In a competitive dance world where students train to conquer the next big thing, it can feel like historic modern techniques—from Graham to Horton to Cunningham—just aren't a priority. But the truth is, these styles are just as relevant today as when they were created.
University of Taipei students in José Limón's work. PC Yi-Chun Wu
Connect to the Past—And the Present
Experiencing this movement allows dancers to live a part of dance history in their own bodies. But it also brings new context to the contemporary forms that students might be experiencing in other classes. "Anything you're doing now came from something else," says Tracy Inman, Horton teacher and co-director of The Ailey School. Penny Godboldo, co-director of the Institute for Dunham Technique Certification, adds: "If you don't know where dance has come from, how can you understand where it is now and where it can go?"
Penny Godboldo's Dunham class. PC William Robinson
Rethink Your Technique
"The Graham release isn't just letting go of your muscles, but a spread of energy through the body," says University of North Carolina at Greensboro student Kaitlin Clow. "Now in contemporary classes, I can find more control in the releases. It's a regal technique, so I've found that I can broaden my sternum and find the full span of my arms across my chest. It helped me to tune in to smaller muscles, and find movement from within."
Engage with the World
Katherine Dunham incorporated activism into her technique "not because she wanted students to be political," says Dunham teacher Penny Godboldo, "but because she wanted them to be sensitive to what was going on in the world." The Dunham class also incorporates other genres of dance, fusing styles from contemporary to folkloric to jazz.
UNCG students in a Graham work. PC Martin Kane
Transform Your Body
Students may be surprised by the intense physical demands that many of these styles present. Dunham is "a vigorous technique," according to Penny Godboldo, and students who take it see a significant increase in core strength. UNCG student Kaitlin Clow adds that the Graham technique transformed her entire body. "I've used muscles I'd never thought about, and my back is much more defined," she says.