Doris Humphrey

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Doris Humphrey was a dancer and choreographer in the early 1900s. She is known as one of the first modern dance choreographers who had a big impact on how modern dance evolved in the United States. She lived at the same time as the famous choreographer Martha Graham, and she had also worked with the dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham, who is also very well known. Humphrey stood out from other pioneering choreographers of her time because, as an early abstractionist, she showed the idea of “fall and recovery” by looking at how the body reacts to gravity in different ways. Her rise to fame as one of the best American choreographers of the 20th century seemed to be planned from the time she was a little girl. Even then, she had a lot of poise and grace. Her parents made sure that she learned how to dance in different ways, including ballet. Great teachers like Ottokar Bartik and Serge Oukrainsky helped her hone the skills she already had and turn her into a dancer with a lot of talent and a good sense of what works. She always wanted to be a professional dancer, but because of money, she had to put that dream on hold. She did end up becoming a professional dancer, and she also became a world-famous choreographer who changed the way modern dance was done.

Early years and childhood

She was born in Illinois on October 17, 1895. Her parents were Julia Ellen Wells, a trained concert pianist, and Horace Buckingham Humphrey, a journalist and photographer. Doris was a graceful child who liked to dance even when she was young.

From kindergarten through high school, she went to the Francis Parker School in Chicago. Her mother saw that her daughter was interested in dancing, so she set up for her to take lessons from famous ballet masters.

At school, Mary Wood Hinman taught her how to dance. She said that Mary Wood Hinman was a big inspiration for her. She danced in a group put together by the Santa Fe Railroad for its Workman’s Clubs that went on a concert tour of the western states while she was still in high school.

She realized that dance was what she really wanted to do for a living and dreamed of becoming a professional dancer. But because of money problems, she would have to put her dreams on hold.

Doris Humphrey’s Career

In 1913, when she was only 18, she opened her own dance school. Her mother ran the show and played the piano. Even though she would have liked to keep learning dance, she had to start working to support herself.
Even though she was young, she ran the school well, and it soon became a big success. She taught children and young adults how to do classical, gymnastics, and ballroom dance.

Mary Wood Hinman, her teacher in high school, stayed in touch with her. She told her to join the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts. So, in 1917, the young girl moved to California and went to a well-known dance school, where she studied, performed, and learned how to make dances.

She went to school as a student, but because she was so smart, she was soon put in the dance company. She became the company’s top soloist, and one of the school’s founders, St. Denis, had an effect on her as a dancer and choreographer.

She started making dances with St. Denis in 1920. “Soaring,” which was set to music by Robert Schumann, was one of her first works.

Humphrey’s methods became more experimental over time, which didn’t sit well with Denishawn. By putting more emphasis on self-expression and group pieces, she moved farther away from the Denishawn School’s ideas.
But she stayed with Denishawn and went on a tour of Asia in 1925 and 1926. Later, she and another Denishawn dancer, Charles Weidman, were put in charge of the Denishawn House in New York City.

Humphrey and Weidman left Denishawn in 1928 to start their own company and school. The two dancers started Humphrey-Weidman with the help of another dancer, Pauline Lawrence.
The company was very successful and did well even during the Great Depression when it got money from the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Theater Project.

Thanks to Humphrey’s creative skills and images, the group went on tours all over America and made new styles. She made new works based on what was going on in the world, and audiences loved them.

In the 1930s, she wrote “With My Red Fires,” “New Dance,” and “Theater Piece” as part of her “New Dance Trilogy.” Humphrey and Weidman were the first people to come up with the idea of “modern dance.” This was a radical dance style that was open to new ideas and dealt with modern issues.

Due to arthritis, she stopped dancing in 1945 and became the artistic director of the Jose Limon Dance Company. She also kept working as a successful choreographer. “Day on Earth,” “Night Spell,” and “Ruins and Visions” are some of her later works.

Awards & Achievements

In 1987, she was put in the Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Dance.

Personal History and Legacies

In June 1932, she got married to a merchant mariner named Charles Francis Woodford. Charles Humphrey Woodford was their only child.

In her later years, she got arthritis in her hip, which got worse as time went on. She also had seizures that were caused by her arthritis. On December 29, 1958, she died of cancer.

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