Dance has been a part of human history since the earliest records of human life (Praagh 30). Cave paintings found in Spain and France from 30,000 -10,000 BC had life-like drawings of dancing figures participating in rituals. They illustrated the prominence of dance in early human society. Later in the Renaissance Era a new attitude towards the body, the arts, and dance was originated. The courts of Italy and France became the center of new developments in dance, providing support to dancing masters and musicians who created large scale social dances for the acknowledgment of celebrations and festivities. In the court of Catherine de Medici, the Italian wife of Henry II of France, the first forms of ballet stemmed from the genius dancer, Balthazar de Beauhoyeulx.
In 1581, Balthazar displayed the first full-length ballet for an audience. His piece was an idealized dance that told the story of a legend by combining spoken texts, intricate settings, and costumes with group dances full of strong technique (Praagh 100). In 1661, Louis XIV of France granted the organization of the first Royal Academy of Dance (Praagh 101). Because of this, during the next centuries, ballet developed into a high-class discipline and art form. Social couple dances such as the minuet and the waltz began to emerge as a display of free will and expression.
In the 19th century, the era of romantic ballet reflected the struggles ballerinas had in the new time period in such ballet classics as Giselle (1841), Swan Lake (1895), and the Nutcracker (1892) (Praagh 125). At the turn of the new century, with the commotion of World War I, the arts reflected a major questioning of values and a hysterical search for new forms that reflected individual expression and a more vigorous way of life. The Russian impresario, Sergey Diaghilev, became the leading inventor of dance in Europe reviving ballet with some of the brightest choreographers, composers, visual artists and designer of his time (Praagh 127). His ballets created a total theater experience and his company's principal dancers included Ana Pavlov, Claude Debussy, Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, George Balanchine and the unique choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, specializing in curved body movements and unusual footwork (Praagh 130). Not long after the revival of ballet, a new style of dance began to rise out of the women's release from ballet's stylized movements. This new form of dancing emerged valuing free expression of confined emotions and thoughts (Praagh 131).
The pioneers of this new dance were Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) and Ruth St. Denis (1877-1968). In 1915, St. Denis founded the Denishawn Company, which became the cradle for the forerunners of American modern dancers, including Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman (Praagh 133). Presently, as dance continues to expand all over the world, many people try to push their way into the business. Some are in it for the money and others are in it for the pure love of the art form.
However, today with so many talented individuals, the field is limited. It's extremely hard to become a dance teacher, performer on Broadway, or get into a company, unless a dancer has not only talent but also connections. Ballet, a form of dancing that attracts people from all over the world to pay hundreds of dollars for a front row seat at "Copellia,"Swan Lake" or "Nutcracker". Audiences sit in amazement as they watch skinny girls jet and tourney across the stage. A well-known male ballet dancer by the name of Enrico Cecchetti wowed audiences with his amazing jumps and later would change the way dancers were developed. Enrico Cecchetti was born in a backstage dressing room during a ballet performance in Italy on June 21, 1850 to Sera fina and Cis are Cecchetti.
Since both of his parents were dancers he was exposed to the art form at a very young age. He was a student of Giovanni Leper and at the age of sixteen he was touring the United States and Europe, showing off his perfectly executed pirouettes. After the tour Cecchetti was known as "the man that could fly" (Maynard 106). Several companies made generous offers if he would come to their school, but he chose to instruct at the Imperial School in St. Petersburg. At the school he trained famous dancers such as Olga Preobrojenskia, Tamara Karsavina, Mathilde Kschessinska, Yakovlev na Vaga nova, Vaslav Nyinsky and his prize pupil Anna Pavlova. When Pavlova left the school to perform in a company Cecchetti soon left to open his own school of dance with his wife, Giuseppina De Maria.
Together they developed Alicia Markova and Serge Li fai (Maynard 114). After instructing for many years, he had experienced many different bodies and style types of his dancers. Cecchetti then went beyond his talent and published a book which formed a new technique of dance. It compiled his findings and described his teaching techniques for various students, this became known as the Cecchetti Method.
"The Cecchetti method of ballet training prescribes a strict exercise routine using the five positions and seven basic movements of classical ballet". (Maynard 120). However, his system was never considered as a new style until twenty years after his death in 1928. Today the Cecchetti Method is used in London through the Cecchetti Society and in the United States through the Cecchetti Council of America. In 1894, ballet was still the most popular form of dance. However, a young girl was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that changed the traditions of dance forever.
This girl's name was Martha Graham. She was born on May 11, 1894 to a wealthy family, her father was a psychiatrist who was "particularly interested in the way people used their bodies, and interest that he passed on to his eldest daughter, Martha". (Conner). Martha grew up and was not interested into dance until at the age of twenty when she attended a men's club with her father and was fascinated by an exotic dancer. "From that moment on, my fate was sealed. I couldn't wait to learn to dance as the goddess" (Baughman).
Immediately she packed her things and moved to Los Angeles, California to begin her dream. She enrolled at the Denishawn School of Dance headed by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Graham was quickly rejected by St. Denis but luckily welcomed by Shawn. Without Shawn Graham would never have been given a chance because St. Denis saw her as a late beginner with no talent (Baughman).
