Gestures, Long Dances, and Doris Humphrey

Wednesday, August 17 – “The Art of Making Dances” by Doris Humphrey


I actually read this one at Eva’s Cafe on Wednesday (it’s a super quick read), so no new coffee shops for this post.

This book is pretty much a staple in any choreography class; Humphrey was one of the (if not the) first to write a book on how to choreograph. Some of her notions are, naturally, suspect, but it’s a useful handbook anyway.

One thing that was really interesting (that I actually hadn’t read before) was Humphrey’s notion of four types of gestures: social, functional, ritual, and emotional. As someone who’s very interested by gesturally-focused pieces (rather than big sweeping full body movements), reading about these different gestural ideas gave me a new way of thinking about creating dances (which is always good!).

The most well-known part of this book (and where the title of this blog originates) is her checklist for dances, which is as follows:
Symmetry is lifeless
Two-dimensional design is lifeless
The eye is faster than the ear
Movement looks slower and weaker on the stage
All dances are too long
A good ending is forty per cent of the dance
Monotony is fatal; look for contrasts
Don’t be a slave to, or a mutilator of, the music
Listen to qualified advice; don’t be arrogant
Don’t intellectualize; motivate movement
Don’t leave the ending to the end

While some of these can generally be universally agreed upon (listen to advice, don’t leave the ending to the end, etc.), there are others that even I would contest (I think symmetry can be useful in some instances; I think that intellectualizing can be useful if that serves your purpose, etc). But there’s honestly not a whole lot for me to react to in this book, so I’ll leave it at that.