Doris Humphrey
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Doris Humphrey (17th October 1895 – 29th December 1958) was born and grew up in Chicago, USA. With the encouragement of her mother, she studied with eminent ballet masters as well as with Mary Wood Hinman, who taught dance at the Francis Parker School. While still at high school she undertook a concert tour of the western states as a dancer, with her mother as accompanist, in a group sponsored by the Santa Fe Railroad for its Workman’s Clubs.
Partly due to financial concerns Humphrey opened her own dance school, with her mother as manager and pianist, in 1913 at the age of 18. It was a great success, offering classic, gymnastic and ballroom dance for children and ballroom dance for young adults.
In 1917, she entered the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts where she studied, performed, taught classes and learned choreography. Her creations from this era, Valse Caprice (Scarf Dance), Soaring, and Scherzo Waltz (Hoop Dance) are all still performed today. She remained involved for the next decade. Humphrey toured the Orient for two years followed by a successful career in American vaudeville theatres.
In 1928 she and fellow dancer Charles Weidman separated from the Denishawn School, finding superficialities in the Denishawn approach, and moved to New York City to become key figures in the modern dance movement. Her choreography explored the nuances of the human body’s responses to gravity, embodied in her principle of “fall and recovery”.
The Humphrey-Weidman Company was successful even in the Great Depression, touring America and developing new styles and new works based not on old tales but on current events and concerns. In the mid-1930s Humphrey created the New Dance Trilogy, a triptych comprising With My Red Fires, New Dance and the now-lost Theater Piece.
Humphrey retired from performing in 1945 due to arthritis. She then took up the position of artistic director for the José Limón Dance Company and continued to successfully choreograph works such as Day on Earth, Night Spell and Ruins and Visions.
One of her last pieces, Dawn in New York, showed the strengths she demonstrated throughout her career – her mastery of the intricacies of large groups and her emphasis on sculptural shapes. Humphrey was on the original faculties of both The Bennington School of the Dance (1934) and The Juilliard School (1951).
Shortly after her death in 1958,aged 63, Humphrey’s book, The Art of Making Dances, in which she shared her observations and theories on dance and composition, was posthumously published. Humphrey was inducted into the National Museum of Dance’s Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 1987.

Doris humphrey – Air for the G string (1934)