From the fruit of Martha Graham’s loom


Natalia Ramirez

Contributing Writer

nramirez@smu.edu

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The Brown Bag Dance Series is performed by students in the division of dance in the Owen Arts Center.” height=”192

 

The East 63rd Street studio buzzed with company dancers awaiting class time as young Myra Woodruff watched wide-eyed atop the stairs lining the large studio.

“I remember thinking she had the largest face I had ever seen…I was mesmerized,” Woodruff said of her first encounter with modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham.

Little did she know, this first encounter would not be her last.

Today, Woodruff observes her own students from atop the studio stairs.

She watches her class with a certain intensity unmet by other instructors and offers up incredible wisdom.

“Love what you do, increase your ambitions, and be open” are all wise words from one of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts most inspiring professors.

Originally a music student at the University of Texas, Woodruff changed course almost immediately after witnessing the Martha Graham Dance Company perform.

“Upon returning to the university all I could think about was being in New York and studying with Martha Graham.”

Despite her mother’s desperate attempt to make her stay (she bought Woodruff a piano for her apartment) Woodruff left for New York the very next summer and did not return.

“I don’t think she thought I had the ability to be a professional dancer,” Woodruff said.

This insatiable drive, evident in Woodruff’s refusal to let her mother’s wishes divert her passion for dance, is a quality Woodruff instills in her students every day.

“I take this doll which is myself and fling it against the sky,” one of her dancer’s recalled.

She mentioned the gusto with which Woodruff repeated the line occasionally during class.

After studying at the Martha Graham School for only a short while, Woodruff was awarded the coveted full scholarship-one of only three given at the school.

Woodruff’s career suddenly began to materialize.

After dancing with the Graham Dance Company for eight years, Woodruff went on to receive her Bachelor of Arts at New York University. She immediately caught the eye of world renowned dancer Maurice Bejart.

He invited her to Switzerland to become the first full-time modern teacher at the Rudra Bejart School, the professional school for his company Bejart Ballet Lausanne.

She was a dancer and teacher who could communicate her emotion through movement so effectively, choreographers and instructors would ask her to work with them, rather than accept her through the traditional audition method.

In a world where dancers were and still are required to audition for teaching positions, or any performance role for that matter, Woodruff stood out as an artist who never allowed her inhibitions to define her.

“I did not allow fear to prevent me from a great adventure,” Woodruff said. “And it was a great adventure.”

Woodruff’s journeys with dance spanned worldwide. “All over Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel, France, Switzerland, India, South America, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Turkey, Austria and many more,” she said.

To Woodruff, the entire world is fascinating — yet another facet of her life she emphasizes to her student dancers.

In 2004, SMU recruited her to be Chair of the Dance Division. She has been there for nearly 10 years.

Woodruff gives much credence to her one-on-one work with Graham in her formative dance years.

Subsequently, her dancers hear a great deal of Graham’s words in class including, “I love the Earth, the sky, and the world…I live in.”

However, student Raven Ross conceded that while Graham’s quotes are indeed inspirational, Woodruff’s personal stories have the ability to captivate an entire room.

“I am never bored,” Ross said.

Woodruff is quick to stop her dancers mid-combination if she feels they are not performing to their fullest extent and offers up visualization for the movement she would like to see instead-undoubtedly from inspiration Woodruff collected for herself through individual experiences.

“I realized that if you put the best of yourself forward at all times, this goes out to the universe and there will be a series of singular events which connect to each other over time.”

Woodruff said eventually these experiences loop, come full circle and connect in a way that has significance.

While some might deem it an interruption, it is anything but.

According to faculty member Heather Guthrie, students appear fascinated when Woodruff speaks.

She constantly tells her students to observe what goes on around them for the sake of missing something “spectacular.”

Woodruff has managed to marry her craft with her passion for teaching.

She has become the ideal blend of dancer and teacher and as a result continues to inspire her students and instill in them a very similar love for communication through movement.

She established a name for herself through trial and triumph — but mainly through triumph. “Satisfying,” she said of her career.

“I had to dig deeply and produce high level work” that would pass the expectations of two of the most celebrated master choreographers in the dance world.

Woodruff expects nothing less from her dancers today.

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