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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Legacy

I chose Doris Humphrey for this blog because I found her fall and recovery technique to be very interesting and I wanted to know what exactly it was that made her choose to move in this way. However, after researching her, one thing that has really stood out to me about her was the difference between instruction and education. Once I graduate, I don’t plan to join a dance company or even audition to be in a dance company. I want to simply share and teach dance with the community. Doris Humphrey was an excellent teacher because she did find the difference between instruction and education. First, she would tell the students what they had to do, and secondly she would let them develop their individuality and independence of thought, which was her aim. I think why this method of teaching really stands out to me is because this is how I was often taught at my dance studio by one of my favorite instructors. She would give us an idea or concept and then we had the opportunity to explore through movement. This is where I found myself to strive the most and is what I hope to continue to educate dance students with.
As for her work, after watching and reading up on many of her dances, the movement quality stands out to me. I move in a very similar way as she does in most of her work. I am a very fluid dancer and I enjoy the fall and recovery look in choreography. But her dance technique isn’t just what stands out to me, but the meaning behind a lot of her dancing appeals to me. Many of the pieces that she choreographed had to do with life events. I’ve always believed that when you don’t know what to dance about, you should dance about what you know. I feel as though this is similar to what she brought into her pieces.
With so many pieces of work and choreography that is still being taught, I believe that everyone who strives to choreograph should read her book, “The Art of Making Dances”. I think that we can all learn a lot through her own mistakes and ideas to better ourselves when creating our own dance pieces. Doris Humphrey is one of the choreographers that changed modern dance into what it is today. She took many steps in a different way than where dance was going. For example, she experimented with dance and music, or in some cases, silence. But she didn’t just stop there. She was one of the first choreographers to take modern dance to groups, and not only be performed by soloists. She also took a few steps towards abstraction, which then other choreographers then ran with. Overall, her technique is still taught today, her book is still read, and her choreography is still performed. When a legacy lives on like this for so long, it is clear that they had an impact on the society.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

World Events During This Time

Doris Humphrey reached the peak of her career during a time in which America was struggling in the Great Depression. She moved to New York City in 1928 and formed the Humphrey-Wiedman dance company. Like the rest of the United Sates, they didn’t have a lot of money. Therefore, they had to live together in the same apartment even after Humphrey was married and had a son. With money tight, they taught dance technique classes in order for them to make any income and put on performances.
With teaching these classes came teaching Humphrey’s technique of fall and recovery. Although this technique is tied to our psyche and the psychology book she read. It also ties to this time of the Great Depression in our world. As Jennifer Dunning wrote in the New York Times, Humphrey "abstracted the soul … in the central concept of her choreography. Falling, the recovery from a fall and the body's arc between were for her an expression of the fundamental tension and precarious balance between failure and triumph that we struggle to maintain throughout our lives." It can be seen then, that this technique was related to what was going on in the world at this time as people were struggling to make it.
Although many dancers were struggling during this time, the Humphrey-Weidman company was successful during the Great Depression. They toured America and invented new types and styles of dance movement. These new dances weren’t based on old tales, but incorporated current events and concerns of the time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


"The Dancer believes that his art has something to say which cannot be expressed in words or in any other way than by dancing." - Doris Humphrey

Doris Humphrey was influenced by a variety of people growing up in Illinois. The two most important of those people were her parents. Her mother, Julia Ellen Wells was a trained concert pianist, who also taught piano for extra income. Her father, Horace Buckingham Humphrey, was a journalist and a one-time hotel manager for vaudeville entertainers. Both of her parents were very passionate about education. Although they were short on money, they still found ways to fund for her education, and therefore sent her to Francis Parker School in Chicago. At this school education was based on John Dewey’s principles of progressive education and experiential/experimental learning. Humphrey carried this into her teaching methodology and maintained this educational philosophy through life. It was also at this school where Mary Wood Hinman taught dance, and truly inspired Humphrey to move. She would stage pageants and programs of folk and interpretive dances in the school, in which Humphrey shone. After graduation, Mary Wood Hinman encouraged Humphrey to go to Los Angeles for a summer course offered at the Denishawn School.
It was here at Denishawn that her talents were well recognized and she soon was given solo roles, assistant positions, and offered to choreograph. Although Ruth St. Denis encouraged Humphrey to dance, Humphrey was very different from her. Ruth St. Denis was driven by religious messages, and Humphrey was not. Therefore, with Charles Weidman, she left for the East in New York to discover new ways to move the body.
As Doris Humphrey created her dance theory about the fall and recovery of movement, she claims that it was highly inspired by a Germain philosophizer, Friedrich Nietzsche’s book, The Birth of Tragedy. It was in this book that Humphrey read about idea of the split in the human psyche between each person's Apollonian side (rational, intellectual) and our Dionysian side (chaotic, emotional). Not only did this German philosophizer inspire Humphrey’s ideas in choreography, but you can also see imprints that Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture left on her life and choreography.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Post 1: Biography/Contribution

Doris Humphrey was a dancer and choreographer who has influenced modern dance today. Humphrey was born on October 17, 1895 and was then raised in Oak Park, Illinois to a family that was struggling financially. Although struggling, her family still found funds in which they were able to send her to school to receive an excellent, progressive education. It was a Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, IL, where Humphrey was first exposed to the styles of folk and interpretive dance.

As a struggling family, her mother taught piano lessons for income while her father ran a residence home for vaudeville performers. As a child, Humphrey took piano, ballet, and ballroom dance and at the young age of 15 began to teach ballet and interpretive dance. After Humphrey graduated high school, and her father lost his job, Humphrey was expected to be the family provider. She established a school in which she taught dance classes while her mother was the business manager and accompanist. This wasn't satisfying for Humphrey, she wanted more. After 4 years, the school was profitable enough for the family, and Humphrey was able to leave Illinois for Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of a professional dancing career.

In 1917, Humphrey enrolled at the Denishawn School, run by dance legends, Ruth St. Denis and her husband, Ted Shawn. It was there that Ruth St. Denis told Humphrey that she was born to be a dancer, not a teacher. She then became one of the schools lead dancers, teaching assistants, and began to choreograph. After 7 years at the school, Humphrey became dissatisfied with the theatricality of the dancing and imagined a new style of dance which was more expressive, and catered to a humans emotion.

In 1928, Humphrey left the Denishawn School and left for New York City where she lived with fellow former Denishawn dancers, Charles Weidman and Pauline Lawrence. They were later joined in their living headquarters by Humphrey's husband, Charles Francis Woodford in 1932, and later by their son as well. Eventually, another Denishawn alumnus joined the group, and they established the Humphrey - Weidman Dance Company. Through this company, Humphrey began developing her own theory of dance. This included her early works of Water Study (1928) and Life of the Bee (1929). Her new theory of dance was inspired by the idea that the emotions dictated movements or as she would say her dances were created "from the inside outside". At times Humphrey would choreograph in silence and then add music later as her emotions would then guide her movement.

Doris Humphrey is best known for her dance theory, "fall and recovery". This was the foundation of her teaching method and her choreography. According to Humphrey, underlying was the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche's idea about the split in the human psyche between each person's Apollonian side (rational, intellectual) and our Dionysian side (chaotic, emotional). The true essence of the modern dance was the movement that happened in between these extremes, which Humphrey labeled "the arc between two deaths." Her work often required dancers to make motions that put themselves off-balance and then to use the resulting momentum to restore control over their bodies.

Not only is Doris Humphrey known for her theory, but she is also known for her use of music. Because she was musically trained every since she was young, she approached dance and music differently than most other choreographers. As stated before, she would often choreograph and later add the music. Many times she made her own music scores.