top of page

Anjaliom | Contemporary dance in Paris 19

Lester Horton

A pioneer of dance technique contemporaine

In the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, dancer and choreographer Lester Horton developed a dance technique based on Native American dances, anatomical studies, and other body movement influences. In addition to creating his technique and choreographing a large number of works, Horton established the Lester Horton Dance Theatre , one of the first permanent theaters dedicated to modern dance in the United States, in Los Angeles in 1946 (it closed its doors in 1960). He was also one of the first American choreographers to emphasize racial integration in his company. In his 1995 autobiography, Revelations, Alvin Ailey wrote, " What was needed was that for Lester, his artistry was far more important than the color of a dancer's skin ." »

Horton's legacy is evident today in Ailey's work, and the Horton technique is the basis of such masterpieces as Revelations and Cry .


Jazz and geometry

Dancers entering their first Horton class can prepare based on their jazz dance experience. "Many jazz teachers incorporate some of Horton's ideas into their warm-ups," says Ana Marie Forsythe, director of the Horton department at The Ailey School. For example, Horton uses flat backs and side stretches, incline rows and lunges , all of which movements one might find in a jazz warm-up. The Horton technique also incorporates lyrical and circular movements focusing on stretching in opposite directions .


Outside of the classroom, students can explore graphic design , typography , and architecture to get a sense of the crisp, clear lines highlighted by the Horton technique. For example, "we do a ' side T ' and it looks like a big letter T," says Forsythe.


Course structure

"Horton said you had to warm up the body and speed up the circulation of the blood," explains Forsythe. " So classes start standing, rather than sitting, like in other modern techniques." The specific order of the exercises may vary depending on the interpretation given by the teacher.



As taught by the Ailey school, the codified Horton technique incorporates 17 "fortification studies" (among other elements) each focusing on a different idea, such as down/up and lateral stretches , or parts of the body such as the Achilles tendons or the abdominals. The class then progresses on the floor with movement phrases aimed at increasing muscle and joint flexibility of the legs and pelvis, awareness of spinal rotation and trunk directions in space .

Don Martin, who studied with Horton and directs the Lester Horton Dance Theater Foundation, Inc., explains that the exercises are always related to each other. “Movements are never arbitrary. There is always a transition ,” he says.


Key Concepts

Horton died of a heart attack in 1953 before he could fully document and consolidate his ideas. The way in which the Horton technique is presented may therefore differ from one teacher to another. One of the constants is that the technique is designed to correct and improve the physical limitations of the dancers so that they can pursue any form of dance . Additionally, Horton was interested in clearly defined forms , as well as how a dancer can move through these forms with energy and use of space.


“Horton's technique is not limited to a concept of one or two movements and their contrasts,” explains Forsythe. The technique is dynamic and dramatic, develops strength and flexibility, and works with constantly moving energy. Many beginner-level Horton studies focus primarily on creating length in the spine and hamstrings . All levels also emphasize the development of musicality and performance skills . As students progress, the exercises become longer and more complex. Don Martin, who currently teaches the technique at the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts, describes these exercises as “almost studies. They are like concert pieces in themselves. "


"I've been teaching this technique for over 40 years," says Forsythe. “I'm always impressed with the intelligence and sense of humor Horton embodied. It kept my interest after all these years. It's so accessible to dancers. And I love how it helps create long, strong dancers. "

horton danse contemporaine

Balance Study

horton danse contemporaine

side tee

Copyright Anjaliom© 2019-20. No reproduction, even partial, other than those provided for in article L 122-5 of the intellectual property code,

may not be made from this site without the express permission of the author. 

bottom of page