Graham Technique Lessons


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.

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

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.


Begin with your legs in second position, palms down over the line of your legs, and torso in neutral. Contraction 1-2, deepen it forward 3-4, release on diagonal 5-6 and rise upright 7-8. Repeat to the right, and then to the left. Your contraction will be what changes you from side to side, so stay in the diagonal until the new phrase begins.


On the & bring your arms up to a diamond position and repeat center, right, and left with the arms in diamond, allowing your elbows to come parallel as you contract. On the & again change your arms, this time to a wide V position. Repeat the sequence again, center, right, and left with the elbows once again bending and coming parallel on the contractions. The final set will be with the soles of the feet touching and hands holding the ankles. Finish your phrase in a high release.


Pay especially close attention to the hands and feet when the body contracts and releases!


Begin in your Graham fourth position (pelvis on the diagonal, front foot flexed on the walk, back leg tucked under, palms open and forward with pinkies touching the ground, torso spiraled towards your back leg).

Pelvis will initiate the spiral in opposite direction, beginning from the base of the spine and finishing with the top of the head 1-4, then returning back 5-8. Repeat 1-8. Add your arm, taking the pathway up with middle and then open as you return 1-8. Add your second arm for the second set of 8.


FOR MORE ADVANCED DANCERS: After finishing the first four 8’s of the sequence take one more spiral towards your front leg with the arm 1-4, hinge from your pelvis into a diagonal reach (fingertips the ground) 5-6 lift and spiral 7-8. Come down to your forearm 1-2 (opposite arm will reach long overhead, torso is in a side bend), then use your contraction to bring your torso back to center, remaining in that contracted position with your arms spiraled on 3-4. Release (option to come all the way up to the knees or shins but make sure your toes point in towards one another) with arms out long and torso and head reaching to the side on 5-6, then reset in the center line 7-8. Repeat the entire sequence again. Take one more spiral towards your front leg 1-4 then hold your pitch forward. Try lifting your back leg off the ground and holding it there.

This position can be uncomfortable for some people.. but it shouldn’t hurt your knees! Play around with how far away your heel is from your hip, or the angle at which you are bending your leg that is tucked back. Graham looks different on different bodies.. that’s the beauty of it!

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”.


Across the Floor


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RDT appreciates the generous funding provided by the Utah Legislature and the Utah Board of Education that help make our Arts-in-Education Programs possible in Utah’s Public Schools.<br />

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