Graham Technique: Bounces and Breathings on Two

Lauren Curley breaks down bounces and breathings as taught in the modern dance technique developed by Martha Graham.

Graham Floor Breakdown

Key Elements / Terminology

  • Contraction: Engagement that radiates from the center out the limbs. Most frequently referenced in terms of contracting the torso, or engaging the pelvic floor and abdominal wall. The hands and feet are often contracted in response to the torso. For kids, I often describe it as “how your stomach feels when you throw up”.
  • High Release: Often in Graham technique the sternum will lift upward in response to the contraction of the core. This is called a high release. In this position it is important to note that the vocal chords should not be strained. Encourage students to try saying their name out loud when holding their high release. If their name sounds garbled, they have collapsed their vocal chords and need to support the back of their neck. Feeling like they have a light beaming out of their sternum and up to the ceiling will help them find the upper back flexion needed.
  • Spiral: Often described as being similar to the stripes on a candy cane or a barbershop pole, the element of spiral comes up a lot in the Graham technique. I like the image of a wet towel being wrung out to describe the counter engagement that happens between the pelvic floor and the shoulder girdle. Oftentimes (but not always) the head will follow the spiral of the back so that the entire spine is spiraling.
  • Breath: One of the most important elements of Graham is the use of breath. Contraction comes from breath, as does all other movement. This doesn’t necessarily mean that students need to make noise as they move.. but that their movement shouldn’t feel “stuck” or “tense”. Emphasize the way breathing can increase articulation and mobility in movement.

Music: Graham technique requires specific music. Kevin Sport has several different albums available on iTunes and Spotify that are specifically designed for Graham class and the tracks are labeled with their corresponding exercises. These recordings are from the CD titled “Sacred Garment”.

Bounces and Breathings Exercise

Begin with the soles of your feet touching, hands on your ankles. Contract on the & count and bounce forward for two sets of 8, focusing on lengthening the spine. Release your contraction into a flat back on the diagonal 1-4, come upright 5-8, bring your arms and legs forward 1-4, flex the feet and flip your palms down 5-8. Repeat in parallel with straight legs and transition into second position (make sure you stay upright on your sitting bones).

Repeat in second position, and on the transition bring your legs crossed with pointed feet and a contracted spine with you sternum softened and arms behind the body. Breathings in two counts begin with an inhale, keeping the fingertips on the ground 1-2, exhale 3-4. Repeat 5-8. Add the arms, 1-8. Take one more inhale rise up, and finish in the silence opening the arms to a chalice position with the sternum in a high release.


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Lauren began her training in Lowell, Massachusetts at Walker’s Dance. She was a scholarship recipient at the University of Hartford’s The Hartt School, graduating Summa Cum Laude with her BFA in Dance Performance. In her time at Hartt, Lauren furthered her training at the Jose Limon Dance Foundation, Martha Graham School, Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance, and Henny Jurrien Stichting (NL). Upon graduating she was offered a contract with Repertory Dance Theatre, where she has performed works by world-renowned choreographers such as Jose Limon, Elisa Monte, Donald McKayle, Danielle Agami, and Zvi Gotheiner. Lauren is a faculty member at Creative Arts Academy and teaches master classes at studios and University programs throughout the country. She has been a member of the company since 2014.

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