Last night I took a very refreshing modern dance class in basic Graham technique. For those who aren’t familiar, Martha Graham was one of the mothers of modern dance in the US. Her technique comes from the core, full of movement that starts in your belly and radiates outward. The contrast between contractions and being straight and aligned is powerful.
“Dance is a song of the body. Either of joy or pain.”
My teacher was outstanding. She started us slowly, with basic contractions that opened up to a straight back. Reminders to keep your shoulders over your pelvis as you contract into that beautiful “C” curve. Reach upward with longing. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, to truly feel the movement. Graham felt the pain and the strength of being a woman in the early 20th century. She choreographed quite a bit of work with themes from American pioneers and Greek mythology. But mainly she tapped into what she considered to be universal emotions, and a dancer in Graham technique needs to find those emotions – not by emoting, but by dancing from the core, from the feelings that the dancer owns.
“There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.”
There is something about Graham technique that grabs me. I don’t know if I would enjoy someone who is strict about it – Graham herself was very particular, had a clear sense of the right and wrong ways to dance her technique – but I love the style. Some of the movement is wonderfully angular. The spirals fit my body nicely. And I find moments where I can lose myself, really feel each contraction. Feel the moments where I radiate power from my core. Vulnerable at moments, but strong, too. Modern dance owes so much to Graham. I can only thank her for what she has given us.
“Dance is the hidden language of the soul.”
For those who are curious, here is a piece by Graham entitled Lamentation: