September 16th, 2005
Martha Graham
About the Dancer

“I wanted to begin not with characters or ideas, but with movements . . .I wanted significant movement. I did not want it to be beautiful or fluid. I wanted it to be fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge.”

–Martha Graham

Martha Graham’s impact on dance was staggering and often compared to that of Picasso’s on painting, Stravinsky’s on music, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s on architecture. Her contributions transformed the art form, revitalizing and expanding dance around the world. In her search to express herself freely and honestly, she created the Martha Graham Dance Company, one of the oldest dance troupes in America. As a teacher, Graham trained and inspired generations of fine dancers and choreographers. Her pupils included such greats as Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham, and countless other performers, actors, and dancers. She collaborated with some of the foremost artists of her time including the composer Aaron Copland and the sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

Born in 1894 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Graham spent most of her formative years on the West coast. Her father, a doctor specializing in nervous disorders, was very interested in diagnosis through attention to physical movement. This belief in the body’s ability to express its inner senses was pivotal in Graham’s desire to dance. Athletic as a young girl, Graham did not find her calling until she was in her teens. In 1911, the ballet dancer Ruth St. Denis performed at the Mason Opera House in Los Angeles. Inspired by St. Denis’ performance, Graham enrolled in an arts-oriented junior college, and later to the newly opened Denishawn School. Denishawn was founded by Ruth St. Denis and her husband Ted Shawn to teach techniques of American and world dance. Over eight years, as both a student and an instructor, Graham made Denishawn her home.

Working primarily with Ted Shawn, Graham improved her technique and began dancing professionally. In “Xochital”, a dance made specifically for her by Shawn, Graham danced the role of an attacked Aztec maiden. It was the wildly emotional performance of this role that garnered her first critical acclaim. By 1923, eight years after entering Denishawn, she was ready to branch out. She found her chance dancing in the vaudeville revue Greenwich Village Follies. At the Greenwich Village Follies, Graham was able to design and choreograph her own dances. Though this work provided her with some economic and artistic independence, she longed for a place to make greater experiments with dance. It was then that she took a position at the Eastman School of Music, where she was free of the constraints of public performance. At Eastman, Graham was given complete control over her classes and the entire dance program. Graham saw this as an opportunity to engage her best pupils in the experiential dance she was beginning to create.

These first experimentations at Eastman proved to be the sparks of a new mode of dance that would revolutionize theories of movement in all of the performing arts. For Graham, ballet’s concern with flow and grace left behind more violent traditional passions. Graham believed that through spastic movements, tremblings, and falls she could express emotional and spiritual themes ignored by other dance. She desired to evoke strong emotions, and achieved these visceral responses through the repetition of explicitly sexual and violently disjunctive movements. Beginning with her Eastman students, she formed the now famous Martha Graham School for Contemporary Dance in New York. One of the early pieces of the company was “Frontier” (1935), a solo performance about the pioneer woman. This piece brought together the two men who would be close collaborators throughout her life. Isamu Noguchi, the Japanese-American sculptor, created a sparse and beautiful design that replaced flat backdrops with three-dimensional objects. Together Graham and Noguchi revolutionized set design through this inclusion of sculpture. “Frontier” also included the sound design of Louis Horst, a close friend and strong influence throughout Graham’s life.

Soon after “Frontier”,Graham brought a young ballet dancer named Erick Hawkins into the company. Together they appeared in one of her major works, “American Document” (1938). For the next ten years he would remain with the company and perform in many of her great pieces. The most famous work from this period was “Appalachian Spring” (1944), for which Aaron Copland wrote the score. In 1948 Graham and Hawkins married, but the marriage was short-lived. They continued to work together for a while and then made a permanent break. After this break, Graham plunged deeper into her work and in 1955 presented the world with one of her greatest pieces, “Seraphic Dialogue”. “Seraphic Dialogue” was a powerful and moving version of the story of Joan of Arc. Throughout Graham’s career she would return again and again to the struggles and triumphs of both great and ordinary women. Despite her age, she continued to dance throughout the 60s. It was not until 1969 that Graham announced her retirement from the stage.

