Martha Graham was one of the most influential figures in American modern dance, and her techniques and styles are still practiced today. She became widely known throughout all ages and decades. Her first debut was in the 1920’s. As time went on, she became more experienced and wiser in the modern dance field. Martha Graham, whose style was considered controversial, became one of the finest choreographers and dancers in the dance world.
In 1894 Martha was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (Pratt 8). She was the daughter of Jane Beers and George Graham. Her father was a well-known physician who treated mental disorders. After living in Pennsylvania for 12 years, she and her family moved to Santa Barbara, California in 1908 (Harmon et al. 182). This was where she started studying modern dance in her earlier years.
Martha’s father played a big role in her life. Dr. Graham inspired his daughter to search for the meaning behind people’s actions. As she sat in her father’s office, she would look at the patients in bewilderment. The patients would blurt out words and move their arms and legs in a wild manner, making her even more curious about people’s actions (Pratt 13). Dr. Graham then took his daughter to a performance of Ruth St. Denis in 1911 where she was mesmerized by the dancers (Harmon et al. 182).
Martha entered Cumnock School of Expression after graduating from high school. There she trained in dance, drama, and self-expressions. Martha’s love to study people’s actions was incredibly strong. After Graham graduated from the junior college in 1916, she then enrolled in Denishawn School of Dance (182). She was recognized at the school for her talent and determination, not her potential as a dancer. When Shawn, who was the owner of the school, went off to serve in World War I, Graham started teaching for him. After his return from the war, she continued teaching and danced small roles in Shawn’s productions. This is where her career as a dancer began (183).
Graham is considered one of the major and most influential dancers in America. Graham’s craving for dance gave her the strength and determination she needed to become one of the best. Her incredible emotions changed the dancing world, not only in her style as a dancer, but in her innovative style of choreography (182).
Graham’s style of modern dance was never seen in America before. Therefore, the audience had to get accustomed to it (Switzer 108). People often defined modern dance as a contrast to ballet, but Graham’s new modern dance style moved away from the strong ballet traditions. Anyone could see that Martha was not afraid of being unique. For example, music was not required in all of her dances. Without the music, the audience would then be able to hear the sounds of the dancer (Microsoft Encarta). In the dances that did have music, Graham expressed herself in metaphors or images (McLanathan and Brown 173). These dances involved posture, role of gravity, and character movements. Graham’s style was considered prominent among other performers.
After becoming more experienced, Graham moved on to Broadway. Her performances on Broadway were nothing like the ones she did at Denishawn (Pratt 33). Graham always stated that she was a dancer and not a showgirl. She had four outstanding solos in the show, although she refused to wear skimpy costumes when she performed. The directors then told her that they would cut the solos until she was willing to cooperate. Graham didn’t care because she knew her solos were the highlights of the show. A few nights later she was again performing her solos (35). Although Martha earned a significant income from these performances she had to budget her money. She then realized that she wanted to open her own studio (34).
Graham’s studio was considered one of the most prestigious schools. Graham was an inspiring teacher, although she didn’t love teaching as much as dancing (77). Her first concert was on April 18, 1926. This was not only a dream coming to reality for Graham, but also a big success (43).
Even when Martha aged in years, she was still young physically and mentally. She started to travel and explore more in the dancing world to keep herself young (McLanathan and Brown 170). She continued teaching; in fact, she started an even more demanding teaching schedule than before (Pratt 40). As time went on, she began to receive various awards for her achievements and successes (100).
The awards that Graham received were a result of her great faith, determination, choreography, and performances. She received the Aspen Award in Humanities, Medal of Freedom, and honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale (100). Her Influence in the dance world was incalculable and incredible (McLanathan and Brown 171). It would have been tragic if Graham’s works were not recorded, since her ideas were so spectacular. The dancing world would have suffered a big loss.
Martha had a difficult time retiring from the stage. She would compare herself to her colleagues of the same ages, and realized that they were not only no longer dancing, but many were no longer living (Pratt 95). She retired from dancing in 1969, but she continued to dance in her dreams (96).
After Martha’s retirement she began to drink a lot more than before. She turned to drinking to forget the frustration of growing older. In the 1970’s, Graham became hospitalized. As the years went on, Graham’s condition became worse (97). At the age of 91 she was struck with heart failure and a bad case of pneumonia. Graham died on April 1, 1991 (100).
Graham led an exciting and fulfilling life. Although her audiences may have had to get used to her innovative style of modern dance, she accomplished her dreams throughout the years and became a big success. Martha Graham became one of the finest dancers and choreographers in the world.