Terpsichore was one of the Nine Muses, bringers of inspiration in classical Greek mythology. According to Hesiod, the Muses are the offspring of Zeus and Mnemosyne, his Titaness aunt, whose name literally means “memory.” Mnemosyne was one of Zeus’ earliest conquests, predating his marriage to Hera, while he was still sowing his wild oats (though, in truth, Zeus was a lifelong sower!).
After overthrowing her 11 brothers and sisters and setting himself up as head deity of the Olympians, Zeus sought a way to preserve the memory of his accomplishments, keeping them ever green. So he sought out Mnemosyne, whom he wooed in the guise of a shepherd; the couple slept together on nine consecutive nights, and nine months later, the Muses were born, one each on nine consecutive days (divine conception and gestation varying somewhat from that of mortals).
In classic times the Greeks sorted out various areas of special influence among the originally undifferentiated nine sisters. Terpsichore (whose name means “delight in dance”) became the muse of dance and dramatic choral works. She is usually depicted as seated, with a lyre for accompaniment.
Asteroid Terpsichore, a typical Main Belt asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, was discovered on 30 September 1864 by German astronomer Ernst Tempel, at the Marseilles Observatory. It has an orbital period of just under five years, and closely follows the ecliptic, the apparent path of the sun about the earth, the major plane where most planetary bodies appear. Terpsichore is somewhat large for an asteroid, but unusually dark in color. It is likely composed of primitive carbon compounds.
Given Muse Terpsichore’s rulership of dance, it’s not surprising to find that her asteroid namesake has an affinity with the astrological charts of famous dancers, from Isadora Duncan to Michael Jackson. Terpsichore in this capacity is often astrologically linked to the Sun, expressing the life force and creative core of the native, how they self-identify; to Venus, ancient ruler of dancers as well as the arts in general and all things of aesthetic sensibility or beauty; to Saturn, the career path and the ability to master skills; or to Neptune, modern ruler of dance, music and theatrical presentation.
Isadora Duncan was considered by many to be the creator of modern dance. Although an American citizen, Duncan received little acclaim in her native country, but was famed throughout fin de siècle Europe, bursting on the Paris scene in 1900 to universal adulation. Duncan rejected the stiff formality of traditional ballet, deriding it as “ugly and against nature,” and developed an improvisational style that created a revolution in dance.
Duncan brought her new dance style to the Americas in tours of Brazil and the US, but was well received only in New York. Her influence in Europe, however, was incalculable. In later life she taught dance in several self-created schools across the continent, spending most of her life in a peripatetic round, from watering hole to watering hole.
Duncan’s life was dogged by transportation-related tragedies. In 1898 her father, step-mother and half-sister were drowned when the British ocean liner Mohegan went down at sea. In 1913 her son and daughter were drowned in the Seine when a careless chauffeur failed to apply the parking brake to her car while using the hand-crank, and the auto rolled off an embankment into the river, the children and their nurse inside. Duncan herself died in an automobile accident in 1927, at age 50, not from wounds sustained in the accident itself, but because one of the long, flowing silk scarves with which she had become identified got entangled with the open-spoked wheel and rear axle of the car, breaking her neck.
Born 27 May 1877, Isadora Duncan’s natal Terpsichore at 27 Scorpio is astrologically trine natal Saturn at 19 Pisces, identifying dance as pivotal in her career, as well as revealing her role as an educator.
Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky were two early 20th century dancers who helped to establish Russian ballet as the finest in the world. Pavlova was widely regarded as the best classical ballerina of her day, a protégé of dance mogul Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballet Russe, and star performer of the Imperial Russian Ballet. She later created her own dance company and was the first ballerina to tour the globe. Her most famous performance was the creation of the lead role in “The Dying Swan” in 1905, a ballet based on the music of Camille Saint-Saens.
Born 12 February 1881, Anna Pavlova’s natal Terpsichore at 16 Libra trines the Sun at 24 Aquarius, opposes both Venus and Saturn at 10 and 24 Aries, and is inconjunct Neptune at 11 Taurus.
Nijinsky was another protege of Diaghilev’s. He is often cited as the greatest male dancer of the 20th century. He frequently performed en pointe, that is, on tip-toe, a rare skill in male dancers, and was noted for his apparently gravity-defying leaps and the intensity of his performances, which may have had something to do with an erratic temperament that was later diagnosed as schizophrenia.
Nijinsky turned his hand to choreography as well, and his most famous and controversial performance may have been in “Afternoon of a Faun” (“L’apres-midi d’un Faune”) in 1912, which in its final scene simulated masturbation.
Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in 1913, an avant garde, modernist ballet which Nijinsky also choreographed and starred in, was so controversial it caused the opening night audience to riot. Nijinsky’s schizophrenia was diagnosed in 1916, and he spent the rest of his life in and out of asylums, dying in 1950.
Vaslav Nijinsky’s (born 12 March 1889) natal Terpsichore at 28 Aries conjoins Venus at 6 Taurus and is semisextile Neptune at 29 Taurus.
Martha Graham’s 70-plus year career as a dancer and choreographer spanned a revolution in international dance styles, much of which Graham herself influenced, shattering old perceptions of how things were done in much the way Picasso, Stravinsky and Frank Lloyd Wright forced their respective disciplines into modernity. Dance itself achieved a new respect during the height of her career, with Graham becoming the first dancer ever to perform at the White House, to represent the US abroad as cultural ambassador, and to receive the country’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, its highest civilian honor.
Graham founded her own dance company in 1926, and it still exists, the oldest in the US. Graham herself continued to perform until the age of 76. Born 11 May 1894, Martha Graham’s natal Terpsichore at 13 Gemini is conjunct natal Neptune at 12 Gemini and trines natal Saturn at 19 Libra.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers hoofed across the silver screen together in ten Hollywood musicals that revolutionized the genre, distracting Americans from the grim realities of the Great Depression of the ‘30s. Although Astaire was more noted as a dancer, with Rogers focusing on her acting career, it has been well said of her that she performed all the same moves as Astaire, but she did it backwards, and in heels! Astaire’s insouciant dance style made his performances seem effortless; physically a plain, almost unattractive man, his debonair quality captivated audiences and made him one of the most popular entertainers of his day.
In such hits as “Flying Down to Rio” (1933), “Top Hat” (1935), “Swing Time” (1936) and “Carefree” (1938), the pair tapped, swirled and cha-cha-cha’ed their way into America’s heart, but for Astaire, the road to Hollywood glory was a rocky one. His initial screen test for RKO was endorsed: “Can’t act. Balding. Also dances,” an inauspicious start for someone who would later be rated the American Film Institute’s fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time. Astaire’s career spanned 76 years, during which he made 31 musicals.
Ginger Rogers, in contrast, was a well-respected actress for whom musical roles were more of a sideline. She made 73 films in all, and won a Best Actress Oscar in 1940 for her title turn as “Kitty Foyle”, but her work with Astaire is how she is best remembered.
Born 10 May 1899, Fred Astaire’s natal Terpsichore at 27 Gemini conjoins Neptune at 23 Gemini, opposing Saturn at 22 Sagittarius. Ginger Rogers’ (born 16 July 1911) natal Terpsichore at 5 Sagittarius is sesquiquadrate to a Sun/Neptune conjunction at 23 and 21 Cancer, and squared Venus at 8 Virgo. Although not opposed by astrological degree, Astaire and Rogers’ Terpsichores in opposing signs made them the perfect dance partners, complementing each other’s strengths and compensating for their weaknesses.
Gene Kelly shares the spotlight with Fred Astaire as one of America’s most prominent male dancers on film. Star of such popular hits as “Anchors Aweigh” (1945), “An American in Paris” (1951) and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), Kelly was noted for his athletic, energetic dance style and aggressive good looks.
But Kelly was more than his onscreen persona, and his talents included directing and choreography. Kelly was one of the first to perform with “invisible” partners, later inserted electronically, when he danced with an animated Jerry Mouse in “Anchors Aweigh”.
Born 23 August 1912, Gene Kelly’s natal Terpsichore at 5 Pisces opposes both the Sun at 0 Virgo and Venus at 13 Virgo, and forms a T-Square with Saturn at 3 Gemini.
1912 was a good year for dancers, with Eleanor Powell “premiering” just three months after Gene Kelly, on 21 November. Powell was a popular musical star of the 1930s and ‘40s, noted for her freshness, exuberance and amazing tap-dance abilities. Her films almost singlehandedly turned around MGM studios, which was nearing bankruptcy in the late ‘30s until Powell burst on the scene in such hits as the “Broadway Melody” series (in 1936, ‘38, and ‘40) and “Born to Dance” (1936), putting MGM firmly back in the black. Her performance with Fred Astaire in Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” from “Broadway Melody of 1940″ is widely considered among the best tap sequences ever filmed.
Eleanor Powell’s natal Terpsichore at 2 Pisces forms a T-Square with the Sun at 29 Scorpio and Saturn at 0 Gemini, and is also sextile Venus at 4 Capricorn.
