Jose Limon

José Limón gave a convocation address at the Juilliard School of Music October 5, 1966 called “Dancers are Musicians are Dancers”.  In this he addresses that “…musicians are dancers, and that dancers can be good dancers only when they are also good musicians.”  (“Dancers are Musicians are Dancers” 9)  From this wisdom, Limón pulls from his background of a musician father who gave him an interest in classical style music.  He explains how dance and music are a part of being human since the beginning of time.  It is part of our life everyday.  We use both music and dance to celebrate and express ourselves.  Limón continues on by describing how his mentor, Doris Humphrey, was able to dance free from music by choreographing works that were without musical accompaniment.  Dance created its own music.  “In rejecting metronomic tempi of the musicians, she searched for the rhythms and phrases inherent in the human entity with its breathing, its muscular dynamics and emotive range.” (“Dancers are Musicians are Dancers” 11)  Later in his speech, Limón explains the relationship between choreography and musical accompaniment.  He says that the audience shouldn’t be aware of the music during a dance, if the choreography was good enough.  The audience can tell it was terrible in any way or every way if they seek solace in the music.  “Music for dance is successful and effective only when it has been so skillfully utilized that you are not aware of it as a separate component or ingredient.  It has blended so perfectly that you are not aware where the dance ceases to be and the music begins.”  (“Dancers are Musicians are Dancers” 12)  The dancer and the musician must work together.  A musician must read a dancer’s body movements to make the music fit and the dancer must adjust his or herself to the music.  This is very important in the art of dance, Limón explains.  He believed it was important to have an understanding in other artistic disciplines in order to be a good dancer.  He has experience first hand to know this, as he himself was frequently called a “Renaissance man”.
As a dancer and choreographer, José Limón strove to exploit the human condition.  Through his technique, he used breathing and gravity to create powerful and intense pieces.  He was extremely graceful and controlled in his movements, many critics say.  As for his “late” start to dance, he was tremendously experimental in his movements.  He did not care about pointing his toes or straightening his legs or care what the movements were “supposed” to look like.  He wanted to push his body to see what it could do.  After time however, he learnt the disciplines of controlled muscles and combined it with his daring.  He would often involve Dionysian and Apollonian characters.  He believed it added interest and constant conflict between a protagonist and antagonist.
In regards to his technique, it is based around playing with gravity.  Movements that seem as if they are completely free followed by movements that are heavy, earth-bound.  The constant and rhythmic rise and fall of weightless versus weighted gives the effect of breathing.  This has a sense of life and humanness to his works.
The major techniques, most of which he learnt from his mentor, were fall, using weight, recovery and rebound, suspension, and isolations.  All of these techniques involved separating one part of the body from the rest and making it do something different from the other part, yet making it stay connected.
In class exercises of Limón’s modern dance differed from that of ballet.  Some of the positions and movements were similar, but without the barre.  They also included many more “awkward” positions.  Slouching, and bending parts of the body followed by making it straight and upright.
José Limón’s contributions to the art of modern dance was incredible and prolific.  He choreographed just under one hundred pieces throughout his career.  A good portion of which he performed in himself.  Limón and his mentors, his “family” of Isadora Duncan, Harald Kreutzberg, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Ruth St Dennis, and Ted Shawn, explored and discovered a new way of movement and dance completely different from anything that had previously existed.  It was not about being perfect and pretty, like ballet.  It was ugly, yet in that ugliness arose a beauty that had not been seen before.  It was expressive, strong, and passionate.  The body moved in a natural way.  It created abstract lines and shapes that were imperfect by the standards of ballet.
Limón’s modern dance reflected humanity, as humans are imperfect.  Humans are expressive and strong and passionate.  That is what makes Limón’s dances enjoyed by a wide variety of people.  The audience can relate to the movements and feel a connection.  They understand the struggles and joys shown through his choreography.  That in itself makes it beautiful.
José Limón’s pieces continue to be performed in repertoires around the world.  His work continues to bring in audiences and connect with them.  His company, the José Limón Dance Company, continues to perform his classic pieces as well as some new works.  The company also tours and teaches classes to school children.  His legacy as a great leader continues through his timeless works which continue to inspire as well as the story of his life.  José Limón is all-around inspirational.

Jose Limon



“Jose Limon. Modern Choreographer and Dancer.” Jose Limon. Modern Choreographer and Dancer. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2012.

Dunbar, June. José Limón: The Artist Re-viewed. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 1999. Print.

Lewis, Daniel, and Lesley Farlow. The Illustrated Dance Technique of José Limón. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. Print.