Like many teachers of conscious dance, I look to Martha Graham as a role model.
Her inspirational sayings, such as, “Dance is the hidden language of the soul,” regularly make their way around social media pages and other promotional materials.
Recognized as the mother of what we now refer to as modern or contemporary dance, Graham (1984-1991) imparted a great deal of wisdom about the mind-body connection in her own performances and in her teaching of others.
Motivated by what is arguably her most famous quote, I picked up her autobiography, Blood Memory (1991) and blissfully encountered a treasure trove of insight about embodiment, integration and holistic living. Here are some nuggets from Martha that I find particularly relevant to my own mindful, conscious practices.
I am proud to consider her one of my spiritual teachers. As a teacher of practices like conscious dance, meditation, yoga and psychotherapy, I find her guidance refreshing:
1.) “You will know the wonders of the human body because there is nothing more wonderful. The next time you look into the mirror, just look at the way the ears rest next to the head; look at the way the hairline grows; think of all the little bones in your wrist. It is a miracle. And the dance is a celebration of that miracle.”
2.) “I am absorbed in the magic of movement and light. Movement never lies. It is the magic of what I call the outer space of imagination.”
3.) “And then there is inspiration. Where does it come from? Mostly from the excitement of living.”
4.) “There are always ancestral footsteps behind me, pushing me, when I am creating a new dance, and gestures are flowing through me. Whether good or bad they are ancestral. You get to the point where your body is something else and it takes on a world of cultures from the past, an idea that is very hard to express in words.”
5.) “To those who can become as open-minded as children the dance has a tremendous power. It is a spiritual touchstone.”
6.) “Every time you breathe life in or expel it, it is a release or a contraction. It is that basic to the body. You are born with these two movements and you keep both until you die. But you begin to use them consciously so that they are beneficial to the dance dramatically. You must animate that energy within yourself. Energy is that thing that sustains the world and the universe. It animates the world and everything in it. I recognized early in my life that there was this kind of energy, some animating spark, or whatever you choose to call it. It can be Buddha, it can be anything, it can be everything. It begins with the breath.”
7.) “The body is a very strange business. The chakras awake the centers of energy in the body, as in Kundalini yoga. The awakening starts in the feet and goes up. Through the torso, the neck, up, up, through the head, all the while releasing energy.”
8.) “I want the dancers in my company not to be like me. I want them to have studied with me, of course. I want them to be themselves and I encourage them to do that. I want the dancers to learn the dance physically, strongly, and then put their own meaning into it, if they can dare do that. I don’t believe in having stereotyped mes running around. They should bear the mark of my work while feeling free to be the individuals they are.”
9.) “You don’t build on security. You risk. Everything is a risk. You use every part of anything you remember as part of the present, the now.”
10.) “Do what you are doing and be excited about what you are doing. Be the best in the world by what you do and love it.”
Graham, M. (1991). Blood memory: An autobiography. New York: Doubleday.
Author: Dr. Jamie Marich
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s Own