco State University. He also performed in various productions and at various events at MGM, Paramount Studios, the Golden Gate International Exposition, the Tivoli Theatre, the San Francisco Russian Opera and Ballet Company, the Savoy Light Opera Co, and the Metropolitan Opera Co. In addition to his dance work, Morton was well published in such journals as Let's Dance and VILTIS and wrote three books on dance. Morton also served as co-director of dance for the Sherry Players. This collection documents Morton’s professional dance and teaching activities through photographs, resumes, chronologies, news clippings, correspondence, scrapbooks, programs, newsletters, notes, musical scores, and a tape recording.
Virgil Leroy Morton was born on January 24, 1913 in Sioux county, Nebraska to Priscilla and David Morton. In 1930, Morton received dancing instruction in ballroom, folk, and musical comedy at the Soderstrom School of Dance in Denver, Colorado. After his graduation, Morton worked as a chorus dancer with the Fanchon-Marco units at the Tabor Theatre in Denver and taught ballroom dance at Soderstrom School of Dance. Morton attended college briefly, from 1932-33, as a journalism major at the University of Nebraska. He then returned to performing and appeared in various minor dancing parts in motion pictures at MGM and Paramount Studios. He also appeared as a dancer in several of Theodore Kosloff's Hollywood Bowl productions. In 1935, Morton moved to San Francisco, where he began teaching ballroom dancing at Albert Ludwig Studios and studying tap and acrobatic dancing at the Fanchon-Marco Studios. The following year, he began study of Spanish and Mexican dancing with Jose and Elisa Cansino. In late 1935 or early 1936, Morton also joined the Swedish Applied Arts Group, which met weekly to practice Scandinavian folk dances at the home of Valborg "Mama" Gravander. From this group, Song Chang, a Chinese greeting card artist, organized an international folk dancing group, International Folk Dancers (later called Chang's International Folk Dancers.) Virgil Morton was selected to be its first official teacher in 1937. This group performed in the Estonian Village at the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939 and 1940. Morton himself appeared as a dancer and actor in the Calvacade of America pageant at the exposition. He also enhanced his professional training through study of dance and drama at the San Francisco Theatre Union and study of ballet at the San Francisco Opera Ballet School. Morton next studied at the George Pring Studio and appeared as a dancer at the Tivoli Theatre in September 1940. During the early forties, Morton divided his time between dancing and military service. From October-December 1940, he joined a dance quartet and toured night clubs in the Pacific Northwest. Morton also served as an instructor for several Bay Area folk dance groups, including the Marin Folk Dance Society and the Alpine Club Folk Dancers. On December 16, 1945, Morton received an Honorable Discharge from the Navy. He immediately returned to study and teaching, working as a dancer for the San Francisco Russian Opera and Ballet Company and attending the Holloway School of Theatre. After these engagements, Morton served as a lead dancer for the Savoy Light Opera Co. From 1947-48, Morton performed in the ballet section of the Metropolitan Opera Co. and also took part in the International Folk Dance Festival at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles. In 1948, Morton attended the American Theatre Wing School in New York and completed coursework in dance and drama. At the same time, he also joined the Savoy Light Opera Co.'s tour of North America. This was followed by a tour of California with The Wayfarers, a trio consisting of Virgil Morton, Madelynne Greene, and folk singer David Allen. The Wayfarers eventually appeared on the KPIX T.V. program, Folk Fest. During the fifties and sixties, Morton devoted the majority of his time to teaching. In June 1953, Morton began teaching folk and ballroom dancing at San Francisco State University, where he stayed until 1971. In addition, Morton assisted with the dance components of the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival in Sonoma and the Mt. Tamalpais Mountain Play. Between 1954 and 1960, Morton also served as co-director of dance for the Sherry Players, a folk dance group which gave presentations at various cultural events. Morton also published numerous articles on folk dancing and the teaching of dance in such journals as Let's Dance and VILTIS. He also authored three books: Folk Dance Treasures (1950); The Teaching of Popular Dance (1966); and This is Ballroom Dance (1974).
2 Boxes. 2 linear feet.
Reproduction of these materials can occur only if the copying falls within the provisions of the doctrine of fair use. Copyright varies by item.
Entire Collection is open for research.