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Limon Technique: what it is and why it’s so important to contemporary dance

Updated: Aug 28, 2023


Six dancers in a pose with one leg in the air in front, arms in high V, high release in upper spine
Dancers in Limón class from Dance/NYC website.https://www.dance.nyc/for-audiences/community-calendar/view/LimnPro-Launch/2021-09-13/ Photo by Kelly Puleio

When I first started learning contemporary dance back in the late 1980s, I really had no idea about what it was, other than that I loved the way it flowed, and felt like a natural way of movement that was very liberating. Since then, I’ve learnt that a lot of what I love about contemporary dance can be attributed to Mexican/American dancer Jose Limón.


His legacy is called Limón technique, and it is still taught in many leading dance schools in the world, including The Juilliard School, The Ailey School, London Contemporary Dance School, National School of Dance in Buenos Aires, and Codarts Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Limón Technique focuses on the use of weight, momentum, and suspension, among other key elements.


In this blog post, you’ll learn

· a little about Jose Limón the dancer, choreographer, and teacher

· key components of his technique

· how his technique intersects with other contemporary and modern dance techniques, and

· some of the wonderful reasons to learn and practice Limón Technique.


About Jose Limón

Jose Limón was a dancer, choreographer, and teacher widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in modern dance.


Limón was born in Culiacan, Mexico in 1908, Limón moved to the United States with his family when he was seven years old. Initially, he was an artist, a painter, and he moved to New York at age 20 to further his study. New York was where he discovered dance with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, and he soon joined their company. He was not trained as a dancer, so he developed his own training system to get up to speed, and this was the birth of Limón Technique. He was known as a strong and athletic dancer with a knack for conveying emotion and drama through movement.


Limón the choreographer


In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Limón also began choreographing his own works, which were characterised by their lyrical, expressive quality and their incorporation of Mexican folk dance elements. His blending of modern dance techniques and traditional Mexican folk dance created a distinct and powerful style of dance. He made a name for himself as one of the most innovative and influential choreographers of his generation. He founded his own dance company, the Limón Dance Company in 1946, which became world renowned.


As already mentioned, one of the defining features of Limón's style was his use of traditional Mexican folk dance. Limón drew heavily on his Mexican heritage to create dances that blended traditional folk dance with modern dance techniques, creating a unique and powerful style that was both rooted in tradition and innovative in its approach.


Limón was also known for his use of dramatic storytelling in his choreography. His dances often explored themes of love, loss, and struggle, and he was known for his ability to convey complex emotions through movement. Many of his most famous dances, such as "The Moor's Pavane" and "There is a Time," are still performed today and continue to inspire dancers and choreographers around the world.


Performance by Limón Dance Company (2017)


Limón the teacher


In addition to his work as a dancer and choreographer, Limón was also a beloved teacher and mentor to generations of dancers. He founded the Jose Limón Dance Foundation in 1972, which continues to promote and preserve his legacy and inspire new generations of dancers.


Jose Limón's teaching is an important part of his legacy in the dance world. After founding the Limón Dance Company in 1946, he began teaching and choreographing works for the company, passing on his unique approach to modern dance to a new generation of dancers.


In his teaching, Limón emphasised the importance of the whole body in dance, with a focus on the spine as the foundation for movement. He also emphasized the use of breath, suspension, and fall-and-recovery techniques in his classes, encouraging dancers to explore their own movement potential and expressiveness.


Limón's teaching career spanned several decades, during which he taught at numerous institutions including the Juilliard School, the American Dance Festival, and the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago. He was known for his passionate and inspiring teaching style, and his influence on modern dance continues to be felt today.


Many of Limón's students went on to become successful choreographers and teachers in their own right, spreading his teaching philosophy and technique to new generations of dancers. Today, the Limón Technique remains an important part of modern dance training, and continues to inspire and challenge dancers around the world.


