Mindfulness Mondays 63: Martha Graham, Communicating From the Heart

November 22, 2010 by  

morgan2000_2I am on a plane ride back from St. Louis where I lecture a couple times a year.  In my quest for ongoing improvement in my ability to communicate, I am a voracious reader of books that help me elevate my art.  The books that have had the most profound influence on me include Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen and Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology.  I am currently finishing Duarte’s new book, Resonate, that focuses more on the art of storytelling than on the rigors of slide creation, which was the focus of her first book.

A story that captivated me in her book recounted the life of Martha Graham, the iconoloclastic dancer who ushered in a new way of seeing and performing dance.  Against all odds, she became a dancer:  she was told she was too old, too heavy, too ugly, and too short.  She said, “They thought I was good enough to be a teacher, but not a dancer.”  Dance was her reason for living, Duarte explains.  Driven by her burning desire for her art, she declared, “I did not choose to be a dancer.  I was chosen.”

Her stark, blunt, gestural dance stood antithetical to traditional romantic, flowing movements of European dance that dominated until that time.  Beating down the stereotypical chorus girl prototype, Graham was the brave, new woman who owned her own company and created a new expression.  In 1930, she debuted her haunting solo dance called Lamentation.  One of her first performances was in Brooklyn.  Immediately after the performance a woman came up to her and with tears thanked her for how much her dance meant to her.  Graham later found out that this woman had recently witnessed the death of her 9-year-old son who was struck by a truck in front of her and who had the incapacity to cry until that performance that gave her the vehicle and dignity to weep.  Graham insisted that if her dance could touch one person in the audience that it would be worth it.  She wanted her dances to be felt rather than understood.

I think her story is truly inspirational whether you love or hate modern dance.  It is a story of a person who passionately followed her heart against all tormenters and naysayers.  She pursued her art and wanted that art to speak to whoever was willing to listen and be receptive to it.  I think we all can learn a valuable lesson when we hear the stifling looks of others who believe we are not worthy to pursue what we want in life because we do not meet whatever criterion or standard that the public has set for us.  We can all follow our heart more than our minds and work to achieve greatness through our capacity to express ourselves and hopefully that expression will touch at least one other life.


Sam Lam

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4 Responses to “Mindfulness Mondays 63: Martha Graham, Communicating From the Heart”

  1. Nancy Duarte on November 22nd, 2010 10:09 pm

    I’m glad you’re enjoying Resonate, Dr. Lam. Thanks so much for your support.

  2. dr. lam on November 22nd, 2010 10:26 pm

    yes, awesome book! love all your videos, blogs, and books! thanks for commenting!

  3. Mysteryagain on November 24th, 2010 7:11 pm

    (let use know more about those books when you can… :) )

    I think there is yet another thing to lean from her. One of the things that we tend to do and that makes us be our own worst enemies… the fear of ridicule.

    Not only she not give up on a dream only because others thought she had no conditions to achieve her goals, but, more, she had the physical type and characteristics that would not only made others think she was unsuited for those activities but also look ridiculous…

    And how many times we stop doing things, EVEN WHEN OTHERS do not discourage us or even utter a word, out of the fear of ridicule?

    And isn’t that fear one of the worst ways that our ego sabotages our soul?

  4. dr. lam on November 24th, 2010 9:06 pm

    very well put. very elegant, and i totally agree. thanks for your input MA!

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