As a dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham broke the rules. She created a dance technique that, along with her groundbreaking choreography, helped spark the revolution known as modern dance. With close to 200 dances in her repertory, Graham was among the most prolific and significant choreographers in dance history, and works such as Appalachian Spring have made her an American cultural icon. Her unique dance vocabulary evolved over the years to meet her changing choreographic needs, but was eventually codified into a standard syllabus, and now, Graham-based movement is taught in studios around the world.
How To Prepare
If you're new to Graham, spend a day paying attention to your breathing and how it changes with different activities, recommends Christine Dakin, former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company and co-artistic director from 2002-2005. In class, those observations will help you better understand how to use breath efficiently as you move through fundamental concepts like contraction and release. Additionally, since Graham Technique emphasizes spirals in the body, observing the form and energy of spirals in nature—in plants, for instance—may help you understand how the pelvis and spine work together in twisting and curving the torso.
While Graham’s is a codified technique, with a set series of seated floor exercises, standing exercises and across-the-floor sequences, there are various ways of presenting material from the syllabus. When teaching a master class to students who are unfamiliar with Graham, Dakin sometimes adjusts exercises to hone in on one concept at a time. “In the regular exercises, there are multiple principles at play, but I might modify an exercise to just focus on the way the pelvis moves in contraction. Then later I’ll focus an exercise on spirals,” she explains. That way students can experience each concept individually, rather than trying to grasp many ideas at once.
Fundamental principles in Graham Technique include contraction and release, opposition, shift of weight and spirals. (See “Listen Up and Move,” for a list of terms you’re likely to hear.) You should also be prepared for movement that is dramatic—even in the opening exercises—because Graham’s choreography is filled with vibrant, powerful characters. Don’t be afraid to bring your own experiences and emotions into the movement. “Martha and other early modern dancers were experimenting to find individual ways of creating art,” Dakin says. “Be daring every time you move. You’re not there to reproduce what someone else did. Individual exploration is inherent to class and Martha’s movement.”
Take risks in class—it’s key in Graham Technique to move with volume and energy. “It’s important that dancers not simply see themselves as objects in space. They need to expand their body, energy and focus so they are amplified enough to fill that space,” Dakin says. “Martha said that dance is never a competition. You’re only in competition with the person you know you can become. So, it’s important to move big—especially in a master class—and make big mistakes. Don’t be afraid, and don’t watch other people. You’re there to focus on developing yourself.”
Joshua Legg is a technique instructor and rehearsal director for Harvard University’s Dance Program. He holds an MFA in dance choreography and performance from Shenandoah University.
What's more daunting than getting into your dream college dance program? Figuring out how you'll cover the costs of tuition, room and board, incidental expenses and more. Here's the good news: The right scholarship(s) can bring your dream school well within reach.
Look Around, Look Around
Scholarship applications are due between the fall of senior year and graduation time, so familiarize yourself with funding opportunities during the spring of junior year. And there are a lot of opportunities out there, says Kate Walker, chair of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. "A lot of school guidance counselors now have software that automatically matches you with scholarships," she says.
Seek out scholarships on your own, too. According to Walker, "a lot of corporations are required to have some community engagement, including offering scholarships, so research corporations in your community." Your parents' employers might offer assistance too, says Doug Long, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. "They might have scholarships you can apply for just because your parent works there."
Other sources of grant money you won't have to pay back (as you would a loan)? The YoungArts Foundation; competitions/conventions, like New York City Dance Alliance; and the university or dance department you're applying to. Even some scholarships aimed at athletes are open to dancers!
A winning scholarship application involves a fair amount of paperwork, especially if the organization requires you to show financial need. In addition, certain scholarships ask for the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which gives the awarding organization a more complete picture of your family finances.
Other ingredients of a successful scholarship application include recommendation letters, a dance and/or academic resumé and an essay or statement of purpose. Treat these components just like college applications: Have multiple trusted adults proofread your materials, and ask for recommendation letters or transcripts long before deadlines.
A note for non-dance scholarships: Including objective measures of achievement can only help you. "List national recognitions, like YoungArts or other competitions," says Long. "That shows the scholarship committees that people at high levels have acknowledged you as an artist of quality." And don't forget who your audience is. "Especially in writing samples, make sure you paint a vivid picture for your reader," Walker says. "Don't assume they know about all the things—like barre every day—that we as dancers take for granted."
No award amount is too small to be worth your time and effort. As Walker says, "Don't pooh-pooh a couple hundred dollars in award money, because any scholarship is funding that you didn't have yesterday."
A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "All Aboard the Scholar-ship."
Every ballet dancer knows the time, sweat, and occasional tears the art form demands. But many non-dancers are clueless about just how much work a ballet dancer puts into perfecting his or her dancing. So when the mainstream crowd recognizes our crazy work ethic, we'll accept the round of applause any way it comes—even if it comes via four men in tutus. Yep, we're talking about "The Try Guys Try Ballet" video.
Remember that fabulous old-school clip of dancers tapping in pointe shoes that Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo brought to our attention back in March? As we mentioned then, toe-tap dancing was actually super popular back in the 1920s and 30s—which means there are more videos where that one came from. And because #ToeTapTuesday has a nice ring to it, we thought we'd take this opportunity to introduce you to Dick and Edith Barstow, a toe-tapping brother and sister duo from that era who are nothing short of incredible:
Guess who's back? Back again? The Academy's back! Tell a friend.
After one day at The Academy, the All Stars have successfully taken the Top 100 down to 62. But their work is just getting started: Now they need to keep narrowing the field to a Top 10, ultimately deciding who each will partner with during the live shows.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns is some SERIOUS #goals. Her strength and power onstage borders on superhuman. But what's extra magical about Mearns is that she really puts in the fitness and cross-training work outside of the rehearsal studio. And she's overcome her fair share of injuries. Which is why she was the perfect source for Vogue's latest ballet fitness story.