ODA Limón 2017, con una Master Class por Miguel Mancillas. (23 Agosto 2017)


Key components of Limón Technique


In his choreography, Limón used large, visceral gestures to convey emotion, such as reaching, bending, pulling, and grasping. His technique was influenced by the teachings of Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, which focused on the importance of body weight and dynamics, and added his own elements, such as the rhythms of falling and recovering balance, and use of breathe to create flow in dance. Below, you’ll learn about nine core elements of Limon Technique, including use of breath, suspension, fall and recovery, use of weight, momentum, effort, expression, and the idea of the body as an orchestra.


Breath


Conscious use of breath is an important part of Limón Technique. When you dance this technique, you’ll be encouraged to use your breath to initiate movement, support your movements, and express emotions.


The breath should be full and deep, and you should aim to synchronize your movements with their inhalations and exhalations. Using the breath in this way will help you to connect with your body and create movements that feel organic and natural and fluid.


Suspension


Limón Technique emphasises the use of suspension to create dynamic and expressive movements. Suspension refers to prolonging the highest point of movement. It has also been described as prolonging the movement in stillness. Suspension is not created by muscular tension. The muscles have already done their work by this time. Your body part is now suspended between the upward motion, and the descent, like a bridge between the two actions. To achieve suspension, you must learn to control your momentum and use your breath to support your movements. You can use suspended movements to create a sense of drama or tension in your movement.



Fall and Recovery


Fall and Recovery involves using the weight of your body to create a sense of falling, followed by a quick recovery that creates a sense of rebound and energy. This technique creates a sense of power, momentum, and unpredictability in movement. The fall and recovery technique will help you develop control over you weight and momentum, and improve your balance and coordination.


Use of Weight


Limón Technique emphasises the use of weight in movement. You’ll be encouraged to feel the weight of your body and use it to create powerful, grounded movements. This involves being aware of your body's center of gravity, and using it to create movements that feel connected and rooted.


Momentum


Through Limon Technique, you’ll learn how to generate momentum by using your weight and energy to create movement. This momentum is then used to propel your body forward or to create turns and other complex movements. By using momentum, you’ll be able to create dynamic, sweeping movements that are both powerful and graceful.


Effort


Effort involves using a combination of physical effort, energy, and intention to create expressive, dynamic movements. Limón Technique will encourage you to use effort in your movements to create a sense of intensity and emotion. This can be achieved through the use of sharp, decisive movements or fluid, flowing movements.


Expression


Limon Technique has a strong emphasis on expression by using a combination of breath, weight, and effort to create movements that are expressive and dynamic. Through your movements, you can convey a wide range of emotions, from joy and happiness to sadness and despair.


Body as an Orchestra


In Limón Technique, the body is viewed as an orchestra, with different parts of the body playing different roles in the dance. Through this concept, you will develop greater awareness the different parts of your body and how they are working together to create movement. This includes not only your arms and legs but also your torso, hips, and even your fingers and toes. By using the body as an orchestra, you’ll learn to create complex, multi-dimensional movements that are both visually stunning and emotionally compelling.


Your legs, for example, can be used to create a sense of grounding and stability. Limon likened the role of the legs to the role of the tube in an orchestra. The arms, in contrast, are like the violins, used to create a sense of expression and emotion.


The idea of the body as an orchestra is also closely tied to the use of breath in Limón Technique. Just as a conductor uses their breath to control the pace and intensity of a musical performance, in Limón Technique you can use your breath to control the pace and intensity of your movements. By using the breath in this way, you’ll learn to create movements that feel expressive, dynamic, and full of emotion.


Hour long video demonstrating key movements from Limón Technique


Intersection of Limón Technique and other techniques


Limón Technique shares many connections and influences with other modern and contemporary dance techniques. While each approach has its own unique characteristics, there are several key areas where these techniques overlap and intersect.


One area of connection is in the use of breath and the relationship between breath and movement. Many modern and contemporary dance techniques, including Limón, place a strong emphasis on deep, intentional breathing as a means of connecting the body and mind, and achieving a greater sense of expressiveness and fluidity in movement.


Another area of overlap is in the emphasis on dynamic movement and the use of weight and momentum. Limón Technique, like many other modern and contemporary techniques, emphasizes the use of suspension, fall-and-recovery, and other techniques that allow dancers to move dynamically and expressively through space.


Additionally, there are connections between Limón Technique and other modern and contemporary techniques in the use of improvisation, the exploration of emotion and personal expression, and the rejection of strict rules and conventions in favor of a more organic and free-flowing approach to movement.


While each modern and contemporary dance technique has its own unique characteristics, there are many shared influences and connections that reflect the rich history and ongoing evolution of this vibrant art form. The continued exploration and development of these connections will undoubtedly help to shape the future of dance and inspire new generations of dancers and choreographers.


Benefits of studying Limón Technique


There are plenty of reasons why it’s useful to practice Limón Technique, regardless of whether you’re a beginner or more experienced dancer. It can help you develop a deep understanding of your body and movement, while also expanding your technical and artistic abilities.


The emphasis on connecting breath and movement will help you achieve greater fluidity, control, and expressiveness. It gives you a heightened awareness of the breath that can also improve overall physical and mental health, reducing stress and improving cardiovascular function.


The use of the whole body as an instrument of expression encourages dancers to use their entire bodies to convey emotion and intention, rather than isolating specific body parts or movement. This can improve overall body awareness and help dancers develop a sense of their own physicality and artistic voice.


Practicing and mastering the use of suspension and fall-and-recovery techniques in Limón technique can help you improve your balance, control, and dynamic range. You’ll develop greater body awareness and learn to harness the power of weight and momentum in your movement. It can make you into a more dynamic and expressive dancer, as well as reduce injuries and heighten physical conditioning.


*


Jose Limón was a dancer, choreographer, and teacher who revolutionized modern dance. He developed his own training system to get up to speed, which was the birth of Limón Technique. Limón drew heavily on his Mexican heritage to create dances that blended traditional folk dance with modern dance techniques, creating a unique and powerful style that was both rooted in tradition and innovative in its approach. He was known for his ability to convey complex emotions through movement, and his dances often explored themes of love, loss, and struggle. Limón was also a teacher and mentor to generations of dancers, and his legacy continues to inspire and challenge dancers around the world. The Limón Technique, which emphasizes the importance of the whole body in dance, with a focus on the spine as the foundation for movement, remains an important part of modern and contemporary dance training.

References

American Ballet Theatre (no date). Repertory Archive: Jose Limón. Available at https://www.abt.org/people/jose-limon/ [accessed 9 May 2023]


Chujoy, A., & Manchester, P. W. (1957). The Dance Encyclopedia. Simon and Schuster.


Craine, D., & Mackrell, J. (2010). The Oxford Dictionary of Dance. Oxford University Press.


Hellier-Tinoco, R. (2007). Jose Limón and La Malinche: The Dancer and the Dance. Oxford University Press.


Humphrey, D. (1959). The Art of Making Dances. Princeton Book Company.


Jose Limón Dance Foundation. (2006). The Limón Company: Celebrating 60 Years. Jose Limón Dance Foundation.


Library of Congress. (n.d.). The Jose Limón Papers. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/collections/jose-Limón-papers/about-this-collection/


Limón, J., & Garafola, L. (1999). Jose Limón: An Unfinished Memoir. University Press of Florida.


Manning, S. (2004). Modern Dance, Negro Dance: Race in Motion. University of Minnesota Press.


Perron, W. (1997). Jose Limón: The Artist Re-viewed. Duke University Press.


Rowe, P. A. (1998). Jose Limón: Life and Legacy. Wesleyan University Press.


Vesan, Z (2009). ‘Suspension – Bardo of Dance’, Artyci Dance Company. Available at http://artyci.com/en/english-suspension-bardo-of-dance/#:~:text=our%20initial%20action%3F-,%E2%80%9C,%2Dtime%20and%20inter%2Dspace [Accessed 9 May 2023]

 

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