Martha Graham was born in a town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 11, 1894, one of George and Jane Beers Graham's three daughters. Her father was a doctor who treated people with nervous disorders. When she was ten years old, and after one of her sisters developed asthma, the family moved to California. Graham became interested in studying dance after she saw Ruth St. Denis perform in Los Angeles, California, in 1914. Her parents did not approve of her becoming a dancer, so she enrolled in the Cumnock School, a junior college.
Graham's father died in 1914, after which she felt free to pursue her dream. After graduating from Cumnock, she enrolled in the Denishawn Studio, a dancing school operated by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Graham had never had a dance lesson up to that point, but the small, quiet, shy, but hardworking girl impressed Shawn and toured with his troupe in a production of Xochitl, based on an Indian legend. In 1923 Graham left this company to do two years of solo dancing for the Greenwich Village Follies.
In 1925 Graham became dance instructor at the Eastman School of Music and Theater in Rochester, New York. She began experimenting with current dance forms. "I wanted to begin," she said, "not with characters or ideas but with movement." She rejected the traditional steps of classical ballet; she wanted the dancing body to be related to natural motion and to the music. She experimented with what the body could do based on its own construction, on the rise what was known as "percussive movements."
Graham's first dances were performed on a uncovered stage with only costumes and lights. The dancers' faces were tight, their hands unbending, and their costumes short. Later she added more surroundings and different costumes for effect. The music was modern and usually composed just for the dance. Isadora Duncan , the first modern dancer, had used music to inspire her works, but Graham used music to make her works...