Martha Graham and the Legacy of Dance Diplomacy

Martha Graham and the Legacy of Dance Diplomacy
Thursday, March 5, 2020
National Museum of American Diplomacy — Department of State


On Thursday, March 5, 2020, AAFSW members were invited to attend a presentation featuring Victoria Philips, author of “Martha Graham’s Cold War and the Dance of American Diplomacy,” at the National Museum of American Diplomacy in the Department of State. Ms. Phillips specializes in Cold War history, cultural diplomacy, and international relations. A panel discussion, which included personal first-hand knowledge of Martha Graham stories, followed the presentation, emphasizing the pioneer work of the famous 20th century dancer and the significance of her soft diplomacy which was practiced around the world during the Cold War years.

“Martha Graham’s Cold War” is the first book to frame the story of Martha Graham and her particular brand of dance modernism as pro-Western Cold War propaganda used by the United States government to promote American democracy. In her choreography, author Victoria Phillips argued, Graham recast the stories of the Western civilization through female protagonists whom she captured as timeless, seemingly beyond current politics, and in so doing implied superior political and cultural values of the Free World. Centering on powerful yet not demonstrably American female characters, the stories Graham danced seduced and captured the imaginations of elite audiences without seeming to force a determinedly American agenda.

In her book, Ms. Phillips frames Martha Graham’s dancing as pro-Western Cold War propaganda and she analyzes the language of dance as a form of cultural diplomacy. Ms. Phillips explores the power of women as diplomats through Martha Graham’s story, including First Ladies Jacklyn Kennedy Onassis and Betty Ford, Ambassador Clare Booth-Luce, and Eleanor Lancing Dulles, among others.

Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, PhD
AAFSW President