Choosing expression over technique

Wigman’s radical style didn’t go over easy: She was once booed off the stage in Berlin.

Mary Wigman was a radical modern dance pioneer who rejected formalized technique and instead focused on expression of emotion. The use of dance improvisation as a tool for movement development has its roots in her work, as does Tanztheater, best exemplified today by the work of the late Pina Bausch.

Wigman (1886–1973) was born in Hanover, Germany, as Marie Wiegmann (her teacher, Rudolf Laban, would later convince her to change her name). Growing up, she studied music; it wasn’t until Wigman was 24 that she first became attracted to dance, after seeing a performance by Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. She soon began attending his school for eurhythmics, or gestures set to music to promote coordination.

Three years later, she joined Laban and his students at their arts community in Switzerland, and she quickly became a disciple. During the five years she spent studying under Laban, she choreographed her first solo pieces, Witch Dance I and Lento. She left the arts community in 1918  to enter a sanatorium: World War I, being diagnosed with tuberculosis and her professional split from Laban had all taken a toll on her.

In 1920, she established the Mary Wigman School in Dresden, Germany. Branches soon popped up all over Germany, and Wigman student Hanya Holm opened one in New York City. Classes were divided into two parts: technique and class lessons. The technique section was not a codified regimen but rather more of an improvisation. “Class lessons” referred to dance composition and criticism.

Over the next decade, Wigman created more than 70 solos and performed them throughout Europe. She toured in the U.S. three times between 1930 and 1933. The first two were wildly successful, but the last was a disaster because she brought 12 of her students to perform with her, and audiences were disappointed not to see her solos.

Wigman chose to remain in Germany during World War II, becoming increasingly conservative in her work; any art that wasn’t deemed reflective of Nazi ideals was censored. When she choreographed for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, many Americans called for a ban on her work. Postwar, Wigman staged operas and quietly continued to teach, until near-blindness and old age forced her to retire in the late 1960s. DT

Movement Vocabulary

Ausdruckstanz “Expressive dance” in German; Wigman used this term to mean dance that is a full and free expression of the choreographer’s emotions. It is very exaggerated, often visually jarring and has no specific technique.

Style

Wigman thought of her body as a channel for her subconscious drives, and she was one of the first choreographers to experiment with her relationship to empty space. Wigman rejected classical music and instead worked with composers to create percussive sounds for her rhythmically complex movement. Occasionally, she would wear a mask when performing, to blur the line between masculine and feminine.

The Work

Monotony Whirl (1926) This solo involved repetitious spinning to highlight the stillness that exists at the center of motion.

Witch Dance II (1926) For this solo, Wigman wore a mask and an ornate robe. She stomped her feet, twitched her torso and crouched to drums, gongs and silence.

Shifting Landscape (1929) This series of seven solos was more on the lighter and lyrical side of Wigman’s repertory; American audiences responded to it well.

The Legacy Lives On:

Perhaps Wigman’s most famous student was Hanya Holm, who studied and performed with her throughout the 1920s and eventually opened up a Wigman school in New York City, where her pupils included Alwin Nikolais and Glen Tetley. Harald Kreutzberg was another of Wigman’s students.

Wigman’s work paved the way for the development of Tanztheater in Germany—a hybrid of dance and theater founded by Kurt Jooss.

Resources:

Print:“Mary Wigman: Early Modern Dance Pioneer,” by Rebecca Rossen, Dance Teacher, April 2007.

Mary Wigman, by Mary Anne Santos Newhall, Routledge, 2009.

The Makers of Modern Dance in Germany: Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman, Kurt Jooss, by Isa Partsch-Bergsohn and Harold Bergsohn, Princeton Book Company, Publishers, 2003.

 

Photo courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via Instagram

Happy Father's Day to all of the dance dads in the world! Whether you're professional dancers, dance teachers, dance directors or simply just dance supporters, you are a key ingredient to what makes the dance world such a happy, thriving place, and we love you!

To celebrate, here are our four favorite Instagram dance dads. Prepare to say "Awwwwwwwweeeeeee!!!!!!"

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jennifer Kleinman, courtesy of Danell Hathaway

It's high school dance concert season, which means a lot of you K–12 teachers are likely feeling a bit overwhelmed. The long nights of editing music, rounding up costumes and printing programs are upon you, and we salute you. You do great work, and if you just hang on a little while longer, you'll be able to bathe in the applause that comes after the final Saturday night curtain.

To give you a bit of inspiration for your upcoming performances, we talked with Olympus High School dance teacher Danell Hathaway, who just wrapped her school's latest dance company concert. The Salt Lake City–based K–12 teacher shares her six pieces of advice for knocking your show out of the park.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: I'm looking to create some summer rituals and traditions at my studio. What are some of the things you do?

A: Creating fun and engaging moments for your students, staff and families can have a positive impact on your studio culture. Whether it's a big event or a small gesture, we've found that traditions build connection, boost morale and create strong bonds. I reached out to a variety of studio owners to gather some ideas for you to try this summer. Here's what they had to say.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Sam Williams and Jaxon Willard after competition at RADIX. Photo courtesy of Williams

Self-choreographed solos are becoming increasingly popular on the competition circuit these days, leading dance teachers to incorporate more creative mentoring into their rehearsal and class schedules. In this new world of developing both technical training and choreographic prowess, finding the right balance of assisting without totally hijacking a student's choreographic process can be difficult.

To help, we caught up with a teacher who's already braved these waters by assisting "World of Dance" phenom Jaxon Willard with his viral audition solos. Center Stage Performing Arts Studio company director Sam Williams from Orem, Utah, shares her sage wisdom below.

Check it out!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance studios are run by creative people with busy schedules, who have a love-hate relationship with props and sequins. The results of all this glitter and glam? General mass chaos in every drawer, costume closet and prop corner of the studio. Let's be honest, not many dance teachers are particularly known for their tidiness. The ability to get 21 dancers to spot in total synchronization? Absolutely! The stamina to run 10 solos, 5 group numbers, 2 ballet classes and 1 jazz class in one day? Of course! The emotional maturity to navigate a minefield of angry parents and hormonal teenagers? You know it!

Keeping the studio tidy? Well...that's another story.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox