Show some respect! for Martha Graham … and Jack Cole


I was intrigued to learn, while doing research, that Jack Cole, a great dance pedagogue, instructed his pupils as follows: “Jack asked us to stand when he entered the dance studio, like Martha Graham‘s students,” one of Cole’s late-life students at UCLA told me in an interview. Cole was long an admirer of Graham with whom he studied. Both choreographers were artistic descendants of Denishawn.

Wow, does that mean that Martha Graham’s pupils didn’t just sit on their duffs shooting the breeze when a great artist arrived to teach them?

I fact-checked this with Janet Eilber, artistic director of the Graham company. Really and truly? I asked Janet. Did you stand for Graham before class?

“Yes, absolutely! ” replied Ms. Eilber, in an email. “Standing when the teacher enters the room to teach was established long before I joined the Company.  I learned it from my first Graham class at Juilliard in 1969, and it continues today.”

This was amazing to learn. The students’ casual body language on view in this photo of Jack Cole, below, teaching at Jacob’s Pillow in 1971 always disturbed me.

Ms. Eilber continued, “Martha rarely spoke about it — she didn’t have to — who wouldn’t stand when Martha Graham entered a room?!

Ms. Eilber explained, “It was clear to all that it was a moment of respect and dedication — to the teacher, the space (wherever a dancer stands is sacred ground) and to the journey you were embarking on (the class.)  You were expected to clear your mind, focus and give every fiber of your being to the process. “

How did it work?, I asked.

“She would enter, say, “Be seated, please”, turn with a small bow to the pianist, and say, “Shall we begin?” — small pause —  and we would start the bounces.”

“Bounces,” for your information, are the first in a sequence of warm-up exercises in a Martha Graham technique class. The below photo shows bounces in “second position.”

Intensive Martha Graham Teacher Workshop | Level II June 29 – July 3 | Zoom

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