Updated in Dec 2022
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Today we have decided to talk about one of our core courses on the MIU platform: Martha Graham's movements*.
By joining our online school, aimed at dance instructors and modern dance lovers looking for teacher training and resources in Graham and Horton Techniques, you will access expert online Horton & Graham tutorials and classes. You will be able to study these fundamental movements amongst other courses at your own pace and from anywhere in the world.
Enrol in our Graham or Horton Certification Programmes and become certified in 4 weeks**, six months, or one year. Upon course completion, students will earn a Horton or Graham Techniques Teacher Certificate listed online as MIU Registered Graham or Horton Techniques Teachers.
* Fundamentals Floorwork and standing exercises of the Graham Technique
** For advanced Graham or Horton students only
How do we start a Graham Technique class?
We start a Graham class on the floor; although some teachers like to begin their lesson with a short warm-up before starting the floor work, it is entirely ok to do so if you wish.
Graham Technique is a codified dance with its principles and rules. However, once you have acquired its fundamentals, you are free to add your own touch, which makes a class unique.
A first Graham class is a life-changing experience. We get up, rise to stand proud and ready for a bright day, then run, jump, move across the space to feel alive!
Where do these movements come from?
Following her training at the Denishawn School in Los Angeles, Martha Graham ended up in New York. In 1924 she worked a few years in New York City as a dancer in a follies' show that she hated and decided that she would never again accept commercial work because it drained her of any desire to work on her dreams.
In an attempt to find her voice as a choreographer and escape this kind of job, she started teaching and created the groundwork of the Technique we know today in her free time. Along with a few students, she built an entirely new dance form and, later on, a troupe. For close to sixty years after forming her dance company, Martha Graham kept creating and polishing this new form of dance she had imagined.
The Graham Technique was therefore born on stage. Throughout choreography, Martha Graham, supported by her loyal disciples, used her repertory to build up a timeless dance, to create the clear structure we know in a Graham class today.
It is important to know why we are doing certain things, these are legitimate questions, and we will deconstruct each of these moves to understand them better. But before we talk about Graham's exercises, you need to understand one critical point of the Graham Technique. It is a dance and not just a technique.
It is not always explainable because it is an art form. These movements were created to tell a story and share a message; therefore, we do Graham to express ourselves. Once you understand that specificity, it becomes easier to assimilate and teach.
Indeed, many exercises came from certain repertory pieces; however, they work the body in miracles ways, and I will tell you more about it in this blog.
How many movements can we do in 1 class?
Graham Technique was the first modern dance technique I have learned and taught. There is one thing I quickly understood; you cannot teach everything in one Graham class! You can choose a different topic daily from hundreds of exercises and build up your lesson around it.
You can quickly feel overwhelmed by such a diverse dance, and the best way to be at peace with yourself is to remember that: you teach Graham the way you can and the best you can. You will share as much material as possible, but you cannot teach all. No one can.
Also, allow yourself some freedom and no pressure! Every Graham instructor I know teaches their way, one teacher will like arms like that, another like this, and it's ok! That is why you should encourage your students to learn from other teachers and do their research. That has helped me enormously in my dance teaching career.
Teach what you know about the Technique, it is a gift, and your students will always appreciate it.
In the end, we all follow one unique heritage; we all share the same values and principles, which are those of Martha Graham.
As long as you keep that in your heart, you will never go wrong.
How long does it take to learn the method?
It takes time, and you won't learn such a Technique in just a few weeks. You will need years of practice and studying.
These movements are complex, and you will practice them a lot before understanding how logical it all is! Graham isn't easy at first, so it will take as long as you need, and when you know them, it is like riding a bicycle: there are things you will never forget. It becomes second nature to you.
At M-Intensive University, we will give you keys and clear indications to enhance your understanding of the counts and facilitate your learning.
I will also give you the explicit purpose of each movement, teaching tools, tips, and extra benefits I discovered over the years while studying every single one of them meticulously. These movements enhance your capabilities, and I will tell you how it feels to do them and what you or your students will gain over time.
This analysis is based on my observation and my student's feedback over the past ten years.
Finally, we will also make a clear connection between the class and the stage. These movements are present in many of Martha Graham's works; I selected for you a few ballets to watch to observe those steps in action.
That connection is an essential part of Graham's Technique; I like to remind my students that what they learn in the Graham class can be used on stage, not only for Graham's style works but for any dancing they wish to pursue.
Knowing the Graham Technique elevates your understanding of dance, simple as that.
Did you know?
In a segregated America, she was one of the first choreographers to welcome dancers from any cultural background in her school and dance company. She paved the way by opening her door to anyone regardless of the colour of their skin. Martha Graham gave Asian, Black, and Latino dancers the resources and opportunities to shine in lead roles for many years, inspiring a new generation of dancers.
"Years later, my company and I toured the South prior to the civil rights movement, and performed at Spelman College. I told the young women of the all-black college that I would see them at the evening performance. They said, "Oh, no, we can't go to the theatre. It is for whites only." I went directly to the impresario. It was his first sellout and I said, "I understand you have sold out for the night." "Yes," he replied, "for the first time." I said, "That is simply wonderful. I want twenty seats for tonight's performance." He asked why and I said, "For the students at Spelman College. Otherwise there will be no performance." "Impossible," he cried. And with that I told my crew and my dancers to pack up. There would be no show that night. The impresario panicked and changed his mind. Within a few minutes I had twenty seats for the women of Spelman College."
Martha Graham, in her autobiography Blood Memory. 1991
When I started my professional dance career in my hometown, I couldn't see any dancers like me. It didn't bother me; however, I questioned myself once and wondered if I was taking the right path. Then, I discovered the Graham technique a few years later. I studied the Graham repertory to perform the male lead role in Acts of Light (1981) and Messenger of Death in Clytemnestra (1958). I had to start learning the work with Martha Graham Dance Company videos, and both lead dancers were black.
That was my first encounter with Graham's work, and it showed that the Graham technique was for everyone; it genuinely encouraged me and proved that I belonged.
Martha Graham and Lester Horton created incredible modern dance Techniques and advocated for inclusivity, changing the dance world in America.
Learn more about our Certification Programme at MIU Here
awaken the senses
The Fundamental Floor Work
This section will talk about the foundations. These exercises make the Graham class so recognisable and will thoroughly prepare your students' bodies for anything they will do later in the class, standing and across the floor. It is physical, but the training is also mental and emotional.
You now know that emotions are an essential part of the Graham Technique, and as I like to say, we are already dancing; it is a performance, and it's happening right here within yourself.
Purpose: Warm up the body gently, awaken the senses by working the contraction, and deeply stretch the back. Mental preparation for the class
Structure: In 3 positions, soles of feet together, in second and in parallel first
Bounces are crucial to making a successful Graham class. This circular movement of energy will allow you to work the contraction and release before using these principles in many more complex exercises later on in the class. It is a moment with yourself to connect with your body deeply.
You will feel the contraction in the pelvis, all the way up to the neck. The head then reaches towards the floor. You create a C shape with your back, a big curve, and release it from the base of the spine to the top of the head.
It is essential to do the bounces gently to warm up the body with care and patience. It is like waking up in the morning; therefore, it must be kind and peaceful. You will repeat them with the soles of feet together, in second, in parallel first to finish with Breathings on two and four counts.
Recommendations: The spine is getting longer in the contraction; in-depth, elongate each muscle in your back to stretch the spine to the maximum. Initiate the contraction with the pelvis. Go over the contraction head towards the feet.
Bonus: Do not bounce with the head but gently with the torso; think about a giant ball right in the centre of your legs and touch it with your belly when you pitch forward. Make sure that the back stays flat when you release—tiny pulses at all times.
You will learn how to connect the Bounces and Breathings in our tutorial from M-Intensive University below.
Purpose: Breathing exercise that corrects the posture and strengthens the whole back
Structure: Follows the Bounces on 2 and 4 counts with a high release
Graham repertory: Acts of Light (1981)
Although this movement is following the bounces closely, it is surprisingly another exercise on its own.
Like it is called, the Breathings are executed on 2 or 4 counts right after the bounces and facilitate the natural breathing process. The Graham Technique follows the natural motion of the human body; therefore, this exercise represents being alive, breathing with your lunges, with your heart, with your whole body! That is why I love this Technique so much.
It is also fantastic for the posture; this exercise helped my students enormously. The placement is enhanced, the back is strengthened to acquire beautiful arms. The Breathings' benefit is that you work your entire torso and build up long and lasting strength. In the ballet Acts of Light (1981), We see them more theatrically with the forearms on the knees; it is a big breath that moves the entire body like a wave in the ocean. It's beautiful.
Recommendations: This movement will strengthen the back, and it can also be quite challenging for students in the first weeks. Put your hands on the floor to support the torso in the entire exercise until your students acquire more strength. It will be beneficial, especially in the high release. They can focus on the posture while building more resistance. Lastly, remember to face the ceiling with the sternum in the high release to avoid tension in the neck.
Bonus: The method teaches us to sit with the back straight, which is optimum; however, we are not just sitting, as Martha Graham used to say, it is the beginning of something, these positions (Bounces and Breathings) are active positions, we are ready to take action!
3. 3's and 6's
Purpose: Seated Spirals exercise. Breathings that focus on isolating the hips as a motive of the movement
Structure: Breathings on 3 with Spirals and opening of the leg variation
Graham repertory: Adorations (1975)
That is one of my favourite exercises. Gorgeous! This movement is typical of the Graham technique class.
You will work the spirals efficiently, and this exercise will allow you to express more freedom of expression in the entire classwork. There are also many combinations; a Graham teacher can be very creative with this exercise. You can add as many flavours as you like while following the same structure. It is a genuine opportunity to perform as it is so dramatic.
Dancers new to Graham won't necessarily feel their hips at first, or they will have a minimal range of motion which is fine because it improves with practice.
Recommendations: I never realised how complex the exercise was before teaching it. Students tend to struggle with coordination and memory, hips, back, arms, legs; it can be confusing. That is why they must repeat it often in your first classes. I love to do extra hips warm-up right before to boost their understanding. I use a basic game for children! Seat with your legs together forwards, and crawl on your bottom one hip at a time. Avoid moving the knees, initiate the movement from the pelvis, move forward eight counts and eight counts backward, and repeat at least four times. This exercise will help your students feel their hips and gain more range of motion. Then once you introduce the opening of the leg, repeat the same side twice without pivoting to the side.
And finally, what helps teach this movement is using the hips' directions. Emphasise how the pelvis and back work ideally to move the body effortlessly and naturally in the spirals. We open and close the legs because of perfectly articulated hips; the back moves naturally and progresses as a response.
4. Soles Of Feet Together Contractions
Purpose: Demonstrate nuances in the contraction, acquire more mobility in the spiral, and control the pelvic area—work dynamics and attack in the movement.
Structure: Centre, side to side
Graham repertory: Ardent Song (1954)
This remarkable movement also came from the stage. In this exercise, we will work the contraction, release, and spiral in many ways. It can become pretty complex depending on the class level. Breath in and out, contract, release, spiral, and high release; it pushes you to the edge with its multiple dynamics and nuances.
The movement emerges from the pelvis, and your hips are completely active. You are encouraged to take risks, to express yourself vigorously, as volume and energy are crucial to the Graham Technique.
This exercise is a great challenge and helps students become more elegant dancers by demonstrating how the pelvis and spine operate together in twisting and curving the torso.
Recommendations: Transitioning between the centre and the spirals can confuse people new to the Graham technique. To demonstrate percussive movement in the combination, I encourage you to do some voice work. I use an old, practical exercise that helps find the attack needed in the contractions: An intense and brief shout will stimulate the action, it feels like a punch in the stomach, and over time they will gain significant power and control in the contraction. I also use my hands to guide them in the spirals; it is helpful and gives them a clear understanding of directions.
Learn how to incorporate this exercise in your class in our new Online Graham Intermediate Class
5. Long Leans
Purpose: High spiral and stretching exercise. It stretches the laterals and strengthens the lower back. Improve coordination, speed, and mobility
Structure: Legs in second, back straight, spirals, pitch forward with a high release
Graham repertory: Acts of Light (1981)
Oh my, another one! I love this exercise! I like all of them, and you understand that now!...
Long Leans is a fantastic movement that will stretch you in many ways. This exercise improves coordination and moves the body in different directions depending on the level of the class.
Again, many combinations are possible, including on your feet in the centre. For instance, you can also create combinations and add grand rond de jambe, as we can see in Acts of Light (1981). It is genuinely liberating, and it feels good.
Recommendations: It is paramount to explain the difference between spiral and high spiral in your class; we are doing this in the Long Leans. We work the spiral in-depth and reach very high, so high, that you can feel the sun on your face! That is the image I use in my class; you go to the light, all the way up, like someone is pulling your entire body, the stretching is very intense!
Martha Graham used to say that the bird never flys to the dark but always to the light! How beautiful is that...
I teach this exercise "the Acts of Light way" complete exaggeration! So delightful, and it is the only way for me.
At MIU, we will provide you with the support needed to introduce the Long Leans in your class:
6. Deep Stretches
Purpose: Intense stretching of the spine to deepen the contraction in different dynamics, work the spirals to develop a broader range of motion
Structure: Start in Centre in second and Spirals in 3 different arms positions
Graham repertory: Primitive Mysteries (1931)
What an intense exercise! This movement is typical of the Graham Technique and starts in the centre, legs in second, and is performed in 4 phases. Arms a la seconde, in Diamond position, in a V to finish with the soles of feet together.
