Who Was Margaret Morris?
avant-garde, determined, creative.
Margaret Morris cultivated her method of movement through love of the arts, dance and the developing understanding of its remedial and holistic benefits.
As a young child Margaret felt crippled by the constraints of the Italian ballet syllabus. And by the age of 12 she began to create her very own ‘natural dance technique’, but even then, she knew that basic physical training was necessary, even for dances of a free and original nature.
In 1910 at the age of 19, and after years of touring with noteworthy theatre companies, she herself became a choreographer of note, designing her own costumes and opening her own dance school in St Martin's Lane, London with the help of John and Ada Galsworthy. This was the beginning of Margaret Morris Method touring with her own troupe, first called "Margaret Morris and her dancing children". The original curriculum came to include a progressive combination of dance and the visual arts.
At the age of 22, she took her troupe to Paris to dance at the Marigny theatre on the Champs-Elysées. She meets J.-D. Fergusson, renowned painter of her time, with whom she studied painting, and who became her lifelong partner; he became the Artistic Director of all schools of the Margaret Morris Method. Painting and drawing now became an integral part of her studies, which already comprised theatre, choreography, improvisation, general instruction and the study of one's own notation system for dance.
She founded the Margaret Morris Club in Chelsea in 1914; holding an impressive members list of the era.
“A performance at the Margaret Morris theatre ... assembles a truly remarkable audience of celebrities. You will see there Bernard Shaw, Augustus John, Eugene Goossens, the painter J.D.Fergusson, Charles Marriott, the novelist and critic, Frank Dobson the sculptor, W.S.Kennedy of the Stage Society and the Phoenix, Mackintosh the architect so well known in Vienna, Mestrovic the Serbian sculptor, Nigel Playfair and many others.” Margaret also spent many years visiting Cap D’Antibes performing with Lois Hutton for the likes of Hemmingway and Picasso…"
She was the ‘IT’ girl of the era.
In 1917 she ran the first of her annual Summer Schools. She thought ...'how wonderful it would be to rent a house ... where we could dance & paint in the open.' So with the help of George Davison Cap d'Antibes became the place to be in the south of France. The rich, the famous and royalty would flock to see Margaret and her dancers perform and socialise under the sun. Meanwhile, Summer Schools were still held in Britain. Margaret never took her eye off the ball and her aim of education in the arts for healthful living remained paramount.
By the 1920s her interests extended into the remedial aspects of movement and sports training, and in 1922, age 31 she started the first “Educational School” in England: there was general education alongside professional training: dance and stage play. Margaret Morris became increasingly interested in the medical aspect of the movement.
Margaret saw the potential benefit of dance through the improvements in her dancers' posture and general health and in 1925 demonstrated these qualities to doctors in London, and this led to her work being adopted into the massage* course at St Thomas’s Hospital.
She qualified as a physiotherapist in 1930 and, with the sister in charge of maternity, published ‘Maternity and Post-Operative Exercises’, which was the first publication written specifically on dance and movement therapy.
In 1936 she wrote in Mother and Child:
‘...it is impossible to begin exercises too early – or continue them too late – for, if the exercises are scientifically worked out to meet the varied requirements for each age, with due regard to the relative strength or weakness of the pupils, only good can result.'
Over the years her technique continued to include painting and music, evolving and developing into an educational system with the arts at its core. Her schools, in Britain and abroad, taught a full-time syllabus and trained teachers in her method.
To deepen her understanding and knowledge of the human body Margaret, aged now 39, studied physiotherapy at St Thomas' Hospital and passed her Chartered Society exams with distinction.
1937, 46 years old
In 1937 Margaret became the founding member of the “National Advisory Council of Physical Training and Recreation”. Following a lecture - demonstration given by Margaret Morris, lessons were given at an Army Centre in Aldershot. In addition, she gave several private lessons to sportsmen and international athletes: Jack Lovelock, runner; Roland Harper, hurdler; WW Wakefield, rugby player; to a French fencer, an Australian golf player, a skier, to Burmy Austin and Betty Round, tennis players. Suzanne Lenglen insisted that the Method be taught in her school in Paris and wrote with Margaret Morris "Tennis by Simple Exercises" (Heinemann). For each sport special exercises were created.
The stories and accomplishments are plenty and too many to mention here, so for more information here are links to some further insights:
For more information on Margaret’s accomplishments and life please visit www.margaretmorrismovement.com
The archive of her costumes and works are held at the Culture Perth and Kinross museum in Scotland
Excerpts for this page are taken from the MMM website and also a very interesting piece of writing by Richard Emmerson ‘The Architect and the Dancer’.
The Foresaken Mermaid: movement, dance and physical education in Scotland 1890-1990
Fergusson Gallery, Perth, Margaret Morris papers, cuttings file. O.Raymond Drey, Women of the day, Margaret Morris, Yorkshire Post, July 12 or 13, 1923, cuttings with both dates in file.
*Note that MMM was recognised as an added benefit to massage, a perfect complement.
Background image of Margaret Morris by Fred Daniels 1925