John Martin (left) with Lincoln Kirstein and a guest from Dance Notation Bureau Pictured above: John Martin, left, with Ann Hutchinson Guest and Lincoln Kirstein at a Labanotation book party, 1954. A champion of modern dance, Martin initially gave negative reviews to many ballets by George Balanchine, whom Kirstein invited to America, but eventually the critic revised his views after Kirstein and Balanchine founded New York City Ballet. (Collection of the Dance Notation Bureau.)


John Martin (left) with Lincoln Kirstein and a guest from Dance Notation Bureau Pictured left: John Martin with Martha Graham, receiving the Capezio Award, 1969. Martin was one of the strongest early champions for Graham's work, and his writings contributed to the recognition of modern dance as a significant American art form. (Ann Barzel Dance Research Collection, The Newberry Library, Chicago.)


As a dance critic for the New York Times from 1927 to 1962, John Martin played a significant role in cultivating acceptance and deeper understanding of modern dance in the general public. He was born June 2, 1893, in Louisville, Kentucky, and a childhood love of musical theater led to a variety of publicity and editorial jobs in the theater world. When Martin was hired as a dance critic at the New York Times, he became one of the first American journalists with a full-time dance beat; previously, dance had typically been covered by music critics. This development reflected a growing respect for dance in America, and through his writing and lecturing Martin was hugely influential as an advocate for the pioneering generation of modern dance artists, especially Martha Graham, and for modern dance as a distinctive American contribution to the arts. He taught courses in dance history and published his first book, The Modern Dance, in 1933, followed by many others. In addition to writing perceptively about dance itself, Martin eloquently theorized about the reciprocal relationship between performers and spectators. Above all, he urged viewers to set aside rigid and preconceived notions of dance, and his writing helped to open the eyes of audiences to the power of dance. He died on May 19, 1985.