Graham had a less then perfect body for dance. Instead of having long legs, a slender body, and a peaceful face, she had small legs, an average body, and fierce features. But luckily Shawn accepted her as his student. With a few years of instruction she proved to be a very attentive learner who absorbed style and technique by watching tapes of previous performances. She believed that "we learn by practice" (Zermeno). Soon after joining the dance school she became the lead dancer for all of Denishawn's performances.
Shortly after only a few years of studying she moved to New York and appeared on Broadway as a star for two years. During one of her shows, the Dean of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York saw her outstanding skills and stage presence and immediately invited her to join their staff. She began teaching there and not to long after started creating dances of her own. "Slowly the romantic and nostalgic features of Denishawn were stripped away and her own style of mask-like and emotional movement shone through" (Baughman). Martha took the movements of ballet and distorted the movements so they expressed various emotions (Zermeno). In 1929, only fifteen years after her first dance class, she opened her own company in New York City.
The dances that Graham would choreograph for her company were all outlines of an event that happened in history. One of her most famous works, American Document, was a summery of the history of the United States of America. One of the most amazing facts about Graham is that every number she choreographed she also performed in, and sometimes was the lead dancer. "The center of the stage is where I am", Graham said.
Audiences recognized her dances by her sharp, vulgar movements, angular body lines, and by her white face and severe eye and lip make-up (Teachout). No matter how many dances Graham would create she would never permit herself to repeat any aspect of her dances. And she was also known to make last minutes changes, even on the day of performances. But no matter what she would put on the stage for her audience they would always be amazed and stunned by her matchless style.
After six years of dancing in her company her opened her own school of modern dance at Bennington College. She continued to take many continuous many eight-hour rehearsals even through pregnancy and old age. She felt it was a nuisance getting old (Baughman). The pervious two dancers are well known all over the world, but as a dancer you do not need to be well known to be a professional dancer.
Stephanie James Marshal is a former dancer of Lee's School of Dance in downtown Butler. She danced under Miss Lee Garade's teachings for twelve years, who took her to many conventions and competitions. During one convention, Miss Lee introduced her to Mario Melodio who was the director of the Kelly Player's Club, which was a musical production company (Marshal). Melodio had Marshal to some of his classes and then casted her in the chorus to his company. While on the road with the show she befriended many people from New York who invited her to come live with them. So Marshal finished high school, packed, and left for New York, which only offered her shelter but no job.
While in New York she participated, and placed, in beauty pageants, worked three jobs, auditioned for five to ten performing arts jobs a day, and attended voice classes at American Academy of Performing Arts (Marshal). Unfortunatly it was seven months until she got a job with the Dinner Theater for "West Side Story" which was a show that traveled to the New England states. While on tour Marshal and the rest of the cast was housed in rented first class apartments or hotels with a roommate. Her roommate was Kristi Cortus who encouraged Marshal to audition and join her in the Radio City Rockettes. Cortus got her a closed private audition and she was asked to join. Marshal got her Equity Card and started dancing with the Rockettes.
The group traveled to Europe, Japan, toured with Peter Allen, appeared in "Annie: the movie", and "Night of 100 Stars" (Marshal). Marshal was a Rockettes for twenty-two years and retired at the age of forty-three with no injuries. Now she appears in music videos and commercials. Also she has been the choreographer in musicals at MTG and Vandergrifth, local musical production companies. And recently she took over the Sequinettes, Butler High School's dance and drill team. She choreographs half times, parade routines, and basketball routines for seventy girls.
She has accomplished many things that people will never have the chance to do in the their entire lives. These three people are extremely talented in dance and have lived their dreams. Cecchetti was born into a family of dancers and was taught by the best. He was dancing probably as long as he had been walking. But Cecchetti was fortunate because he was given the chance to dance without having to go through auditions or many different companies.
He had connections and that is how he got his career started. Without his parents he may not have been found and we would never know of the Cecchetti Method. However, Martha Graham was not born into a family of dancers. And she never uncovered her love for dance till she was twenty years old.
She forced her way into a school and was blessed with amazing talent to copy and grasp styles so quickly. She went far soul based on her gifts. And then on the other hand was Stephanie Marshal; a local girl that danced all her life. When she moved to New York she was thrown into many auditions and forced to work many jobs just to do what she loved, dance. Finally she got her break because of her talent and connections. Now I, as a dancer for fifteen years, had dedicated my childhood years to the art form.
And now I'm heading off to college in the complete opposite direction I planned when I was a little girl. I had always dreamed of becoming a dancer in a company. And now I know that I don't have the emotional stability to survive in New York, and too many structural complications to join a company. However, I know that no matter what path I may choose, somehow I will always return to my first love, dance. Dancing is my outlet for fears, happiness, excitement, and anger.
Someday I will find my place in the world of dance. 6 a 7 Baughman, Kristen "Martha Graham's Life". Graham Index. 1998. web (20 Dec. 2000).
Conner, Lynne n "Chapter 3: The Modern Dancers". Early Moderns. 1996. web (20 Dec. 2000). Marshal, Stephanie. Personal Interview on Dance Experience. Butler, PA, 18, Dec. 2000.
Maynard, Olga. American Modern Dancers. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. 1965.
Praagh, Peggy. The Choreographic Art. New York: Alfred A. Knop t. 1963. Teachout, Terry "The Dancer: Martha Graham". Time 100.2000. web (12 Dec. 2000).
Zermeno, Rogelio. "Dancing to Success". Martha Graham. 1994. web (15 Dec. 2000).