Margaret Morris was a British dancer, choreographer, author, designer and teacher. She was one of the first people to advocate the Isadora Duncan Technique within the UK. This allowed the audience to clearly see the technique of the dance, so the style and technique became all encompassing.
Although born in London, her influence was felt nationally and internationally regarding both for evolution of movement and cultural aesthetics. She had no formal academic education, but went to dancing classes where she quickly realised that classical ballet was too rigid for her. She began working on her own series of movements (notations that she later called ‘Danscript’ and which she saw as a universal system of human movement based on breathing, posture, spring and balance).
Her achievements by the age of 22 included setting her own company (called Margaret Morris and her Dancing Children); established her first theatre school in London’s West End; set up a small children’s theatre on London’s King’s Road, and opened a private members’ club . The Club based in London became a popular hang-out for the literati and had a particular avant-garde clientele who would meet regularly to exchange ideas (members included the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh).
In 1922 she opened England’s first performing arts school which combined academic teaching with performing arts and painting. The 1925 syllabus, which was wide-ranging, included dance, music, dress-making, painting and sculpture, literature, swimming and ballroom dancing, among other subjects. There’s a lot of fantastic images online but we can’t use them in the blog due to copyright issues. (See the end of the post for direct links)
In 1931, Margaret Morris and her Margaret Morris Movement School (MMM) was selected to represent Britain at the 1931 Dance Festival in Italy where they won third prize. By this time, Morris was influenced by new ideas about the remedial role of dance and movement.
She was one of the first women to train as a professional physiotherapist, passing her exams at St Thomas’ Hospital in London with Distinction. Morris truly believed that dance and movement training could help everyone in society and championed various techniques to help people with disabilities, pregnant women, children and sports people. Her methods were also used by TB clinics and midwives to improve their patients well-being.
She lectured at hospitals and tried (with little success) to have her methods used widely in schools. Her method was adopted by the British Army, but it is widely speculated that the Army were reluctant to acknowledge her by name due to her gender.
Morris was acutely aware of the profound inter-relationship between movement and the visual arts she states:
“I first realised the absolute necessity of relating movement with form and colour when studying painting of the modern movement in Paris in 1913. From that time I incorporated it as one of the main studies in my school,” she wrote. “Most people have never learned to use their eyes, and more general study of seeing and moving would lead to a far greater tranquility and harmony of rhythm than we see around us at present” (1925).
Her work and personal life impacted on not only the Glasgow dance scene but traces are permeated through Scotland. She met the painter J.D Fergusson in 1913 and they moved to Glasgow in 1939. Together they collaborated on many dance projects and Morris helped to lay the foundations for modern dance practice.
Morris died at home in Glasgow’s West End on the 29th February 1980. Although, physically gone her spirit and creativity continues to impact and inspire a new generations.
Archives/sources of interest:
The University of Glasgow Special Collections
Colourist’s lover dances out of the shadows
Body Language: movement, dance and physical education in Scotland, 1890-1990
Fergusson Gallery in Perth – The archive holds around 10,000 items of correspondence, plus books, diaries, programmes and photographs.