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Doris Humphrey / Choreographer
Doris Humphrey
American dancer, choreographer, educator, and company director
There is only one thing to dance about: the meaning of one’s personal experiences
Doris Humphrey
View videos of this choreographer at the UW Media Center.
Born Oak Park, Illinois October 17, 1895. Died December 29, 1958.

Doris Humphrey is one of the founders of American modern dance. Humphrey’s education started at Francis Parker School, which was based on John Dewey’s principles of progressive education and experiential /experimental learning. Humphrey maintained this educational philosophy throughout her life along with democratic principles of inquiry and individualism. Friedrich Nietzsche’s, book, The Birth of Tragedy, also influenced Humphrey, and later Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture also left imprints on her and her choreography. She began her professional performing and choreographing career at Denishawn, and stayed there for ten years as a leading dancer and teacher. In 1928 she and fellow dancers Charles Weidman and Pauline Lawrence left Denishawn to form the Humphrey-Weidman school and company in New York. It was here she began to develop her own technique and became a choreographer and theorist who made important contributions to the growth of modern dance. Unlike her mentor, Ruth St. Denis, Humphrey was not driven by religious messages; she was a humanist. Many of her dances speak of man’s nobility and are an affirmation of faith in the world and humanity. Water Study, choreographed in 1928, embodies Humphrey’s elements of “fall and recovery” (the process of falling away from and returning to equilibrium), breath rhythm (phrasing and dynamics associated with breathing) and natural movement (movement derived from natural sources), which became the basis of her technique. In Two Ecstatic Themes Humphrey poses the physical drama of rising versus sinking––the conquest of and the surrender to gravity. While promoting her company Humphrey wrote, “My dance comes from the people who had to subdue a continent, to make a thousand paths through forest and plain, to conquer mountains and eventually to raise up towns of steel and glass.” Humphrey’s ancestors were people who had, in fact, arrived in New England when it was a wilderness and through successive generations had become religious and educational leaders. As an idealist, she came to view the dance as capable of showing human perfectibility and harmony. Her performing career was cut short by arthritis, and Humphrey turned to choreography, creating the first course in it at the Dance Department of New York’s 92nd Street YMHA. Humphrey wrote Art of Making Dances, published posthumously in 1959 and it is still used as a text for dance composition courses. Doris Humphrey always will be considered an enduring part of dance in America.

Doris Humphrey Works:
Title Staging Premiere Date
Soaring Lois Rathvon from La... 1920
Air for the G String Lois Rathvon from La... 1928
Two Ecstatic Themes Lois Rathvon from La... 1931
Water Study Lois Rathvon from La... 1928
The Shakers––Dance o... Karena Birk 1930