Dr. Banes began writing about dance and the avant-garde in the 1970s, when she was part of an experimental theater group in Chicago. She was among the first critics to give serious consideration to certain forms of street performance and helped advance the notion that dance did not have to be presented in tights and toe shoes, or originate in theaters and ballet schools, to be worthy of artistic attention.
After moving to New York in 1976, she kept an eye open for new trends as a critic for weekly newspapers. She also occasionally performed in dance works by such choreographers as Meredith Monk, Simone Forti and Kenneth King, who were at the forefront of the postmodern dance movement, which Dr. Banes described in her book “Terpsichore in Sneakers” (1980).
“What Sally did was to take postmodern dance, which to many viewers — those who even bothered with it — seemed like some weird thing that young people were wasting their time on, and show that it was a matter of real artistic importance,” Joan Acocella, a critic for the New Yorker, said in an interview. “She not only described it, she also gave it a pedigree. She could talk about it as part of a continuing tradition: the so-called permanent avant-garde.”
In 1981, Dr. Banes wrote an essay for the Village Voice that was one of the first mainstream efforts to describe break dancing and connect it to other modes of urban expression, including graffiti art and the musical style that would come to be known as hip-hop.
“One of the great things about her, and the work she wrote about, was just vitality — freshness, excitement, wit, can-do,” Acocella said. “Like a good critic, she brought her own imagination to bear on works of the imagination.”
Dr. Banes also examined more conventional styles of modern dance, finding African American influences in the creations of 20th-century choreographer George Balanchine, for instance. She noted how each work by modern-dance pioneer Merce Cunningham had a distinctive artistic fingerprint, “its own qualities and features, just as you’d never mistake Times Square for Piazza San Marco.”
In a 1983 book, “Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater, 1962–1964,” Dr. Banes wrote about the dawn of postmodern dance, as it developed among an eclectic group of performers at New York’s Judson Memorial Church.
Ten years later, she published “Greenwich Village 1963,” in which she explored the idea of an avant-garde melting pot, where artists and performers were “freely mixing high and low, academic and vernacular traditions, genres and media,” to build the feeling “that all things were possible.”
Dr. Banes noted that postmodern dance virtually abandoned the long-held concept that works of art are created by one artist’s singular vision.
“Some postmodern choreographers,” she wrote, “view choreography entirely as recycling; rejecting the very concept of originality, they blatantly appropriate movements, phrases, and dance styles . . . radically challenging notions of plagiarism and intellectual property.”
Women have been prominently featured in dance since ancient times, but Dr. Banes’s 1998 book, “Dancing Women: Female Bodies on Stage,” was “the first to analyze the subject in a compelling and intellectually sophisticated way,” dance historian Lynn Garafola wrote in an introduction to “Before, Between, and Beyond,” a 2007 collection of essays by Dr. Banes.
“ ‘Dancing Women’ established Sally Banes as this country’s preeminent dance scholar,” Garafola wrote.
Sally Rachel Banes was born Oct. 9, 1950, in Washington and grew up in Silver Spring, Md. Her father was the director of pharmaceutical sciences for the Food and Drug Administration, and her mother was an artist.
Dr. Banes studied dance and other arts while growing up and graduated from the University of Chicago in 1972 with an interdisciplinary major combining criticism, theater and art. She joined the MoMing theater collective and wrote dance criticism for the Chicago Reader before moving to New York.
She occasionally appeared in dance performances while writing for the SoHo Weekly News and later the Village Voice and Dance magazine. She helped choreograph several dance works, including one that took an entire day to perform. She received a doctorate in theater history from New York University in 1980.
Dr. Banes taught at Florida State University, the State University of New York’s Purchase College, Wesleyan University and Cornell University before joining the faculty of the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1991. She taught dance and theater history and, from 1992 to 1996, chaired the dance program.
She was an editor of Dance Research Journal from 1982 to 1988 and served as president of the Society of Dance History Scholars. After her stroke, two additional volumes of her essays were published.
Survivors include Noël Carroll, a philosophy professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and her partner since 1976 and husband since 1985, of Philadelphia; and two sisters, Susan Banes Harris of Potomac, Md., and Ruby Bell Sherpa of Mendocino, Calif.
Dr. Banes was interested in many artistic traditions that had seldom received academic treatment, such as tap dancing, which she wrote about in a fleet, carefree way that seemed to echo the art itself. Tap dancing, she wrote in an essay called “Rhythm for the Eyes, Ears, and Soles,” “unabashedly parades the skills, capabilities, and intelligence of the human body.”
She noted “the abstract rhythmic qualities it shares with music and the ways in which it makes those abstractions uncannily visible,” observing that it had its “origins in the act of walking, which makes its intricacies all the more marvelous.”
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