Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Martha Graham's House of the Pelvic Truth: The Figuration of Sexual Identities and Female Empowerment

  • Henrietta Bannerman
Extract

Martha Graham writes in her autobiography Blood Memory that she was bewildered, or, as she puts it “bemused,” when she heard how dancers referred to her school as “the house of the pelvic truth” (Graham 1991, 211). We might perhaps agree with Graham that this is not the best description for a highly respected center of modern dance training; neither does it match Graham's image as an awe-inspiring and exacting teacher, nor does it suit the seriousness with which her tough technique is regarded. But the house of the pelvic truth does chime with stories about Graham's often frank method of addressing her students. She is reputed to have told one young woman not to come back to the studio until she had found herself a man. At other times she would tell her female students, “you are simply not moving your vagina” (211). Add to this other stories about the men in the company suffering from “vagina envy” (211), and it can be readily understood that the goings-on in the Graham studio gave rise to its nickname, “house of the pelvic truth.”

In British dance circles of the 1960s, it was not rumors of the erotic that attracted most of us to Graham's work or persuaded us to travel to New York in search of the Graham technique. There was little in the way of contemporary dance training in Britain at this time, and we had been mesmerized by the beautiful and rather chaste film A Dancer's World (1957), in which Graham pronounces: a dancer is not a phenomenon … not a phenomenal creature.… I think he is a divine normal. He does what the human body is capable of doing. Now this takes time…it takes about ten years of study. This does not mean he won't be dancing before that time, but it does take the pressure of time, so that the house of the body can hold its divine tenant, the spirit. (1962, 24)