I love the change of dynamics; you understand how the contraction initiates each movement and works flawlessly with the hips to engage the back harmoniously. Like most of the action from Graham's floor work, it helps you develop more artistry when you perform. It also strengthens the back to enhance the posture.
Recommendations: Use the head's weight to dive into the contraction right under yourself; the Soles of Feet Together Contractions will naturally prepare the students for this exercise. Start with the feet together before introducing the whole movement in the second position. Your students should clearly understand the spirals and have good coordination to execute this exercise efficiently. It is not an exercise to do in your first class as it requires more knowledge of the Technique beforehand.
Purpose: Contraction and Release exercise. Use gravity to develop resistance. Strengthen the abdomen and corrects the posture to create a deeper curve of the back
Structure: On 2, 3, and 4 counts, combination on six counts with high spirals, on the side of the body, with a high release
Graham repertory: Conversation of Lovers (1981)
I am in awe with Martha Graham, how creative she was, how she came up with so many dramatic movements like the Pleadings.
Inspired by the famous sculpture of Michelangelo "La Pietà," this exercise seems easy at first, but it is not; the contraction motivates the action and strengthens the entire abdomen by engaging the core deeply. It can be quite a problematic movement for some students; it is challenging.
The back on the floor encourages you to deepen and curve the torso to develop the resistance required to rise effortlessly. I love how Graham used it in the duet Conversation of Lovers from Acts of Light (1981), the dancer is on the floor in a Pleading position, and her lover takes her by the arms to finish in a splendid lift; it is precisely the right feeling. Later in the ballet, we can see how it is done more formally.
We will work on this movement too at M-Intensive University. Your students will gain a powerful core essential in the Graham technique.
Recommendations: I have seen and studied different exercise variations, with feet pointed or flexed in the contraction. You can also add spirals, move to the side of the body, and even rise to finish with a high spiral with the arm. You will see how difficult it is for some students to curve the back on the floor. This simple exercise will tremendously help: place your students in a table position, hands and knees on the floor, and arch and curve the back to improve body awareness and back mobility.
I will advise starting the Pleadings exercise with the hands on the side of the knees to support the torso in action.
Work your Pleadings with our Online Graham Class 1
The Special Ones
The Graham Technique Studies
I call these movements studies as they operate as such. These exercises will serve you as a tool to build up the essential trademark of Graham; you will not only learn movements but universal principles of the Technique that are shared worldwide.
These are not easy exercises, and you will need time and patience to acquire the quality of movement required. It is not just counts and lines, these are precise shapes, and the body is stretched creatively and unusually.
You will adore learning them, and your students will love the challenge!
8. Turns Around The Back in 4th Position
Purpose: Work the Spiral in a circular movement. Isolate the torso to increase flexibility and mobility. Improve coordination and resistance.
Structure: Start in 4th position, with 1 and 2 arms, knee work
Graham repertory: Acts of Light (1981)
This is a symbolic movement of the Graham Technique.
This exercise isolates the torso to work the spiral in-depth. The range of motion improves but also coordination by adding different arms gestures. It is also an excellent stretching device. Not an easy exercise, though; I noticed how difficult it could be for students to acquire correct placement and alignment in 4th position at the beginning. It takes lots of practice.
It is also great to connect the hips and the torso in action by increasing your range of mobility. Your students will gain so much core stability.
Recommendations: Finding the correct posture at the start is essential, so using shapes and images in teaching is beneficial. Mention the 90-degree angle in the 4th position, and the waist faces the front; sitting bones on the floor to stabilise the torso. It's like sitting on the water, touching it with your fingertips every time you turn around the back; you make one with the earth. Placing your hands on the floor at the beginning is helpful.
Avoid introducing arms straight away. Emphasise the first lesson on the connection between the pelvis and the back. It starts with hips, waist, back, shoulders, and the head is delayed. Always up from the pelvis to the top of the head!
Teach by blocks to create clear images and define the goals in each phase.
9. Back Leg Extension
Purpose: Work the arabesque, deepen the spiral and improve coordination
Structure: In 4th position, facing the left or right stage, On six counts, Variation on the knees
The famous back leg extension! What a great exercise! We will intensely work the arabesque in this 4th position which is perfect for placement and acquiring great alignment.
It is a dynamic movement that increases the range of motion and improves the spiral while working in coordination. That is a very effective exercise and not easy at first. This study will also stretch your back in-depth by pulling the spine in these intense spirals.
It is preferable for advanced beginners/intermediate-level students as it requires strength and solid body awareness.
