Doris Humphrey, born October 17, 1895 and died December 29, 1958, legend lives on today. Doris was one of several original modern choreographers. Born in a musical family, her mother taught piano lessons. Doris took dance variety of dance lessons in Chicago. Her birth place was Oak Park, IL. She began her teaching/choreography when her mother opened a dance studio. Doris was 15 years old when she began teaching dance. The dance studio opened to financially support the family. Later, she taught modern dance to community colleges. Juilliard dance program originated with her. Her father was an aspiring photographer and hotel manager.
Almost all early modern choreographers studied as Denishawn dancers. The Denishawn California based dance company was founded by Ruth St Dennis and Ted Shawn. From 1918-1928, Doris danced as a principal for Denishawn. Many dancers left Denishawn when Ted Shawn made a controversial remark. One day, outspoken Martha Graham reminded him he was not Jesus Christ. Ted Shawn said he was Jesus Christ. He is the Jesus Christ of dance. Quite a few offended dancers left the company at once. In 1928, Charles Weidman and Humphrey left Denishawn starting their own dance company. The new dance company was name the Weidman-Humphrey dance company.
Ted Shawn’s most famous work is Jacobs Pillow. Humphrey had original ideas about dance technique. Modern choreographers are not known to follow tradition. “Her work embodied the work of Americanist Spirit of individualism” (Debanham, Kathi, Pat, From the Ground Up). Many of her dances emphasized America. In many ways, modern dance rebels against traditional ballet. Almost all modern dancers have years of thorough ballet training. Ballet training comes through in all dancers in performances and class. Doris’s choreography, like all modern dance, is not made to be presentable. Modern dance is not even made to be proper.
Modern dance displays non-human strength moves. Viewers really must pay attention to the choreography. Very advanced professional ballet dancers usually perform in short tutus. Advanced modern dancers wear full length skirts. Modern dancer’s technique while performing full length extensions are noticed when the dancers center is straight, and her knee easily touches or goes beyond her ear. Extreme balance, flexibility and strength exhibitions fill professionally choreographed modern dance performances. The only way an untrained dancer understands movements involved is to attempt to copy the choreography.
Modern dance movement looks very simple. There are many fakes teaching modern dance today, especially in colleges and universities. This is obvious reading dance magazine articles, written by university professors describing dance technique. Rhythm and breathing was the base of Humphreys choreography. She spent hours exploring how breathing and rhythm works. Her choreography originated with breathing. Breathing exercises progressed to contraction and release. “All life fluctuates between resistance to and yielding to gravity” (Humphrey, Art of Making Dances). Humphreys greatest contribution to modern dance is fall and recovery technique.
Grahams contraction and release technique inspired Humphreys fall and recovery technique. In ballet class, dancers hold constant tension, constant lengthening of the spine and limbs. In Humphey’s dances, the choreography extends with proper ballet technique, (sustained flow) hits a distinct movement destination, (sharp accent). Unexpectingly, the dancers collapse (rest). She related this to birth. The recovery, or release, is when the baby is born. Modern choreographers tend to design original dance techniques from their own interpretation of life’s beginning and ending.
Doris Humphrey’s company ended in 1942. She then became the artistic director for Jose Limon. Limon danced in Humphrey’s company. Humphrey Choreographed over eighty dances. Some of these are: Modern-Ballet Color Harmony, 1928; Water Study 1928; The Shakers, 1931; Day on Earth 1947; Water Study is one of her most amazing works. Audiences loved it. “Dance Magazine described it as ‘a work that astounded critics and audiences alike with its synchronized, moving-wave forms, from calm lapping on a beach to a crashing tempest’ ” (Texas State Library Commissions).
Other choreographers at this time were Katherine Dunham, Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Paul Taylor. Dance is hardly a lucrative profession. Doris lived most of her life through financial hardships. Political events influenced Doris’s financial struggles. “A worldwide depression began with the October 1929 U. S. stock market crash. International bankruptcies and closing of credit unions closed many jobs. Government public works programs no longer existed. ” (Paraphrased, Rise of Totalitarians, 2007). Right before her death, she wrote The Art of Making Dances.
Her contributions to the dance world goes farther than fall and recovery technique and her last book. Art of Making Dances is the most significant contribution Humphrey is known for. She died in New York City on *December 29, 1958. *Dates and other facts are not consistent. Apparently, Art of Making Dances were a collection of her notes that was donated to performing arts libraries after her death. Notes; Debenham, Pat, and Kathie Debenham. “From the Ground Up: Doris Humphrey–Modernist, Americanist, Artist. ” Interdisciplinary Humanities 21. 1 (2004): 78-86.
Academic Search Premier. 10 April 2007. http://search. ebscohost. com. Doris Humphrey, Art of Making Dances, Dance Horizons, Copyright in 1959, 1987. Editorial, Doris Humphrey 1895-1958 Texas State Library Archives and Commission, http://galenet. galegroup. com/servlet/LitRC? vrsn=3&OP=contains&locID=txshrpub200866&srchtp=athr&ca=1&c=1&ste=6&tab=1&tbst=arp&ai=U13706243&n=10&docNum=H1000149358&ST=Doris+Humphrey&bConts=2191 Editorial, “Rise of Totalitarians: 1930-39. ” World Almanac & Book of Facts (2005): 520. Middle Search Plus. 11 April 2007. http://search. ebscohost. com.