Like Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey pioneered a style of dance that reflected modern life in America. She began studying at Denishawn in 1917 and became a principal dancer and choreographer before launching an independent career in 1928. Partnering with dancer-choreographer Charles Weidman, she focused both on choreography and on movements that explored the body’s response to gravity. Humphrey became known especially for her emphasis on breathing rhythms and a technique of “fall and recovery” that incorporated balance, breath, weight, and spatial orientation.
She retired from performing in 1944 and became artistic director for the José Limón Dance Company after World War II; her most notable work was Day on Earth (1947). In 1951 Humphrey became director of the Juilliard Dance Theatre, where she served as a tireless mentor and initiated efforts to document the evanescent art of dance through “Labanotation,” a system that captures dance movements on the page so they can be shared.