Graham Technique: Turns Around the Back

Part 3 to our Graham Technique series, taught by Lauren Curley, featuring Turns Around the Back exercises.

Graham Floorwork

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”.

Turns Around the Back

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!

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). SEE IMAGE BELOW:

Graham Fourth

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.


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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.