Martha Graham

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Martha Graham was an American dancer and choreographer, creator of the troupe, school, and dance technique of her name. She is also a prominent figure in US choreography, one of the so-called "Big Four" of the founders of American modern dance, which also included Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and Chania Holm. But dancing in her family was seen as unworthy and sinful. Therefore, Martha first encountered the art of choreography at almost 20 years old. Despite having a relatively late start, Martha Graham has managed to become one of the most prominent dancers in the United States and around the world.

The Way to Dance

Although the Graham family was religious and considered dancing a sin, it was once allowed to attend a concert by the famous dancer Ruth St. Denis. In addition, despite the harsh views, Martha's parents were against her college education. However, seeing Ruth St. Denis's performance, Martha wanted to become a dancer. In 1913 she was allowed to enter the School of Expression in Los Angeles; she then attended the Denishawn School, which was founded by Graham’s icon, St. Denis. In the years when Graham was a student, dancing was seen mainly as entertainment, it was part of vaudeville, costume shows, secular balls. The status of art had only one type of dance, ballet, which in America was considered a European thing (Freedman 20-21). The context of Graham’s early life was obviously not favorable, however, Graham’s wish to dance was greater.

In American dance schools, students were prepared to participate in shows and cabaret, thus, were treated accordingly. But Martha did not want to be a cabaret girl, but a real artist. She proudly mentioned later in her memoirs that she was the only one in the school who was exempt from the strict supervision to which all other girls were subjected on the grounds that "Graham is an art." And later all her men looked at her as an artist and a genius (Kessel 33). Martha Graham went largely ahead of her time mainly because she viewed dance as a form of art rather than a form of entertainment.

Talent and Feminism

The search for plastic possibilities has been a trend at the time. Martha Graham, whose technique was a breakthrough in modern dance, was no exception. She sought to eliminate gender inequality in dance, to give women the right to express strong feelings through sharp, torn movements. Graham wanted to create a technique that would help dancers become conditionally formal, embodying emotion and ideas (Tsiakalou 27). Thus, once again, Graham demonstrated her progressive view for her time as she sought to make dancing a universal form of art.

Achieving Graham’s goal required discipline and high concentration from the dancers while simplifying the classical tradition of sculpture to make it easier for the audience to understand the idea required unconventional thinking and a high degree of creativity. Reflections and creative pursuits helped Graham understand that dance is based on three foundations, which are time, energy, and space. Energy is associated with emotions that cause movement; this has become the starting point of her technique. Martha's lessons began with a chain of simple movements that intertwined into complex compositions (Freedman 44). This steadiness in particular made Graham’s technique original and accessible.

The technique is based on two principles, contraction and release. She forced the dancer to concentrate on the center and obey the anatomical laws of plastic. The search for self-expression in dance allowed Graham to create a unique technique in which breathing and concentration play an important role. She was able to understand and use for aesthetic purposes the possibilities of the human body (Freedman 125). Her technique is still the basis for modern dance and is included in all training programs for professional dancers.


Dancer Martha Graham's name will stand out as a free dance genius. She can be called a revolutionary and destroyer of foundations. Graham's school and its technique became the basis for modern choreography and influenced the development of ballet around the world. In the body of the dancer, according to Graham, the audience should see a person in general - disciplined, capable of high concentration, strong. Many commentators on her work have noted Graham's connection to feminism. Although she herself believed that she did not take part in the movement for emancipation, Graham's dance broke the stereotype that a woman is a weak creature.

Works Cited

Freedman, Russell. Martha Graham, A Dancer's Life. Clarion Books, 1998.

Kessel, Kristin. Martha Graham. Rosen Pub. Group, 2006.

Tsiakalou, Ourania. “Dancing through the waves of feminism” in Malmkjær, Kirsten et al. Key Cultural Texts In Translation. Benjamins Translation Library, 2018, pp. 25-34.

May 12, 2022




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