Louis was known as one of the most influential American modern dancers and choreographers. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he grew up in Manhattan near Henry Street where he would later attend class at the Henry Street Playhouse and also start his company. He was one out of five children and his mother died when he was eight years old. He was then sent to an orphanage until he was twelve. At this time his sister Ethel, who was studying dance at the time, took him to many modern dance concerts. He graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School in 1944.
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