Recommendations: Maintaining the back leg in turn out arabesque can be pretty tricky for some students; it is recommended and helpful to start in a low diagonal to focus on posture. Start in attitude and keep the back leg behind you like you would at the barre.
Avoid stretching between the legs in the last phase to maintain the correct attitude alignment; it is better to focus on the back rather than forcing the arabesque afterwards.
I like to use the image of an elastic band to come back to the 4th position every time in the first phases; it is precisely that, as you can see in M-Intensive University's tutorial below.
Purpose: Back fall exercise. Preparation to rise and fall in the centre. Strengthen the abdomen and preserve the back. Work dynamics and coordination
Structure: On 16, 8, 4 counts
Graham repertory: Adorations (1975)
The drama with a big D! What an incredible movement! Such fluidity, gracefulness, and power at the same time!
It is a testimony of Martha Graham's genius; how she pushes the body to the limit inspires and motivates any dancer learning this fantastic study. You can also adapt the counts to train your dancers and gradually go faster.
Martha used to say that the dancers were falling under themselves to rise beautifully, and we have here a perfect example of that.
Well, scroll down and admire the fabulous Alyssa Cebulski in the world-acclaimed Master Teacher Miki Orihara's class. She's dancing on Stahv Danker's gorgeous music at the NYC Martha Graham Dance Company studio.
No words needed! Oh, there is a word actually: Exquisite!
Recommendations: This exercise requires flexibility, excellent knowledge of the Technique, and core stability; therefore, it is for inter/advanced students only. You can start introducing the back fall with the legs together rather than crossing them; this will improve the resistance in the contraction before learning fast-paced sequences.
Add stretching of the glutes beforehand to support your students in the pretzel's position; the sit is not forced in any way.
11. Exercise on Six
Purpose: Stretches the entire front of the body, the deep hip flexors, and the back. Strengthen back muscles and the glutes. Enhance the posture
Structure: in 6 movements, two counts per position, and advanced variation on the knees with roll
This is a typical exercise of the Graham Technique, which is also well-known in the Yoga world as the Ustrasana pose.
Martha Graham went further and gave life to the pose; this movement will simultaneously stretch and strengthen your body. It is called the exercise on six because of the six different phases. This is essential information that will also support your students in remembering how it is executed.
You will gain more flexibility in the back and increase the power of the contraction; this is also a great tool to introduce the work on the knee. Stay two counts in each position to fully use the time and perform each phase with resistance and accuracy. I like this short study that will often end the floor work.
Recommendations: It is tricky as it can be challenging for those with bony knees like me! Which makes it quite uncomfortable, even painful. Please allow your students to use a mat or knee pads to focus on the exercise pain-free.
The pelvis stays grounded; remember to use the glutes and maintain a solid core to protect the back and reinforce the hip flexors.
The MIU Online Graham & Horton CPD Workshop
Join Patrice Moniz, Director of M-Intensive University, along with leading international Horton and Graham Techniques Guests Experts.
Over ten days, we will progressively cover the traditional exercises and movements of The Horton and Graham Techniques from Beginner to Advanced levels. You will receive all the information you need to learn in-depth the syllabus required to teach the methods how they should be. This intimate teacher training is composed of 10 rigorous lessons that will allow you to practice and implement what you've learned along the way in practical classes and workshops.
Our teacher training will prepare you thoroughly to successfully introduce your students to the Horton and Graham Techniques.
12. Traveling Fall
Purpose: Rise and Back Fall study on the knees
Structure: From 16 counts and faster
Graham repertory: Acts of Light (1981)
The traveling falls! My number one! It is my absolute favourite that we can see in Cortege of Eagles with different beautiful arms gestures (1965) and more recently in the glorious Acts of Light which is the version used in the Graham technique class today.
I was very fortunate to dance her ballet on stage, and I can't express how I felt the first time I performed it. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I nearly cried; I didn't expect such energy. It was incredible. It is just pure joy!
I fell in love with Graham Technique because of the traveling fall.
You will start on the knee to take a significant contraction; the torso towards the ceiling in a high spiral; you make one with the power of the universe. The sunshine on your face, you let it go completely, it is like floating, before falling endlessly to the ground, you are free, you are light.
Then there is a recovery to return to phase 1. The spiral is helpful and will motivate the movement; The spiral right before the first contraction will give you the impulse you need to move correctly.
In this exercise, I feel the closest to Martha Graham; I dance for her as a ritual. You shared your light with us, and now we give back!
Recommendations: This is for advanced students only as it is technical. There is a way to back fall in Graham, and how you place your arm and hand will help you tremendously. You must maintain the contraction from the start and keep it in the back fall, release, and contract in a speedy recovery by placing your arm right under the side of the body.
