Mary Hinkson (1925-2014)

December 8, 2014

Mary Hinkson, one of Martha Graham’s leading dancers from the 1950s through the early ’70s, passed away in November at the age of 89. Hinkson was born on March 16, 1925 in Philadelphia. She was introduced to Graham’s work by her mentor at the University of Wisconsin, Margaret H’Doubler. After graduating from the university with a master’s degree in 1947, she and three other students, including Matt Turney, formed the Wisconsin Dance Group, which toured around the Midwest.


Hinkson and Turney then went to New York University, where they completed an eight-week course with Graham. They joined her company in 1951, becoming the first black dancers to do so. At the height of the civil rights movement, Hinkson broke boundaries in the dance world and resisted being defined solely by her race.


Hinkson’s repertoire with Graham included Cave of the Heart, Seraphic Dialogue, Clytemnestra and Diversion of Angels (a signature role). In 1963, she performed the title role in Circe, which Graham created for her. Hinkson also worked with other choreographers when Graham’s company was not performing, including John Butler and Glen Tetly. In the 1950s, when he was ballet director of the New York City Opera, Butler created several roles for Hinkson. In 1959, choreographer Donald McKayle featured Hinkson in the premiere of Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder, which would become his signature piece.

Hinkson and dancer Bertram Ross briefly directed Graham’s company in the early ’70s while Graham was ill. By this time, Hinkson was a well-known teacher in the United States and abroad. She resigned from the company, and retired as a dancer, in 1973. She recently received the prestigious Martha Hill Award.


Hinkson is remembered by many in the dance world as a tremendous influence. “At the Martha Graham School in New York, whenever Mary’s name was posted we all knew that this would be a very special experience,” Christian Holder said in a Facebook comment. Desmond Richardson, who was mentored by Hinkson at The Ailey School, wrote “I felt inspired, invigorated, capable to investigate not just my technical prowess but my transitions in movement, exploring musicality and theatricality. I’m forever grateful to her for sharing her brilliance with not only me but so many others.”



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