(1908 Mexico – 1978 New York City)
José Limón magnetized audiences as a dancer and as a choreographer
between the 1930s and the 1960s. With his striking looks and his charismatic
presence he was American modern dance’s first male star. In 1949
the dance critic John Martin wrote in The New York Times “There
is no other male dancer within even comparing distance”.
His great choreographies - such as “The Moor’s Pavane”
- glorify a humanism that made them beloved all over the world.
The story of the tragedy of Othello in “The Moor’s Pavane”
is an imposing chart of human frailty through its kinesthetic and emotional
structure. In its condensed form of the tragedy José Limón’s
choreography is worth the original play by Shakespeare.
José Limón’s approach to dance is based on the technique
and movement philosophy of Doris Humphrey who was his mentor and his
The movements of Doris Humphrey take their forms from the natural movements
of the human body and they take their rhythms from breathing. Shifting
weight, falling and recovering are co-ordinated with the dual force
of inhaling and exhaling.
The quality of the use of the weight of the body is of vital importance
in Doris Humphrey’s approach to dance. She abandons the traditional
concepts that the body has to create the illusion of not being influenced
by gravity and that all movement should give the impression of being
effortless. She recognizes and uses the weight of the body.
To be on balance and to fall out of balance are the elements of Doris
Humphrey’s principles of “fall” and “recovery”.
To fall from the security of a perfect balance is to yield to gravity,
to recover and to slowly restore your balance is to confirm your power
over gravity. Before the body returns to its state of balance it is
soaring off-balance in “suspension” for one floating, effortless
magical moment. An infinity of physical and emotional movement can bridge
the distance between the balanced body standing upright and the body
lying prone. The style that originated from these movement principles
is lyrical in essence and expresses the inner power of the human mind.
The movement principles of Doris Humphrey became the cornerstone of
José Limón’s technique.
In his turn José Limón emphasized the synchronized rhythmic
co-ordination of the movements. He made isolated parts of the body speak
with their individual qualities as “voices of the body”.
He liked to compare the body with an orchestra : different parts of
the body engage in a movement combination with contrasting qualities
between the lower and upper body. José Limón devoured space
in his movement explorations and played with rhythmic structures and
dynamics.He made the body speak a universal language and was inspired
by the sculptor Auguste Rodin who said:”The body always expresses
Today the vision and technique of Doris Humphrey and José Limón
are still very much alive on the contemporary scene and in most schools
for modern dance. The Humphrey-Limón technique provides the
dancer with an intelligent body and with the tools to communicate ideas
and emotions through movement.