Martha Graham was unique. Iconoclastic. She was driven and focused, and beyond all she was eminently creative. Rather than use dance as a display of decorative, graceful movements, she sought to express, via choreography, fundamental, often raw human emotions and experiences. At first, she was ridiculed, but she almost singlehandedly brought about a new era in dance, taking classical ballet and imbuing it with a more visceral aesthetic, with forceful, angular movements — often creating a heightened sexual tension in her dances. “I did not want it to be beautiful or fluid,” she later explained, “I wanted it to be fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge.”
The style, which was called the “Graham technique,” was the first modern dance technique to be properly codified. And in 1926, Graham established the Martha Graham Dance Company, providing a solid platform for contemporary dance. The same year, she opened the Martha Graham School in New York City; still open today, it's the oldest professional school of dance in the United States.
Graham’s career spanned more than 70 years, and for her services to dance and the arts in general she received many accolades. She was the first dancer to perform at the White House, she holds the Key to the City of Paris, and she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction — the highest civilian award in the U.S. Through her interviews and her own writing, she also left us with many words of wisdom, covering everything from human movement to the perils of nostalgia and the judgment of others.
You are unique and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.
I don't think in art there is ever a precedent; each moment is a new one and terrifying and threatening and bursting with hope.
The body says what words cannot.
Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it.
Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.
Dance is the hidden language of the soul.
I have said to many children, “Do what you are doing and be excited about what you are doing. Be the best in your world by what you do and love it.”
I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same.
No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time. It is just that others are behind the time.
Many times I hear the phrase “the dance of life.” It is an expression that touches me deeply, for the instrument through which the dance speaks is also the instrument through which life is lived — the human body.
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.
The body is a sacred garment.
People have asked me why I chose to be a dancer. I did not choose: I was chosen to be a dancer, and, with that, you live all your life. When any young student asks me, “Do you think I should be a dancer?” I always say, “If you have to ask, then the answer is no.”
Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It's a miracle, and the dance is a celebration of that miracle.
What people in the world think of you is really none of your business.
Looking at the past is like lolling in a rocking chair. It is so relaxing, and you can rock back and forth on the porch, and never go forward.
Photo credit: Everett Collection Historical/ Alamy Stock Photo