I was recently asked to teach a master class at Mountain View H.S. for the class of advanced student dancers. My first thought was to teach some Martha Graham modern dance technique along with some Pilates. After all, Martha started her company in NY in 1926 and that same year, Joseph Pilates emigrated to NY to open his studio. Also while a dancer in her company, I took Pilates classes to focus on mindful balanced muscle development and to help prevent the injuries that were common with a demanding rehearsal and touring schedule.
While preparing for this workshop I realized quickly that Martha would not want to share the spotlight with anyone else, so “totally Graham” it would be. Joseph Pilates will have his own master class later.
While reviewing my materials for the workshop I remembered quickly why I was originally drawn to, and devoted much of my life to Martha Graham’s work. There are few people who can claim that “my boss was an oracle, a legend, a goddess”. Having had the good fortune to work directly with Martha for 7 years before she died, she was all of these things and more to me.
I didn’t know what to expect from the students and wondered if I’d be faced with behaviour issues. I created Graham Quote cards, 14 brightly colored index cards each with a memorable Martha Graham quote. My thought was to hand these out during the class as an incentive, to those exhibiting focus, drive and determination. I gave out 1 card and had to stop. I could not choose.
These students were totally absorbed, committed and hungry to learn and experience this unique movement style. I took seriously, my responsibility to this young group of dancers many of whom knew little about Martha.
My format included lecture, exploration of basic movement principles, an excerpt from the Helios section of the Martha Graham Company dance “Acts of Light” (see me guiding the students here) , and viewing of a video clip that I made while on tour. They enjoyed seeing what the choreography was “supposed to look like” and relished viewing some of the behind the scenes banter that occurs in a professional company while on tour.
At the end of class I held a lottery to hand out the quote cards. The dancers clearly were hoping to be chosen and applauded for each person that received one. My directive was simple. Commit to memory, the card you receive, and over time, pass that card onto another dancer in class who displays a positive work ethic. In this way they will keep alive the eloquent words of Martha Graham, and through their actions, pass on an “act of light” and appreciation to their fellow dancers.
Here is my New Years’ gift to you. Some of my favorite quotes by Martha Graham that hold special meaning to me:
Blessings to you all
(Joseph Pilates, I guess your turn is next.)