Limon/Humphrey Technique: Introduction

RDT Dancer Lauren Curley introduces Doris Humphrey and Jose Limon!

Introduction to Doris Humphrey

Doris Humphrey was a dancer and choreographer and is considered to one of the mothers of American modern dance. Born in 1895 in Illinois, her early dance training was comprised of ballet and instruction from Mary Wood Hinman. She briefly ran her own dance studio for children, teaching social and classical forms of dance. At the urging of Hinman, she moved to California where she entered the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts in 1917. At Denishawn she trained, performed, toured, and created works under the direction of modern dance pioneers Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn.

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Did you know that one of her pieces of choreography from her time at Denishawn, Soaring, is a part of RDT’s repertory? What prop is used in it?
A) Boxes
B) Trapeze harness
C) Large silk scarf
D) Bird wings

In 1928 Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, with whom she had worked closely at the Denishawn School, decided to move to New York City to pursue their own style of modern dance. It was here that they founded the Humphrey-Weidman Company. Humphrey’s theory of movement centered around the body’s relationship to gravity, which is often referred to as “fall and recovery”. She called this idea “the arc between two deaths”. On one end of the spectrum, an individual surrenders completely into gravity. On the other end, an individual resists gravity seeking balance. She also was keenly interested in the use of breath to facilitate movement. Her movement vocabulary emphasized the body’s natural rise and fall, and has thrilling climaxes of suspension and release. These principles not only guided her technique, but also guided her choreography. Where her teachers at the Denishawn School were drawing inspiration from abroad, Humphrey and Weidman drew inspiration from American life. Their choreography and their technique drew upon the shared sense of humanity in all of us, and often embodied the emotional and physical struggle to find equilibrium in the world.

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Doris Humphrey was part of the first national program to financially support dance and dancers. It was created in the 1930’s as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Second New Deal. What was it called?
A) National Dance Project
B) Federal Dance Project
C) American Dance Project
D) Federal Art Project

In addition to being a renowned choreographer, Humphrey was also an original faculty member of Bennington College and The Julliard School. Her company featured several of the most prolific dancers of that generation, notably a Mexican-American immigrant named José Limón. With the onset of World War II and her worsening arthritis, Humphrey and Weidman disbanded their company in the 1940’s. In the 1946 when Limón began his own company he invited Humphrey to be his Artistic Director, making it the first American dance company to have an Artistic Director that differed from its founder. With the José Limón Dance Company, Humphrey further explored her movement theories and continued to choreograph. Even today, the Limón Company carries on her legacy of movement in relation to breath and gravity. Her book The Art of Making Dances is still widely used in composition classes today.

Did you know that Humphrey and Limón were not interested in creating a technique, but in exploring movement theories and choreographing? Humphrey-Limón technique classes are not codified, and the lineage is passed down from previous generations of dancers

Over the past 55 years, RDT has acquired and performed numerous pieces of Humphrey’s choreography. As one of the most profound choreographers of her generation, preserving Humphrey’s choreography and technique is vital to RDT’s mission. Take a look at the list below of choreography from Humphrey that is part of RDT’s dance library. How many pieces have you seen? Which one was your favorite?

  • Soaring (1920)
  • The Shakers (1930)
  • Two Ecstatic Themes (1931)
  • Variations and Conclusion from New Dance (1935)
  • Day on Earth (1947)
  • Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor (1938)
  • Invention (1949)
  • With My Red Fires (1936)
  • Night Spell (1952)
  • Fantasy and Fugue (1952)
  • Ritmo Jondo (1953)
  • Water Study (1928)
    • Performed by Children’s Dance Theatre in collaboration with RDT

Feel free to share these videos, embed them for your students, or link to this page. New online educational resources are being developed every day. If you have suggestions for what you’d like to see let us know: rdt@rdtutah.org.

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.