Another all-American hoofer was Ann Miller, whose vibrant tap style owed much to Powell’s performances, an early inspiration for her. Miller was famed for her tap speed, allegedly able to tap 500 times per minute (this was an exaggeration released by studio publicists). In such venues as “Easter Parade” (1948), “On the Town” (1949), “Kiss Me Kate” (1953) and dozens of other films, Miller paraded her talents to the delight of her fans.
Discovered dancing at San Francisco’s Black Cat Club by Lucille Ball, Miller garnered an RKO contract at age 13 (by lying about her age—she told them she was 18), and never looked back. Miller also popularized pantyhose in the 1940s, after she first had the undergarments specially made, to solve the problem of torn stitching between panties and silk stockings during strenuous dance routines.
Born 12 April 1923, Ann Miller’s natal Terpsichore at 3 Gemini is semisquare the Sun at 21 Aries, broadly squared Venus at 13 Pisces, and sesquiquadrate Saturn at 16 Libra.
Soviet dance superstars Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, both defectors to the West, lighted up ballet stages across the globe from the ‘50s to the ‘80s. Nureyev was a lead dancer in the famed Kirov Ballet when he defected in Paris in 1961. His work there had been so impressive that it influenced the development of more detailed male ballet parts, where formerly male dancers had been seen largely as props for female stars.
Nureyev’s performances electrified audiences across Europe in the ‘60s, as he worked with Britain’s Royal Ballet, partnering with Margot Fonteyn, whom he described as dancing with him as with “one body, one soul.” Nurveyev went on to pioneer elements of modern dance with the Dutch National Ballet, and died of complications from AIDS in 1993.
Rudolf Nureyev’s (born 17 March 1938) natal Terpsichore at 14 Cancer is squared a Sun/Venus conjunction at 6 Aries, and sextile natal Neptune at 19 Virgo.
Mikhail Baryshnikov, born a decade after Nureyev, is often cited with him and Nijinsky as among the three greatest male ballet dancers of the 20th century. Born in Soviet-dominated Latvia, Baryshnikov followed Nureyev’s path to the Kirov Ballet, and also defected to the West, in Canada in 1974. He later became an American citizen and danced with both the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre, of which he became artistic director.
Baryshnikov made several TV and movie appearances, including an ABT production of “The Nutcracker” on CBS in 1977 which became a holiday classic, repeated annually for decades on PBS. In the same year he was nominated for an Oscar for his work in the film “The Turning Point” with Shirley MacLaine. Baryshnikov has never married, but had a daughter with actress Jessica Lange, and three children with long-time partner, dancer Lisa Rinehart.
Born 28 January 1948, Mikhail Baryshnikov’s natal Terpsichore at 5 Virgo opposes Venus at 13 Pisces and is inconjunct the Sun at 7 Aquarius.
Noted dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharpe was instrumental in developing “crossover ballet”, which incorporates elements of pop culture music into dance performances. Beginning in 1973 with “Deuce Coup” for the Joffrey Ballet, set to Beach Boys tunes, Tharp went on to choreograph several dozen such projects, utilizing both jazz and classical motifs as well, including “Movin’ Out” (2000), set to Billy Joel’s songs, and “The Times They Are A Changin’” (2005), based on Bob Dylan’s works. In 1969 she formed her own company, Twyla Tharp Dance.
Born 1 July 1941, Twyla Tharp’s natal Terpsichore at 16 Pisces is trine her Sun at 9 Cancer, sesquiquadrate Venus at 29 Cancer, and broadly opposed Neptune at 25 Virgo.
Breathing new life into a traditional Irish dance form, stepdancing, and fusing it with American tap, Michael Flatley made a huge splash with his “Riverdance” production in the mid-‘90s, a choreographed retelling of Irish culture and the Irish immigration to America. “Riverdance” was performed to sell-out crowds across Europe and the US, including an eight-week sell-out run in New York’s Radio City Music Hall. A Guinness World Record holder (for 28 taps per second), in 1991 Flatley was also recognized by National Geographic as a “Living Treasure”, for mastery of a traditional art form by a living person. Flatley followed up “Riverdance’s success with “Lord of the Dance” in 1996 and “Feet of Flames” in 1998, both popular successes.
Born 16 July 1958, Michael Flatley’s natal Terpsichore at 0 Libra is broadly squared Venus at 23 Gemini and semisextile Neptune at 2 Scorpio.
In the birth chart, Terpsichore can show where we give delight a physical expression, as well as indicating a love of dance and movement if strongly aspected. Graceful, fluid motion can be a hallmark of individuals with Terpsichore prominent, whether channeled into formal dance education or not.