Remember that the contraction will initiate the movement; the correct position of the torso and arms will support your body and protect you from injuries. Please use knee pads if necessary.
Join us on Instagram at @m_intensive_odt for weekly Graham love
Rise and Shine
Standing and Across the Floor
More magic is about to happen! All the actual work learned on the floor has prepared you efficiently for that.
You will perform many movements that apply the same principles; you are fully warmed up and ready to move across the space.
We will start with the plies; work the feet with brushes (degages or jetes in the Graham Technique); you will discover great exercises such as the Slow Walks, the Prances, or the Triplets.
To build a confident Graham technique dancer, we will do diverse exercises working the entire body to finish with a combination.
13. The Plies
Purpose: Warm up the body and strengthen articulations, help you deepen the contraction, and prepare the body to move across the floor
Structure: In 1st to 5th position
Graham repertory: Maple Leaf Rag (1990)
Even the plies in Graham are special. It feels so good! It is a delightful moment in the class that makes the Graham experience unforgettable.
We will start in the first position with a deep and smooth demi plié; you take a deep contraction for a few counts and let it go with a liberating high release. It is a celebration of life! The plies in Graham will do everything a good plié exercise does and will prepare your body for jumps and all the great work in the centre and across the floor.
A proper plié can help prevent many injuries because of the spring-like motion in your legs that helps absorb impact when you land from jumps. This movement is optimum to develop artistry and musicality, as we can see in Maple Leaf Rag (1990).
You can see more formal plies in Acts of Light (1981) or Adorations (1975), but I wanted to show you how Martha Graham brilliantly used a simple plie in her work.
Recommendations: Do not sit in the grand plie in 1st position, control the descent and use all the counts to demonstrate resistance in the movement. The contraction in 1st position is not easy to acquire; students are often confused the first time; therefore, working the pleadings beforehand in the floor work will help prepare the posture for the pliés.
The Graham class is so well built every exercise prepares you perfectly for the next.
Think about the sternum in the high releases that must face the ceiling to avoid tension in the neck.
14. Slow Walks
Purpose: Moving across the floor exercise emphasises coordination and weight shift to create momentum and expression. Facilitate transitions in combination and enhances balance
Structure: Slow walks with or without port de bras
Graham repertory: Seraphic Dialogue (1955)
We are now moving across the floor with this timeless exercise perfect for developing artistry and expansion. Before running, we must learn to walk! That is what Martha Graham's Technique is all about; it is a journey.
In this exercise, we will work on transferring the weight; the slow-motion gives you time to perform and feel the back movement that initiates the action; although we are walking with the legs, in reality, the back is key to Slow Walks. You can then add arms, spirals, or even change directions and speed.
You can create as many combinations as you like, such as circular walks with turns and more. What a lovely and dramatic exercise which is also fantastic for transitions and linking more prominent movements in combinations.
Recommendations: Start by introducing the Slow Walks without spirals to allow your students to concentrate on the coordination of the back and the legs. The shoulders remain above the hips, and we stretch the lower back to develop more resistance in the core by using our abdomen and the glutes. The movement is all about transferring the weight in perfect fluidity.
Remember that the head responds to the back; we follow the same direction.
And finally, the best piece of advice is to move as you would in the street! The experience is pretty helpful, and feeling the complex mechanism helps boost body awareness.
Purpose: Weight transfer exercise on releve that improves coordination and strengthens ankles. Travel and link movements in combination
Structure: on three counts, spirals, with port de bras, across the floor
Graham repertory: Appalachian Spring (1944)
This movement helps you move across the floor with ease and elegance. You will strengthen your ankles with the releves and move your body with arms in the space effortlessly; it is a great tool to work coordination.
There are endless combinations; it could go flat across the floor, in a circle, with arms, spirals, and so on. It becomes more challenging every time, which is fun! Students love Triplets.
It is also fantastic for linking movements, entering or exiting the stage, and it can precede more extensive exercises such as jumps.
Mrs. Graham genuinely observed her peers; this movement reminds me of us hopping in the street before taking a run, right? That is why Graham is so natural! It makes complete sense in the end.
Recommendations: Introduce the triplets slowly and without spirals to focus on the leg work and travel.
The pelvis is lower in the transition, there is an explicit action of bending the legs, and this plie will help you create momentum and gain more freedom of expression in the activity.
Students tend to walk on the spot the first time; in reality, it is a continuous movement where the use of the space is the key.
