Saturday, October 17, 2015

On choreography -Doris Humphrey and The Art of Making Dances

Doris Humphrey, the great modern choreographer was born on October 17th 1895. A pioneer in American modern dance, her innovative ideas on choreography and dance teaching were of deep influence on her contemporaries and subsequent dancers and choreographers.


Her book The Art of Making Dances was written a while before her death in 1958 and is still considered one of the most important books of its kind. It is a choreography manual, full of instructions and advices that comes from Humphrey’s 50 years of experience in the field. It is the first modern book on the art of choreography, a guide for modern dance as well as any other stage creation. Humphrey proposes a theoretical frame, tools, examples and exercises that can assist the composition of a piece of choreography. The book includes a short history of dance and examines issues of design, dynamics, rhythm, space and time in the choreographic process.


Below we share two short excerpts from the book:

Choreographers are special people (p.20-25)

In the book introduction Humphrey lists the characteristics of a choreographer:
  • Extrovert , sensitive and observant.
  • Curious about the bodies he works with.
  • Has a dramatic sense.
  • Facility –speed, resourcefulness and judgment.
  • Has a good eye and a sensitive ear and is musically literate.
  • Masters language and has something to say.
  • ‘The choreographer is an ardent lover and suffused with enthusiasm about his new love, the next dance.’

Check List (p.159-166)

In the end of the book Humphrey offers  suggestions on composing a piece, in the form of a check-list which are then further analyzed.
  • Symmetry is lifeless.
  • Two-dimensional design is lifeless.
  • The eye is faster than the ear.
  • Movement looks slower and weaker on the stage.
  • All dances are too long.
  • A good ending is forty percent of the dance.
  • Monotony is fatal.
  • Don’t be a slave to, or a mutilator of, the music.
  • Listen to qualified advice –don’t be arrogant.
  • Don’t intellectualize –motivate movement.
  • Don’t leave the ending to the end.


The Art of Making Dances is the subjective point of view of Humphrey on the choreographic process, but can offer incentives for thought and experimentation to those who want to indulge to the art of choreography. Look for it in our bookcshelves!

See also:

More books on Humphrey and her work:

More dance history here and here.

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