For Graham, however, life away from dance was impossible. Though no longer able to perform she continued to teach and choreograph until her death in 1991. It is nearly impossible to track the influence of Martha Graham. Everyone from Woody Allen to Bette Davis cites her as a major influence. She is universally understood to be the twentieth century’s most important dancer, and the mother of modern dance. She performed at the White House for Franklin Roosevelt, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the French Legion of Honor. She was the first choreographer to regularly employ both Asian- and African-American Dancers. Her contributions to the art of stage design and dance production are countless. Martha Graham’s continued experimentation and her constant attention to human emotion, frailty, and perseverance, is one of the greatest individual achievements in American cultural history.

  • Brylee

    how old are you now?

  • Roderick Johnson

    This is an excellent article.
    Thank you.
    R. Johnson

  • katie

    do you know what other artists influanced her and which would be a good dance to study for art alvel
    xx

  • Shirl

    Thank you for providing us with this awesome article. She is truly an inspiration!

  • De’ja

    This was a great article it presented me with enough imformation and details.

  • georgia

    yea this is great. i needed to find an artical on her for a danc assignment and this really helped :p

  • AJA

    THIS WAS AN AMAZING ARTICLE. I NEEDED THIS SOURCE TO COMPLETE MY NATIONAL HISTORY DAY PROJECT AND THIS HELPED ME ALOT. SHE WAS TRULY AN INSPIRATION.

  • shea

    this was a veryy veryy great article it had all the information that i need to finish up this dance assignment that i have
    thanks
    :)

  • Kresha*

    THis is the ALMOSt best article i have read :)
    but anyways i would like to get to kno yew beacuse of your sense of humor:) *thaanks* love Kresha*

  • ashley cllay

    good

  • Taylor

    This article was very helpful and informational. I had a assignment for Dance class and this answered all my questions.
    Taylor.

  • Tara

    This was an informational article to read. What I would like to know is who is the author of this article on Martha Graham.

  • laura

    this is amazing it has helped me to finish my dance course work thanks

    Laura.

  • yjyj

    Thanks a lot!You helped me with my dance assignment. She is awesome.

  • korrie

    i cant not find who wrote this and i need it for a research paper. if you could send me that info that would be ownderful.
    this article has helped alot. thanks.

  • the hulk

    martha graham is cool

  • Poop pee

    Martha graham is awesome koolio

  • MaiMai

    Great article! I’m doing her for my History Day project! She is very inspiring, i’m also a dancer(:

  • Claire

    This is such a good article i am doing it for my history day project!

  • Allison

    This is the exact information i needed for my friend sam and i to finish up our history project!

  • hunter

    im doing her for my national history day project too!!! lol

  • Kelly

    This info helped us a lot thank you and if anybody has anymore info on her can u please email it to me kbundy68@aol.com thank you were also doing her for our NHD project!!!!

  • Bridget

    I really enjoyed this article…I am a dancer with a late start, and I hadn’t realized that Martha Graham hadn’t started actually dancing until into her teens…I have always found her inspirational just because I love the technique she has created, but now that just makes things better :)…I needed this information for my class so thanks :)

  • cheyann

    this was a great artical
    it provides me all the infomation i need..
    thank’s for posting this who ever did… :)

  • georgina

    i would like to use a quote from this in my essay, could you please email me the author and date of this article if possible? many thanks georgina

  • Amber

    This is exactly what I needed to finish my Dance Project!!! Thanks

  • allisamatalie

    yo dog im totally diggin this website its tight man its tight its sooo cool like i could dance all day cause of this site

  • viax3

    thisss wass a really good article but ii am doinq it for my
    NHD projectttt.buttt ii rlly need to know who wrote itt. iif you can email it to me at viababex3@aol.com ittt wldd helppp a lot

  • Megan

    Thsi article helped me a little, but not sooo much!

  • jenny-ferrr

    omg this helped me alot fer sure! Mi drill teacher wouldve killed me man!

  • C.D

    This artical helped me with my choreography, i was inspired by Martha Graham because i think that the way she creates movements is different and technical, i decided to use some of her movements in my choreography for a show called show time.

  • Lizzie

    WE also are doing Martha Graham for our history day porgect. See ya there!!!!!!!!!!!

  • anonymous

    I don’t get how she impacted the world. What did she do?

  • stefanie

    This article was a great resource material for my art paper. I just need to know who the author and date of the publication are so I can properly cite it and give credit to who it is owed. Thank you.

  • chloeee08

    this was such a good website.
    i got an “a” just because of it!:)

  • ROSA

    this was a good article…i had just what i needed for my dance class report.she had good ideas and was a good dancer. i just didn’t understand wat she did to impact the world? wat does that even mean?

  • Hazil

    did she enjoy the place she was born? how old was she when she started to like dance.

  • Kezi

    This really helped with my history project

  • Kathryn

    did she have an eating disorder?

  • sydney

    ok thank you for whoever posted this cuz i have a 3 page paper due tomorrow and u just saved my but big time thank u

  • savanna

    this article is really helpful and inspiring. it really helped with my final paper but i was hope i could also get the author and date of this article

  • ayla mc gavin

    she looks ugly but her dancing is rather splendid !

  • :P

    she is skinny

  • dancingforever

    she is amazing! i am doing a project on her and its just been so fascinating to learn about how much she worked and has such a passion for what she did. (:

  • jakk01

    this is sooo intresting l0l:))
    omgg she was amazing:) i love her soo much :D
    i love having her as my topic for my project:))
    holla at yuh guh jakk:) peace:D

  • bri

    im a dancer and martha is fierce

  • Hope

    yall cant handle the truth

  • hope horn

    she has done so much

  • Tayy

    What was her real inspiration? What made her start the form of dancing she did?

  • The Beast

    good stuff

  • taaarraaa

    this is okay :S

  • mel

    this website is actually my life
    i would be failing dance without it
    literally

  • jordd

    i love martha! she is sooo good!

  • tara teresa

    this is rele helpful as i needed this for a yr 10 assignment for dance
    thankyou
    Tara Teresa :)

  • nzoso

    what are the stylistic features of you as choreographer? and how do you recogise ur work?

  • Kelsey

    Heyy , I just want to know , What are/was the stylistic features of Martha Grahams choreography ?

    Thanks ,

  • Amanda

    Heey. Thank You !
    Im doing Martha for my dance project. Do you possibly know any more places with more information on her and contemporary dance ?

  • alice

    Amazing article

  • lily

    thanks heaps that artical really helps my dance assignment!! martha graham was wonderful!!!
    x

  • Emily

    this is a great website, its just what i needed for my dance assignment :) thank you

  • Betty

    Martha Graham was truly an insparation!!!

  • Jello :]

    Im doing an oral report on Martha Graham.
    Thanks for sharing more information. I read the book also. It keeps on going back and forth when she was young and when she was older. I just need more information on when she was younger.

  • Miche Elder

    this was a good website to look for cause i am doin and oral report and i am a dancer and she is very inspirational :)

  • marisol

    oh my gosh…is your birthday in may 11th because that is also my birthday…weird but cool!

  • Elena Linardaki

    Very good article!I would like ot use it as a reference for an essay i am writing.Could you please e-mail me the author and date for that article?Thank you

  • Katie

    could you please leave me or email the author and date for this article so I may cite it in an essay that I’m writing. Thank you

  • keri hallett

    great and interesting facts on a powerful and influencial dancer. would love to use this as a reference for my research paper. could you email me the author and date for this article?
    thank you very much

  • Amy

    I would love it if you could send me the author of this article and the date it was written so that I can use this source in my paper.

  • Angelica

    Can you let me know the authorand publisher and date of this article?? It was very helpful. thanks.

  • LO

    This artical was so useful, was wondering if you could email me the author and date for my refrence.. Thankyou:)

  • teddi

    excellent info..thanx!!!:)

  • Jasimine floraly

    i want to make it big like her one day i think im better

  • ~Janey~

    Thanks so much for the article! It was great I needed information for my history project and I got it all here! Thank You!!!! :)

  • Megan

    Thank you so so much! Martha G is my reason for dancing so i love her and thank you all!

  • adp

    thank you for this article! she has truly inspired me to dance!!

  • havilah

    i am a modern dancer and i love martha graham! this article really helped with the 10-page research paper i’m writing (fun stuff haha)…thanks!

  • green banana

    oo thanks!!!
    i have got an essay to write this is great!
    whoever wrote this can you please email me cheers,

    anonymous-

  • Kennadee

    someday i want to grow up and be like her!!!!!! :) <33333

  • Angel

    what major events did she do during she was bornin to the day she died

  • gayface

    -_-’

  • Claudia

    yes im also doin a lil some about Martha graham for my dance class!! itz so cool how i gwet to know more you and pretty soon ill be cin u there tell ta whol class about u.!

  • Leslie Elder

    It is so wonderful to me, to see that a whole new generation of dancers are still being amazed by what Martha Graham did for dance. It is so different in that, in my opinion, it is a true expression of art. Her focus was totally on the message. There was not a certain height, a certain color hair, pretty, long legs, the usual features that some girls wish to have when they are standing next to the perfect ballerina body. Martha stripped that away. To her it was the movement of the body that had to tell the story. Not how high was your leg more was your leg doing what it was to do for the total picture. That is what the new generation must remember about seeing Graham. Yes you see the same thing because you cannot do something new when a choreographer is gone. That would be like trying to paint like picasso and saying it is a picasso. You can try to create some new dances but they would not be martha’s, they would be an interpretation of what someone thought she might do. I can watch Graham work over and over because each time I see something different. I notice something in the acting. These dancers are not just dancing there is a lot of acting going on. This type of dance should never ever be forgotten and must live on. So, bravo to those of you who are interested and want to learn more. It is wonderful to see all of these remarks. And to see how they are so enthusiastic. Thank you from a great appreciator of Graham’s works. They should live on forever.

  • Henk Knaap

    What a wonderful true and fearless seaching Martha Graham made! both in life and work .
    No talking about religion and politics in Graham’s studio’s!, no need for that;
    her work was pure and spiritual.
    Martha Graham gave us so very much; art! and with that; how beautiful humans can be.

  • James R. Lerch

    I organized a group of musicians for her Dance Festival in New Haven . Ct..I was concertmaster and geneal leader of the group. She was amazing to work with.
    A wonderful experience.

  • Taylor Fredieu

    Thank you so much, for all this information about her. I also know some things about her in (1894-1991) an American dancer, teacher, and Choreographer. She was born in Pittsburgh, pa…,on May 11, 1894. She had entered the Denishawn school of dance, at Los Angeles, California., in 1916.That is all th information that I got out of this big book from a class in SAC.And got some information on that.

  • ArTaisha’ M. Bridges-Shumate

    Well I had to do homework on a dancer and my jazz teacher gave the class three dancers and I chose Martha Graham. Just by reading this biography I learned that she is a life long legend and she lived her life to the fullest. Martha Graham is a true inspiration to everyone around the world even if your not a dancer you can learn a lot from her.

  • Amber :)

    So, I am doinq a bioqraphy on Martha Graham for readinq & it is suppose to be like a *human biography so we have to dress up like the person we are doinq the report on. So, I found this & it completed everythinq that I needed. Thank you. One thinq, make this for interestinq, but Martha was a true inspiration & I enjoyed learninq about her very much. :)

    *+* >.< :P

  • jasmine venzant

    tjis passage expired me to try harder and never give up

  • erwin ertz

    Martha Graham is one of my heros! she makes me try to be the best dancer i can be every day in my dance classes. Some day i want to grow up to be just like her too!!!

  • llllllllllll

    this was great… thank you

  • Sarah

    I liked the first paragraph about how she contributed to the society mostly, and I found the rest to great as well.

  • Lisa

    i like this pease but can u please send me the authors name for referencing please :)

  • Kimberly

    this was amazingly helpful !
    i finished my dance assignment a lot faster than i thought i would .
    THANK YOUU ! :)

  • zakary787

    needed to find her for a report this is great to use i should go here for most of my reports

  • Paris

    This article helped me pass my senior project. THANK YOU!

  • autumndancer7

    thnx so much great information

  • Dawn

    This article was so helpful! For my dance appreciation assessment task I chose to study Martha Graham; I admire her so much. This was a short and sweet article that gave so many facts on her life. I’m sure it will help me lots with my task!

  • eunice

    martha gramham is very talented, but i think there should be more information about her like for example:how did she start dancing in the first place? who teached her? why did she pick to dance? what makes her think that she will enjoy?

  • me

    i agree with eunice, i think she is very talented and it did help me finish my english report on dance and yes this is a very informational article but it could include more about her personal life

  • brianna:)

    I have been dancing since i was about 4 and i decided to do this for my project at school! this was the best article yet! I am started to be scouted and am being looked at by the Martha Graham school!!!!!!!!!!!!! that or complexions!!!!!!!!! sooooooooo excited!

  • Libby

    This is a very good and helpful article. I would like to use it as a source for my school project, would you please email me the author, date of publication, etc.? That would be soooo helpful! :)

  • Bobby Jack

    Great article!! I had to do Martha Graham for a report and I found this info the best. She also inspired me because I have been dancing since I was only 3 years old!!! I still am!!! LUV IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! She is also very unique + talented. I hope I am able to dance like her one day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    THX 4 WRITTING THE ARTICLE!!!! U ALL ROCK!!! PEACE OUT!!!!

  • poopie

    where did martha graham live FOR MOST OF HER LIFE???

  • Joy Newbegin

    who wrote this article?!!!

  • neelam

    This is really knowledgeable Artical. She was the great lady and the world proud of her.

  • tajwali khan

    So, I am doing a biography on Martha Graham
    this was a very very great article it had all the information that i need to finish up this dance assignment that i have
    Thanks so much for the article! It was great I needed information for my history project and I got it all here thanks

  • tajwali khan

    I really enjoyed this article…I am a dancer with a late start, and I hadn’t realized that Martha Graham hadn’t started actually dancing until into her teens…I have always found her inspirational just because I love the technique she has created, but now that just makes things better I needed this information for my class so thanks

  • Kavita Rawat

    Excellent article.
    Thanks

  • M@nish

    Though i am not from the background of dance or stage…. but i loved the article …….

    One lady….. changed the thought….. bring new dancing era…..

  • aubryanna and breonia

    martha graham was a very inspiring person to me and to others of the world… she was very talented… i would honor martha graham as a very good dancer and i would also do a performance an honoring her… her movement was very soft and swift and at my school we actually did a piece that was all about her movement

  • Ke and Kyra

    We had to do a Martha Graham for dance class a while back. She also inspired me because I Kyra have been dancing since I was 6 years old. I still am dancing because im in dance at school. Martha Graham is really really talented. She really expressed alot while she wasd dancing.!!!!!

  • lily

    this really helped with my bronze art awards presentation-an inspiring dancer!

  • Alexis Findley

    She’s an inspiring artist. I didn’t know about her until today. She’s just an inspiration to all women.

  • luisito df

    wonderful!!!

    is the great art, and perfect theacher dance!!!

    ………………………………..

  • Kirk

    A true American simply through her sheer creativity and experimental Spirit alone. Wow. Can’t imagine what “dance” would be like today without this amazing, strong, female pioneer.