I like to use the hands on the hips when I introduce them to concentrate on posture and help my students understand how the back sustains the exercise. Imagine a wet floor you have just cleaned; you do not want to stain it; therefore, you tiptoe very high to the next room. It's a funny example that is pretty accurate!
16. The Wide Fall in second / Split Fall
Purpose: Front fall exercise. Improves flexibility and resistance in the contraction to create dramatic tension. Gain more flexibility in the split.
Structure: From a standing position or on the floor, on the spot, and across the floor
Graham repertory: Deep Song (1937)
The wide fall in second is a dramatic movement of the Graham Technique, and it is simply gorgeous (as everything Martha has created, haha).
It can start standing and complement another exercise of the floor work, such as 3 Witches (4th position); in the latter, it improves dynamics and attacks the movement. You can prolong the fall or be fast and even brutal, like a full stop.
The contraction will also initiate the action and allow the body to acquire more resistance in the fall to create this gorgeous suspension in the air. It is not just a split, the contraction is essential, and with the correct port de bras, you design the shape required.
This is a popular Graham step and one of the most beautiful gestures of the Technique.
Recommendations: The legs are parallel, the back foot is on demi-pointe until you reach the floor; the contraction is key to suspending the movement and creating the dramatic tension that makes it unique.
Purpose: Extension exercise of the legs in second, gain amplitude by tilting the torso to demonstrate unity in complete opposition.
Structure: On the spot, across the floor, in jumps and falls
Graham repertoire: Diversion of Angels (1948)
This iconic movement is often taught in the Graham class. Martha Graham's dance Technique inspired the contemporary dance world throughout the years.
The difference between a tilt and a traditional developpe in second in classical ballet is the torso and the opening of the hip. We tilt with the torso to extend the leg by freeing the hips. One straight line stretches further and further to show a lovely extension.
The back will initiate the movement and will get the leg higher. The more you tilt with the torso, the more you lift the leg.
This movement can travel across the floor, with a leg bent, on releve, in jumps, and even in turns! It can be pretty challenging paired with a cartwheel, as seen in Diversion of Angels (1948).
Recommendations: I start introducing the tilt position on the floor as an exercise or in a variation in the Long Leans with the leg bend. It is pretty helpful and helps students assimilate the correct posture of the torso.
We will work out the position across the floor in diagonals in the centre. This will facilitate the feeling of opposition between the hand and the leg in the air and make the exercise more interesting with traveling.
You can also start in plie second and tilt from one leg to another, perfect to work the balance. I will often use a combination with Tilt at the end of the class to implement everything learned in the lesson.
18. Knee Vibration
Purpose: Rond de jambe with grand battement exercise. Deepen the resistance in contraction and acquire percussive movement in the release.
Structure: Rond de jambe on the floor and in the air
Graham repertory: Errand into the Maze (1947)
The more I write this article, the more I realise how legendary Martha Graham is. I speak in the present because her dance makes her more alive than ever!
This unusual movement is so spectacular. Indeed, we vibrate! It is like your leg is getting in and out of your body; it stretches you and strengthens your hip flexors and glutes. Your abdomen is fully involved, you acquire more stability of the core that enhances balance enormously.
Martha Graham explained that we could use the movement in many contexts such as joy, anger, or love! Then we will finish with an explosive grand battement, like a bottle of champagne! It pops and liberates you in complete satisfaction.
This exercise is so powerful and wild; it is the essence of Graham and how Graham is danced, it is an intense form of expression which still surprises me today.
Recommendations: Start by introducing the particular figure 8 motion on the floor with contraction and release for a while.
To acquire more balance in the movement, place the hands on the waist and ensure that your students focus only on the rond de jambe and the contraction. It is like the Breathings; we exhale in the contraction and inhale in the release; the same fundamental rules apply here.
Once in the air, the leg is close to the torso, even the shoulder. Think about bending the standing leg; being very grounded before the grand battement helps. It pushes you but keeps you on the floor like a tree; it is an explosion with the illusion of complete abandonment because, in reality, it requires excellent control.
19. Step Draws
Purpose: Travelling exercise that improves space awareness, balance, and peripheral vision
Structure: Flat across the floor, in a circle or turns, slow or fast-paced
Graham repertory: Clytemnestra (1958)
"Step Draws, Step Draws" I still hear the voice of one of my favourite Graham technique teachers, Mr. Kevin Predmore! He made me fall in love with it.
This step can be used in many forms, flat across the floor, in a circle, it can turn, it can be slow, or relatively fast; there are multiple combinations possible.
Laureen Elizabeth, one of our Graham technique Guests Experts at MIU, gave us a wonderful image the last time she came to teach at M-Intensive University. Step Draws in the ballet Clytemnestra (1958) expresses the dilemma lived by the vengeful queen of Mycenae. Indeed, this unusual movement, probably inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphs, gives that impression of opposition between our body and our heart.
The head will look in the spiral while the body goes in the opposite direction. We are suspended in a balance between one intention and another. Thank you for this image Laureen; what a fantastic Graham technique teacher!
Recommendations: As you will see in our tutorial on MIU, make sure to use your vision and maintain the head in the spiral. The steps are minimal to create the illusion of traveling on water; the focus is on the torso.
Keep your feet as close to the floor as possible in the demi-pointe.
In our tutorial, you will see how the talented dancer absorbs the movement and applies the corrections repeatedly to find the correct alignment.
That makes M-Intensive University so unique; the exercises are taught in real-time. We are not rehearsing for months beforehand to witness the natural learning process.
20. Sparkle Jumps
Purpose: Small jumps that travel and warm-up calves. Improve dynamics and musicality. Prepare the body for bigger jumps
Structure: Across the floor and fast-paced
Graham repertory: Acrobats of God (1960)
If you want your students to love Graham, that's one of the most loved jumps in the Technique! Students love Sparkles! It brings joy and happiness into the studio!
Technically these are Temps Leve jumps. There are pretty fast-paced; it is like the floor is on fire, so you jump quickly not to get burned! An extension of the Pique Step Step, which could also be on this list, is perfect for warming up the calves and preparing the body for big jumps across the floor.
Add spirals every time you jump to release the joy in your heart! It also serves wonderfully as transitions to link significant movements in combinations.
My students love it, and they are quite disappointed when we don't do them in the class, as I like to say: "We cannot do Sparkle jumps in each lesson; it's not Christmas every day!". It's a treat! haha
Recommendations: Introduce the movement with Pique Step Step across the floor and gradually add spirals and the appropriate port de bras before jumping.
I like to play with the speed and use it as an excellent way to end the class with voice work; even after a combination, we are finishing off on a friendly and positive note with Sparkles jumping around like Bambi! haha
Everyone claps in rhythm. It is a real experience!
21. Bison Jumps
Purpose: Big attitude jumps in contraction that improves elevation and propulsion
Structure: In combination, on the spot or across the floor
Graham repertory: Night Journey (1947)
Bison jumps are celebrated in the Graham community and are often taught in class on their own and in choreography.
It can travel or be on the spot right after an assemble; the legs meet the torso with a deep contraction. This is an athletic movement seen in many ballets of Martha Graham, such as Night Journey (1947). I love the gorgeous ensemble of powerful women taking these big contractions before jumping on the piano; it is superb! So creative! What an intelligent way to play with the music, right?
That is an iconic moment in Graham's choreographic history; this ballet genuinely established Martha Graham again as one of the best choreographers in human history. How inspiring.
I also adore this movement in The Rite of Spring (1984). Oh my, so strong! What a performance, I love all the steps. Martha Graham was such a fierce choreographer!
Recommendations: The most critical point of the Bison jumps is the contraction! Work the Bison position in the centre, in an adagio, on 4 or 2 counts with the back leg on the floor first, in a significant 4th position to work placement and acquire the correct alignment.
Then introduce the jumps on the spot with an assemble beforehand; this popular exercise works.
The Graham Technique in 21 Movements.
Martha Graham revolutionised contemporary dance. Her modern dance Technique is taught in many institutions, including the prestigious Martha Graham Dance School and Company, which shares her works with millions worldwide.
Martha Graham succeeded in establishing her style with her loyal dancers that helped shape the Graham Technique class we know today. They gave us reliable resources to get us closer to her art, to feel closer to Martha Graham herself, and for that, we can only be immensely grateful.
These 21 movements will give you a good understanding of the Technique's fundamentals and stylistic.
It is just a drop in the ocean because more than 200 movements are in the method! What an achievement; it's unreal! I hope this blog motivates you to learn more about the unique dance that Martha Graham has created.
There is a before and after Graham in my career. The Technique opened my mind to new ways to move my body, and I feel privileged to share such knowledge.
I am so thankful for writing this post for you today as I believe these are basic exercises to know about when studying the Technique as a teacher or as a student.
In MIU, you will study these movements and access all the resources you need to master the Graham Technique and its principles.
Remember, it takes time and patience.
M-Intensive University will stay by your side for as long as necessary and will guide you along the way.
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I dedicate this article to you, Martha Graham; thank you for enlightening me.
Thank you for everything. You are Eternal.
Thank You For Reading; please Share With Your Friends And Family!
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