Doris Humphrey was a trailblazer in modern dance during the early twentieth century. As an American dancer she broke new ground by creating a new philosophy of dance that focused on the rise and fall of the body. Humphrey was born in the year 1895 to Horace Buckingham Humphrey and Julia Ellen Wells in Oak Park Illinois. Growing up, Humphrey was surrounded by music and dance, as her mother had a musical education and taught piano. She quickly discovered her passion for dance under the guidance of Mary Wood Hinman where she learned ballet, folk, interpretive and clog. (Siegel, 2005) Humphrey blossomed as a dancer and began teaching others through her parents’ dance company at a young age.
In 1917, Humphrey wanted to expand her dance knowledge and traveled to Las Angles to study dance at the Denishawn Dance Company, a company notorious for teaching German modern dance, primitive, and oriental. (Siegel, 2005) Humphrey traveled with the tour company and collaborated with other talented dancers such as Charles Weidman.
Charles Weidman, an American dancer was also a pioneer in modern dance as well as an inspiration to other male dancers of capturing masculinity in dance. Weidman was born in Lincoln Nebraska in 1901 and his talent in dance was recognized at an early age. Weidman choreographed his first concert at the mere age of eighteen in the style of Ruth St. Denis. (Richards, 2005) As a talented dancer and choreographer, Weidman was offered a scholarship to study at the Denishawn School of dance in 1920 where he performed with Doris Humphrey.
After some unfortunate disagreements between Weidman, Humphrey and the Denishawn dance company, Weidman and Humphrey decided to establish their own dance school called the Humphrey-Weidman Dance Company in 1928. At their school, Humphrey and Weidman taught their new technique of fall and recovery to their students and traveled the country. Together, Humphrey and Weidman choreographed over 40 dance pieces. Some of their more famous pieces include Lysistrata (1930), School for Husbands (1933) and Alcina Suite (1934).
Humphrey believed that “rhythm and vocal sound are born right in us.” Humphrey choreographed her dance with and without music. Her piece, The Water Study (1928) was accompanied without music, but still had sound because “sound arises from muscular effort” (Mason, 6). Humphrey understood that dance and music could complement each other to add a greater dimensions to same piece. She also understood that dance and music could compliment as well as contrast one another. One of her more famous pieces, Air for the G String (1934), was choreographed to Johann Sebastian Bach’s complex piece, Third Orchestral Suite in D major. In this piece, she choreographed her dance moves to rise and fall with the music so much so that “the dancers become solo instruments of the orchestra” (Mason 13). Charles Weidman choreographed and performed dramatic, humorous, and lyrical types of dances. Weidman often included lyrical commentary in his pieces. Some of his most famous pieces include, On Our Mothers Side (1940), Flickers (1942) and Saints, Sinners and Scriabin (1961). His pieces were unique for his incorporation of humor.
Weidman and Humphrey are two amazing choreographers that are respected individually as well as for their collaborations in modern dance. Their groundbreaking work in the early 20th century created a technique based on the human’s body reaction to gravity that has been utilized and respected to the present day.
Doris Humphrey’s Water Study (1928)
Day on Earth (1947)
Richards, Sylvia Pelt. “Weidman, Charles.” The International Encyclopedia of Dance. : Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference. 2005. Date Accessed 29 Jan. 2015 <http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.dewey2.library.denison.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780195173697.001.0001/acref-9780195173697-e-1844>.
Siegel, Marcia B. “Humphrey, Doris.” The International Encyclopedia of Dance. : Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference. 2005. Date Accessed 29 Jan. 2015<http://0www.oxfordreference.com.dewey2.library.denison.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780195173697.001.0001/acref-9780195173697-e-0805>.
Rizzuto, Rachel. “Doris Humphrey” The International Encyclopedia of Dance Oxford University Press, 1988. Oxford Reference. 2014. Date Accessed 28 Jan. 2015. http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=921d6930-f055-405d-9cf1-5572eb6b304a%40sessionmgr4001&vid=1&hid=420