Martha Graham

Martha Graham

She danced for over 70 years. She was the first dancer to dance at the White House. She was given the key to Paris. She practically coined the phrase “contemporary dance.” Her name was Martha Graham and although she hated the term “modern dance,” she originated and redefined it into what inspires many choreographers today. In this article, you’ll learn more about:

  • Martha Graham’s Biography
  • “Appalachian Spring”
  • Martha Graham Dance Company

Martha Graham’s Biography

Graham was born in Allegheny, Pa. in 1894 to a wealthy family with origins tracing back to Puritan officer Myles Standish. Her father worked in an early form of psychiatry, and he paid much attention to physical movement as a way to express the inner senses–a huge influence in Graham’s desire to dance. She didn’t start dancing until her late teens and began studying at Denishawn, the school of ballet dancers Ruth St. Denis…

Ruth St. Denis was a huge influence in Martha Graham's Career.

Ruth St. Denis was a huge influence in Martha Graham's Career.

…and her husband Ted Shawn. She would make it her home as a student and instructor for eight years. In 1926, after years of teaching, Graham established the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance.

Like fellow modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan, Graham also married a much younger man named Erick Hawkins, a principal dancer in her company. The marriage was short lived and they had no children. But who could have time to raise kids when you’re one of the most important people of the century?

She continued to dance throughout the ’60s, despite her age and didn’t retire until 1969 at the age of 55! But for Graham, retiring didn’t mean giving up dance altogether. She taught and choreographed in her studio until her death in 1991.

Appalachian Spring

On October 30, 1944 Martha Graham premiered a ballet score for composer Aaron Copland’s popular Appalachian Spring at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Copland later won a Pulitzer for it. Check out a clip of the original cast below:

Martha Graham’s Influence

Martha Graham in 1948

Grahams influence on modern dance is sometimes compared to Picasso’s influence in painting. Her students include greats like Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor. Her technique of “contraction, release and angularity” have been regarded as a standard in modern dance.

She has created an original dance language — a codified alternative to the idiom of classical ballet. … Martha Graham’s name remains a virtual synonym for modern dance. The astounding aspect of today’s dance scene is the extent to which her idiom has also penetrated the ballet companies and musical theater of our time. Anna Kisselgoff, dance critic.


2 Responses to “Martha Graham”

  1. 1 Amy
    October 6, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    The video is pretty interesting. Reminds me of one of the segments in White Christmas…the one with the contemporary dancers, obviously!

  2. 2 David Reuille
    October 7, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    The music was written by Aaron Copeland. Copeland took his inspiration from a Shaker song called “a gift to be simple”. I think this is such a neat title

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