Dance Teachers Trending

Martha Graham: American Modern Dance Pioneer

Martha Graham in Deaths and Entrances (1943). Photo by Chris Alexander, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

One of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century, Martha Graham (1894–1991) helped lead the American modern dance revolution, breaking from the traditions of classical ballet as well as the romantic style of earlier modern dance pioneers. The Pennsylvania native came to dance relatively late: At 22 she began studying with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn and joined the Denishawn dancers soon after. Graham formed her own performance troupe in 1926, and in order to train dancers for her work, she developed a codified technique. Her movement vocabulary stemmed from breathing: the changes in one's body from the actions of exhale (contraction) and inhale (release). Over time, she developed a series of complex floor-work exercises (also including falls and spirals) that evolved into what we know as Graham technique.


Fun Facts:

  • To help fund her burgeoning company, Graham taught a movement for actors class in Greenwich Village. Students included Bette Davis, Gregory Peck and Orson Welles.
  • Invited by Eleanor Roosevelt, Graham was the first dancer to perform at the White House—for President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937.
  • Graham received a Dance Magazine Award in 1956 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976.
  • Erick Hawkins was the first male dancer in Graham's company. They were married for two years.

Vocabulary

  • CONTRACTION: The percussive action of exhale; it's a curved lower spine and rounded pelvis—initiated from the pelvis.
  • RELEASE: The action of inhale. Initiated with the pelvis, it's an extended lower back and elongated spine.
  • INNER LANDSCAPE: "The soul of man." It was Graham's fundamental quest to express the human psyche.

The Work:

Capturing human emotion, desire and suffering, Graham's dramatic and often politically charged works draw inspiration from American life, ritual and Greek mythology. She often starred in her pieces and didn't retire from the stage until well into her 70s. Notable works include:

  • Lamentation (1930): Perhaps Graham's most famous work, the grieving performer is constrained by a tube of fabric.
  • Chronicle (1936): Graham choreographed this work after rejecting Nazi Germany's invitation to perform at the Berlin Olympics. It expresses the plight of the suffering during the Great Depression and wartime devastation.
  • Appalachian Spring (1944): Created in collaboration with composer Aaron Copland, this American masterpiece illustrates a young pioneer couple on their wedding day.
  • Night Journey (1947): It's the story of Oedipus from Jocasta's perspective, with a set by Isamu Noguchi and music by William Schuman.
  • Maple Leaf Rag (1990): A departure from Graham's usual dramatic work, this humorous piece is set to the music of Scott Joplin.

The Legacy Lives On:

*Led by artistic director Janet Eilber, Martha Graham Dance Company continues to tour internationally. It performs Graham's masterpieces as well as works by contemporary choreographers like Doug Varone, Lar Lubovitch and Richard Move, who is best known for his critically acclaimed impersonations of Graham.

*The Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance is now located in the historic Westbeth studios of Manhattan's West Village. Virginie Mécène directs the school and its performance troupe Graham II.

*Former members of MGDC include Jacqulyn Buglisi, Merce Cunningham, Pearl Lang, Elisa Monte, Pascal Rioult, Anna Sokolow, Paul Taylor and Glen Tetley.

Show Comments ()
Studio Owners
Thinkstock

Summertime is notoriously slow for dance studio owners, but bills don't take a holiday. Learn from three studio owners who figured out how to keep the buzz and cash flowing without breaking a sweat. Their secret formula? Creative summer programming too good for parents to pass up—coupled with quick and easy camps as bonus business builders. Not only do these owners keep their revenue rolling in summer, they use the season to boost enrollment come fall.

Keep reading... Show less

So you've achieved your dream of owning a studio. Congratulations! Once that initial excitement wears off, we're betting that you'll discover just how overwhelming the day-to-day operation of such an endeavor really is. When you choose to run your own business, you're bound to encounter challenges, but with a unique business model at the center of it all, studio management certainly comes with its own hurdles, creating a perpetual learning curve that keeps both new studio owners and veterans on their toes.

Although a certain amount of this difficulty is to be expected for any studio, there's no longer any reason for you to suffer needlessly through each step of the way. All you have to do is reach out for a tool you can use to take your studio to the next level, namely studio management software.

Tools like our very own acclaimed Studio Director software can make a world of difference in virtually every aspect of your business. Let's run through some key ways in which this tool can revolutionize your studio.

Keep reading... Show less
Jay Sullivan Photography, courtesy Julie Granger

Dancers crossing over into the fitness realm may be increasingly popular, but it was never part of French-born Julie Granger's plan. Though Granger grew up a serious ballet student, taking yoga classes on the side eventually led to a whole new career. Creating her own rules along the way, Granger shares how combining the skills she learned in ballet with certifications in yoga, barre and personal training allowed her to become her own boss (and a rising fitness influencer).

Keep reading... Show less

A popular and highly sought-after dancer and choreographer, Geo Hubela has worked with stars and productions all over the world from French pop star "Lorie" to the MTV show BeComing. Geo isn't just a choreography sensation. He has also danced on film, onstage, and on TV. He was worked with everyone from *NSYNC to JLo. On top of his incredible professional career, Geo owns a dance studio called Icon Dance Complex.

Owning and running a successful dance studio is not an easy task. Showstopper got together with Geo for his advice on going from a professional dancer to studio owner.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Via Mia Michaels' Instagram

Beloved three-time Emmy Award–winning choreographer Mia Michaels returned to teach at Broadway Dance Center for the first time in a decade and brought the house down with her emotive and inspirational choreography. Set to the Harry Styles hit "Sign of the Times," her combination challenged dancers to fight their inner demons and recognize the legends that they truly are.

For the first two verses of music, Michaels asked the dancers to spell the words "I am," along with their own descriptor of choice (i.e. enough, resilient, whole), with their bodies, reminding them of their worth and potential for improvement. From there the choreography dove into swirling movement that pushed dancers off balance and out of their comfort zones. Shifting between fluid release and violent shakes she created a physical depiction of a common human experience—overcoming hardship.

Just as the group round of class was beginning, Michaels requested that the dancers be open and pour their whole selves into the choreography, citing her own history of doing so. "I've been completely open with you all. I've told my life's story through bodies around the world. That's why I'm Mama Mia."

When class finished, Michaels sat down with students for a Q&A; and book signing to promote her new book, A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys: A Guide to Life for All the Exceptional, Excellent Misfits Out There.

Check out some key takeaways from her discussion!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Kyle Froman

The back is an essential focus of Cynthia Harvey's ballet classes, especially as a part of port de bras. Here, she offers "plain," en face port de bras, followed by the same position with épaulement, to show the difference the back (and head and neck) can add to any position. Aspirational imagery helps students find their best épaulement: "Feel as if you have a tiara on," says Harvey. "Don't look like a student—look like a ballerina."

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun

The World Cup captivates soccer fans this time of year. But if football (as most outside of the U.S. refer to it) isn't your jam, this hybrid of disco dancing, ballet and soccer just might be more intriguing.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Students at Steps Consevatory in NYC.

Dancers who dare to sing increase their marketability, according to voice teacher Jan Horvath.

It's one thing to master a triple pirouette, she says. It's another to be a well-rounded performer who can tackle any challenge without being discouraged.

Horvath teaches voice at Steps Conservatory, a two-year professional dance program in New York City. Once a week, she leads two groups of 10 students in a 90-minute vocal course.

"It's like a ballet barre," she explains. "We focus on one little thing of the day and perfect it and move on."

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored