Martha Graham: The Mother Of Modern Dance

If you know about modern dance, you must know Martha Graham, the mother of modern.

Her importance was highlighted during her performance in the White House after dinner with the Roosevelts on February 25, 1937. Martha Graham performed dances she had choreographed, titled “Imperial Gesture” and “Harlequinade” and subtitled “Pessimist” and “Optimist.”.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt asked the dancer how she “managed to keep her body under such perfect control.”

Graham replied that “she had to work four hours every day, and that if she took six weeks off in summer it took her two months to regain what she had lost.”

So why was Martha Graham called the mother of modern dance? Graham was commonly known as the mother of modern dance because:

* she went against the norm of classical ballet’s concern with beauty and grace overlooked the connection between movement and the most basic human emotions;
* her dance pieces made up of sharp movement with the dancers clothed unglamorously unlike ballet, with the piece centered around the theme of rejection;
* her dances focused on emotional rather than grace, where all aspects of human experience are expressed;
* she earned numerous honors and awards, such as The Laurel Leaf of the American Composers Alliance in 1959 for her service to music, recipient of the 1986 Local One Centennial Award for Dance (yes 100 years), United States’ highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1976, and declared her a “national treasure,” making her the first dancer and choreographer to receive this honor and another Presidential honor in 1985 as one of the first recipients of the United States National Medal of Arts;
* she collaborated with many artists as sculptor Isamu Noguchi; actor and director John Houseman; fashion designers Halston, Donna Karan, and Calvin Klein; and renowned composers including Aaron Copland, Louis Horst (her mentor), Samuel Barber, William Schuman, Carlos Surinach, Norman Dello Joio, and Gian Carlo Menotti; and
* she inspired the next generation of American modern dance choreographers, including Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor, who danced in Graham’s company before forming their own ensembles.

Graham’s dances featured sharp and violent movements, such as jolts, trembling, and falls. In these wild and chaotic movements, Graham attempted to “chart the graph of the heart."

By focusing on one’s personal struggles and conflicting desires, Graham’s choreography supported her belief that “movement never lies.”

Some important timeline in her pioneering into modern dance includes:-
  • In 1926, she founded the Martha Graham Dance Company and started choreographing works frequently using Greek mythology as her inspiration. Her dances weren’t the usual stories of heroic men though: She often flipped the focus, telling the stories from a woman’s point of view. Her female characters were intense and powerful, and she was known for dancing the main role in her works.
  • In 1929, Martha Graham created Heretic, the first group piece of many that showcased a clear diversion from her days with Denishawn, and served as an insight to her work that would follow in the future.
  • In 1935, Graham created Frontier, pioneering Americana theme. She collaborated with Isamu Noguchi, a Japanese American designer, whose eye for set design was a complementary match to Graham's choreography 
  • In 1944, Graham created Appalachian Spring which was one of her most known pieces that incorporates the American life theme. She collaborated with the composer Aaron Copland, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the piece, and Noguchi again, who created the nonliteral set such as the Shaker rocking chair. 


It is difficult to highlight how important Martha Graham was important given we did not live in her times where elegant and graceful ballet dancing was the accepted form of dance. Nevertheless, through the various timeline, we hoped it showcased her differences from the typical ballet dance and how she was deemed as Mother of Modern Dance.


Efforts have been made to get the information as accurate and updated as possible. If you found any incorrect information with credible source, please send it via the contact us form
Author: Sky Hoon
Into Watching Tik Tok Dancing. He loved to watch creative Tik Tok Dancing that show a person's personality. Created this blog to learnt more about dancing.
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