Danielle Lydia Sheather as Martha Graham

“No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time; it is just that others are behind the times.”
-Martha Graham

A truly American dancer, Martha Graham took on the essence of American life, tribulations, and triumphs within her movement that is based upon the raw and expressive human body. “A dance reveals the spirit of the country in which it takes root,” Martha Graham once said. As a young dancer, Martha studied at the Denisahwn School of Dance. After leaving, she set out to establish dance as an art form exploring the human experience and aimed to create works that were not just seen as entertainment. She was known for crossing boundaries with other artists from various style of dance, including classical ballet. She worked with not only dancers, but also collaborated with writers, visual artists, actors, designers, and musicians as well. Her movement takes roots in the contraction and release and breath of the body while creating sharp shapes and angles. Her groundbreaking style was raw and dramatic as she broke away from the elemental dance styles of the time. The themes of her creations drew influence from social, political, and physiological events throughout her life. She has influenced generation after generation of dancers and choreographers from all over the world and every dance style. Martha created 181 pieces throughout her career. Those works continue to challenge dancers who study and perform them as members of The Martha Graham Dance Company and students at The Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. Dancers continue to wow audiences with their performances of her work, and new works commissioned for the company, under Martha’s influence. Martha’s work as a modern dancer and choreographer have set her apart and ahead in the world of dance. She continues to be one of the most influential and cherished dancers throughout the world.

Danielle Lydia Sheather honoring Martha Graham

“Martha Graham is one of the many dancers we should be studying because of her technique’s ability to train the body, but also because of the rich history and social and political ramifications her work exposed. Personally, her movement taught me the vulnerability of the wrists and jugular in a way that I could never fully appreciate before studying her technique. These vulnerabilities speak to all humans regardless of race, gender, or creed and that is seriously powerful in the world in which we live. Her work has shaped my choreography many times over. I was lucky to study Martha’s movement before I attended college. However, I don’t think I fully understood the concepts until I studied with Mario Camacho at Akar Danz in Bern, Switzerland. His stories about the company and dancing for Martha Graham as a soloist are really what got me hooked. Suddenly, I understood the emotive quality and the depth of her work simply by the linage in the room. I was studying with a direct line and immediately I felt more understanding. It seems a little cliché I suppose, but feeling that sense of that history made my body, mind, and spirit fully appreciate the work and the exercises. The strength that the technique can elicit and the physical demands of the work are incredible and every time I step into a Graham class I am reminded of its regal quality and its ability to enhance shape and drama. Sharing the history of Martha, along with other historical dance figures encourages the legacy of dance history and provides a lineage to the future. Perhaps more importantly, historical reference provides an understanding of dance as a political tool to highlight social injustices of the past and present and provide an artistic outlet for combating them in the future. I firmly believe this helps to create informed and passionate artists prepared for the social and cultural debates of our time.”   

-Danielle Lydia Sheather

Clinical Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of New York at Buffalo