  • Dinesh D Gamage

    I am a dancer since 12 years. I am from Sri Lanka, We are doing dance between very public dance is “Ballet” Dance. We are stage the “Shakespeare’s Tempest” newly Ballet method in Sri Lanka. It is first time to sri lankan’s eyes. My Dancing Academy is continuing to Free of charges to having numerous efficiencies children. I don’t know & I didn’t ask about Martha Graham, Today I searched google search engine, I met Her dancing animation of the google window and I thought about, and I saw about the Martha Graham’s life story. It is Very Nice. She is very efficient Dancer, Good Luck Her & God Bless Her Always !!!!!!
    Arpeggio Creative Dance Academy
    No. 289/12, Sadhathenna, Sepalika Uyana, Watareka, Padukka, Sri Lanka.
    Contact Us :- 0714740799
    http://www.nilandance.com

  • Concerned Architect

    great article but i had trouble getting past the first sentence. frank lloyd wright may be the only architect americans recognize but his influence is so minimal, unlasting, and frankly, dull. so i would suggest comparing her to some one else, maybe just stay away from architects as no one will get your reference.

  • Leah

    I love her she is like an idol to me today 5/11/11 is her 117 birthday. :)

  • chiarina hobart

    I read (past tense) comments, i like what Lesley Elder said, speaking about her choreography, …. Martha was fulfilling her purpose for Life, not only her own life, but all who live, dream, move, create artistry,.she lives on through her work …..spirit shared with such wonderful expression !

  • Davionna

    i had a project to do ,,,,,our final project for dance class and me and my partners are picking her and this was very helpful

  • Mae Hammond

    August 25, 2011
    I live in winchester, kentucky and dance at The Kentucky Ballet Theater in lexington,kentucky. I loved the article! I needed it for an assignment my modern/Ballet teacher told my class to look Martha up and tell her somthing about Martha next week. We are doing the Graham technique this semester. (I love it!)It is so much fun! thanks for the article! :)

  • bugs bunny

    I know how she started dancing she saw Ruth St. Dennis who also inspired her to do it and learned at his and Ted Shawn’s school Dennishawn where Ted took her in his troupe in “Xochitl” and became a soloist and very famous
    -www.notablebiographies.com

  • bugs bunny

    p.s. this is very helpful 2 mii bcuz I neded it 4 a report in 8th grade :’
    wats all the talk in senior year stuff or dancing assesment >=(

  • Kris

    could you please email the author and date for this article so I may cite it in an essay that I’m writing. Thank you

  • Eric

    I have a similar request as Kris, I’m writing a research paper and work love to use this as a source, but I’ll need the author and date for citing purposes.

  • dance4everDANSE

    She has stated so well a dancer’s prerogative ”I wanted it to be fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge”. This article has been very useful to me and is a great reference in my blog : http://artpreneure.blogspot.com/2011/09/modern-dance-is-great-way-to-express.html

  • d@nc3r4lif3

    Martha Graham is my idol!! She is the reason why i love modern dance so much!! <3

  • emily nelmes

    could anyone tell me when the quote at the begging was written??

  • D@nce Student 1135

    THis Was AMAZING!!!!!!!!!! It helped me sooooo much for my project! THANKS!!!!!!

  • gemma

    I wish i could dance like her and have as much freedom as she did in her style.
    I am in much admiration and she is truly a ispiration

  • Dancer

    This was amazing and helped me finish my project quickly! It wasn’t to long so that I didn’t want to read it but it was just long enough to give me all the right information!

  • Turenne

    Thank you for this excellent portrait of Martha Graham. She is truly an icone in the dance field of African American culture. I particularly appreciate the quotes in the beginning of the article. This quote reveals so much of her spirited vitality and at the same time realistic and down to earth approach to the body in a given space.

    Keep up the good work!

  • @DancingFool iSME!!!

    I think this is A great article i am a dancer and just to read about her this it is great i think this is a great article for everyone to read i read about her all the time she is a huge insperation to me and to alot of other people to i think that she is a great ro-model i love her!! she is amazing and just to say share this so other people can read this i love it!!!!

  • jill

    great just great love the article as a dancer she is a huge insperation for me and for alot of other dancers cool love her!!

  • gurleen

    you should put some of martha graham dance video

Inside This Episode

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