Family Tree of Modern Dance: Loie Fuller

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History of Modern Dance

Family Tree of Modern Dance:

Loie Fuller

Maud Allan

Isadora Duncan

Ruth St. Denis & Ted Shawn

Doris Humphrey & Charles Weidman

(Humphrey- Weidman)

Martha Graham

Jose Limon

Merce Cunningham

Alvin Ailey


I wanted to begin not with characters or ideas, but with movements . . .I wanted significant movement. I did not want it to be beautiful or fluid. I wanted it to be fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge.” –Martha Graham

  • Martha Graham’s impact on dance was staggering and often compared to that of Picasso’s on painting. Her contributions transformed the art form and expanded dance around the world.

  • She was born in 1894 in Pennsylvania.

  • She was inspired by a performance by Ruth St. Denis.

  • Graham enrolled in the Denishawn School.

  • In 1926 she created the Martha Graham Dance Company, one of the oldest dance companies in America.

  • She also created the Martha Graham School for Contemporary Dance in New York.

  • She created the Graham technique.

  • A
    "Letter to the World" (1940) Photo by Barbara Morgan

    s a teacher, Graham trained and inspired generations of fine dancers and choreographers. Her students included such greats as Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor. She collaborated with famous composers and sculptors.

  • One of her most famous early works was “Appalachian Spring” (1944).

  • Another famous work was “Night Journey” (1947) based on the play, Oedipus Rex.

  • In 1948 Graham and Erick Hawkins married, but the marriage was short-lived.

  • Despite her age, she continued to dance throughout the 1960s. It was not until 1969 that Graham announced her retirement from the stage.

  • She continued to teach and choreograph until her death in 1991. She was 96.

  • Martha Graham’s continued experimentation and her constant attention to human emotion, frailty, and perseverance, is one of the greatest individual achievements in American cultural history.

  • The current artistic director is Janet Eilber.

  • In Toronto, you can take Graham classes at Toronto Dance Theatre


  • José Limón was a critical figure in the development of modern dance: his powerful dancing shifted perceptions of the male dancer.

  • He was born in 1908 in Mexico.

  • Limón started out as a painter.

  • When he saw his first dance performance he said: “What I saw simply changed my life. A man could, with dignity and towering majesty, dance”.

  • H
    “The UnSung” (1970)
    e studied with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman in their Humphrey-Weidman) school in New York.

  • Limón founded the José Limón Dance Company in 1946 with Doris Humphrey as the first artistic director.

  • In the company, he developed his repertory with Doris Humphrey and established the principles of the style that was to become the Limón technique.

  • The Limón technique is based on principles of weight, fall and recovery as established by Limón and his mentors, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman.

  • Limón was best known as a choreographer who made dance dramas, often based on literary or biblical themes.

  • His most famous dance is “The Moor's Pavane” (1949), based on Shakespeare's “Othello”.

  • Limón continued to work and choreograph until he died in 1972 at the age of 64.

  • L
    “The Moor’s Pavane” (1949)
    imón taught at Juilliard from 1951 on, and today, dancers come to New York from all over the world to study with the Limón company.

  • Carla Maxwell, a former JLDC member, became the artistic director in 1978.

  • In Toronto, you can take Limón classes at Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre.


  • Alvin Ailey is credited with popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation in dance.

  • Ailey's choreographic masterpiece “Revelations” is believed to be the best-known and most often seen modern dance performance.

  • Born in Texas in 1931.

  • Ailey grew up during a time of racial segregation and rumors of violence and lynchings against African-Americans. The rape of his mother by white men when he was five made him fearful of whites.

  • Ailey was inspired by performances of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company

  • He took class with Lester Horton.

  • Ailey started his own small group of black modern dancers and called it the Alvin Ailey American Dance in 1957.

  • H
    “Revelations” 1960
    e created a dance style than a technique.

  • He said that what he wanted from a dancer was a long, unbroken leg line ("a ballet bottom") combined with a dramatically expressive upper torso ("a modern top"). "What I like is the line and technical range that classical ballet gives to the body. But I still want to project to the audience the expressiveness that only modern dance offers."

  • His choreography was inspired by the blues, spirituals and gospels.

  • The current Artistic Director is Judith Jamison, one of AAADT’s most dazzling dancers from 1965 to 1980.

  • Today, the company continues to perform his work.

  • His company gained the nickname "Cultural Ambassador to the World" because of its extensive international touring.

  • He created 79 works over his lifetime.


  • Merce Cunningham was a solo dancer of commanding presence, a controversial choreographer, an influential teacher, and an organizer of an internationally acclaimed avant-garde dance company.

  • He was born in Washington in1919.

  • From 1939 to 1945, he was a soloist in the Martha Graham Dance Company.

  • He collaborated with music composer, John Cage, in 1942, to present his first New York solo concert.

  • Cunningham formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1953.

  • He began to produce abstract dances with the focus on movement itself.

  • Cunningham and Cage developed a method of creating known as "Chance Operations”. He would invite a musician to create a score and an artist to create a visual environment while he created the choreography. Each would work on their area separately and then combine the elements for the first time on stage before an audience.

  • Cunningham’s dancers are famous for learning and rehearsing a work in silence and not hearing the music until the first performance.

  • Merce created the Cunningham technique.

  • Merce Cunningham continues to work as the artistic director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which is a group of fourteen dancers (seven women, seven men).

  • Even today, in spite of the physical limitations imposed by age, he still demonstrates to his company the movements he wants them to perform in class or in a new dance.

  • Cunningham's personal dance style, reflected in his choreography, was usually athletic in forcefulness.

  • Cunningham is not interested in telling stories or exploring psychological states. His choreography is not narrative but abstract.

  • Cunningham's interest in technology has led him to work with the computer program “DanceForms” in 1991, which he still uses in making all of his dances.

  • He has choreographed more than 150 works for his own company.

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