Initially solo artists, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn began collaborating on work in 1914. At the time, St. Denis was preparing for a tour of the southeastern region of the United States, and needed a male partner to help present new ballroom dances. Shawn, who had admired St. Denis since seeing her perform in 1911, auditioned for and was awarded the role. The resulting tour featured the partnered pieces along with individual works from St. Denis and Shawn respectively.
Eventually, the working relationship between Shawn and St. Denis turned romantic. The two artists fell in love and, lovers living together being considered unorthodox at this point in history, were married on August 13, 1914. Denis, reticent about marriage, had the word "obey" deleted from their wedding vows and declined to wear a wedding ring. Their "honeymoon" consisted of a second joint tour - accompanied by a small company of dancers - from Saratoga, New York to San Francisco, California. A new collection of dances, including more ballroom variations, St. Denis' solos and Shawn's famous Dagger Dance, was showcased. For promotional purposes, the dancing group was referred to as the St. Denis-Shawn Company. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the two established their first official school, the Ruth St. Denis School of Dancing and Its Related Arts, in the summer of 1915.
It was not until February 6, 1915, on yet another tour, that the term "Denishawn" actually surfaced. At a performance in Portland, Oregon, a theater manager promised eight box seats to whoever could dream up the most creative name for the latest St. Denis-Shawn ballroom exhibition. The unchallenged, winning title was "The Denishawn Rose Mazurka." While the name as a whole didn't warrant much popularity, the "Denishawn" portion attracted audience members and the press - to such an extent that the namesake couple chose to officially change their company name from the St. Denis-Shawn Company to Denishawn Dancers.
With this new name and a school of their own, Shawn and St. Denis began brainstorming ways to expand their contributions to the dance world. St. Denis and Shawn renamed the school officially under the title 'The Denishawn School', and they soon began developing those movements, techniques, and innovations that are known today as the Denishawn style of dancing. The two developed a guide for their pedagogy and choreography, an excerpt of which is quoted below:
"The art of dance is too big to be encompassed by any one system. On the contrary, the dance includes all systems or schools of dance. Every way that any human being of any race or nationality, at any period of human history, has moved rhythmically to express himself, belongs to the dance. We endeavor to recognize and use all contributions of the past to the dance and will continue to use all new contributions in the future".
Over the years that the school grew more widely renown, the teaching system was constantly being evolved. According to St. Denis, Ted attributed the most to this. He addressed incoming students with a 'diagnosis lesson', which would assess their current skills in order to assign them to a specific learning/class structure for their time at the Denishawn school. Ted also was firm on his ideas of what was necessary for the learning curriculum. He addressed that ballet was an overall necessity for any dancer to move forward or thrive in their studies, which is a big reason why the Denishawn curriculum was largely based on ballet fundamentals.