Copyright
References
Hide All
Anon. 1931. Heretic [Film]. New York: Fox Movietone News.
Ardolino, Emile. 1976. Martha Graham Dance Company: Diversion of Angels; Lamentation; Frontier; Adorations; Medea's Dance of Vengeance; Appalachian Spring. Dance in America. New York: WNET/13.
Aristotle. 1920. On the Art of Poetry. Translated by Bywater, Ingram. Oxford: Clarendon.
Banes, Sally. 1998. Dancing Women: Female Bodies on Stage. London: Routledge.
Bannerman, Henrietta. 1999. “An Overview of Martha Graham's Movement System. (1929–1991).” Dance Research 17 (2): 946.
Barzel, Ann. 1939. American Document [excerpt], Chicago Opera House; Every Soul Is a Circus [excerpt], Chicago Civic Centre. Films at the Dance Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
Bell-Kanner, Karen. 1998. Frontiers: The Life and Times of Bonnie Bird. Amsterdam: Harwood.
Bird, Dorothy, and Greenberg, Joyce. 1997. Bird's Eye View. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Bryan, Julian. 1935. Frontier [Film].
Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble. London: Routledge.
Childs, Peter. 2000. Modernism. London: Routledge.
Coton, Edward. 1954. “Martha Graham in London.” Dancing Times 523: 407–9, 414.
Cuddon, John Anthony. 1998. Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin.
Daly, Ann. 1995. Done into Dance: Isadora Duncan in America. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
De Mille, Agnes. 1991. Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham. London: Hutchinson.
Franko, Mark. 1996. “History/Theory—Criticism/Practice.” In Corporealities: Dancing Knowledge, Culture and Power, edited by Leigh Foster, Susan, 2552. London: Routledge.
Franko, Mark. 2002. The Work of Dance: Labor, Movement, and Identity in the 1930s. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Freud, Sigmund. 2005. The Essentials of Psycho-analysis. London: Vintage.
Goldberg, Rose Lee. 1994, Arts Publications: Martha Graham Dance Company—Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, New York. December. Retrieved June 23, 2009, from <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_mo268/is_n4_v33ai_16547770/>.
Graham, Martha. 1930. “Seeking an American Art of the Dance.” In Revolt in the Arts: A Survey of the Creation, Distribution and Appreciation of Art in America, edited by Sayler, Oliver M., 249–56. New York: Brentano.
Graham, Martha. 1962. “Martha Graham in a Dancer's World.” Dance and Dancers 13 (8): 2325.
Graham, Martha. 1973. The Notebooks of Martha Graham. New York: Doubleday.
Graham, Martha. 1991. Blood Memory. New York: Doubleday.
Grant, Michael S. 2006. “Fever Pitch—The Martha Graham Company Keeps the Fierce Spirit of Its Founder Alive.” Metro Newspapers, January 1824.
Grimm, Thomas, producer. 1989. An Evening with Martha Graham. Television Broadcast that Includes Errand into the Maze, Cave of the Heart, and Acts of Light. London: BBC 2.
Hargrave, Roy. 1966. “Hargrave 1937.” In Martha Graham, edited by Armitage, Merle, 5462. New York: Dance Horizons.
Hering, Doris, and Kourlas, Gina. 1999. “Two Views of the Martha Graham Company Season—Review.” Dance Magazine (May). Retrieved February 1, 2010, from <http://findarticles.com/p/p/articles/mi_m1083/is_5_73/ai_54542400/>.
Horosko, Marian. 2002. Martha Graham: The Evolution of Her Dance Theory and Training. Rev. ed. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.
Jackson, Graham. 1982. “The Roots of Heaven: Sexuality in Martha Graham.” In Dance Spectrum: Critical and Philosophical Enquiry, edited by Taplin, D. T., 5061. Dublin: Otium.
Jackson, Stevi. 1996. “The Social Construction of Female Sexuality.” In Feminism and Sexuality: A Reader, edited by Jackson, Stevi and Scott, Sue, 6273. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Kisselgoff, Anna. 1999. “‘Dark Meadows’: From Graham, via Jung, a Journey through an Erotic Landscape.” New York Times, February 18. Retrieved February 15, 2008, from <http://www.nytimes.com/library/arts/021899graham-dance-review.html>.
Kolodin, Irving. 1946. Graham Does Dark Meadow. New York Sun, January 24. Retrieved June 23, 2009, from <http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.200153584/default.html>.
Kroll, Nathan. 1961. Night Journey [Film]. New York: Kroll Productions.
Lloyd, Margaret. 1949. The Borzoi Book of Modern Dance. New York: Knopf.
Lockyer, Bob, and Morris, Rona. 1991. Lamentation (excerpt); Steps in the Street, Frontier (excerpt); El Penitente; Demonstration of Early Graham Technique Performed by Bonnie Bird; Diversion of Angels; Herodiade; Maple Leaf Rag. London: BBC 2.
McDonagh, Don. 1974. Martha Graham: A Biography. London: David and Charles.
Oswald, Genevieve. 1983. “Myth and Legend in Martha Graham's Night Journey.” Dance Research Annual (Congress on Research in Dance) 14 (1): 4347.
Reynolds, Dee. 2002. “A Technique for Power: Reconfiguring Economies of Energy in Martha Graham's Early Work.” Dance Research 20 (1): 333.
Siegel, Marcia. 2001. “The Harsh and Splendid Heroines of Martha Graham.” In Moving History/Dancing Cultures, edited by Dils, Ann and Cooper-Albright, Ann, 307–14. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Soares, Janet. 1992. Louis Horst: Musician in a Dancer's World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Studlar, Gaylyn. 1988. In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic. New York: Columbia University Press.
Terry, Walter. 1978. I Was There. New York: Marcel Dekker.
Thoms, Victoria. 2006. “Reading Human Sex: The Challenges of a Feminist Identity through Time and Space.” European Journal of Women's Studies 13 (4): 357–71.
Tobias, Tobi. 1984. “A Conversation with Martha Graham.” Dance Magazine (March): 6467.
Wengerd, Tim. 1991. “Martha's Men.” Dance Magazine 65 (6): 4952.
Jowitt, Deborah. 1988. Time and the Dancing Image. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Stodelle, Ernestine. 1984. Deep Song: The Dance Story of Martha Graham. New York: Schirmer.
Tracy, Robert. 1997. Goddess: Martha Graham's Dancers Temember. New York: Limelight Editions.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Dance Research Journal
  • ISSN: 0149-7677
  • EISSN: 1940-509X
  • URL: /core/journals/dance-research-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed