Time Era

Historic time period: 1929–1945

A Story About America in Dance and Music

Stretch out your body and tune your violin! Learn about how a dancer/choreographer, composer, and sculptor worked together to tell a beautiful story about American history! In 1943, Martha Graham, Aaron Copland, and Isamu Noguchi created Appalachian Spring, a ballet that told the story of an American pioneer community.

The National Museum of American History has a large and diverse collection of objects that tell the story of arts in America, from dance costumes to sheet music and photographs to phonographs. To see some of the other objects related to performing arts, visit the online collection search.

Ballet for Martha tells the story of three artists who work together to create an amazing dance performance. Each artist brings his or her own skills to the team to tell a story about life in America. You can learn more about dance, music, photography, and collaboration, by reading Ballet for Martha and by checking out some of the related activities.

Read This Book

You can learn more about performing arts by exploring this book.

Ballet for Martha book cover.

Featured Book

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring

by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Cover used by permission of Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.


  • Artistic photograph of Martha Graham, taken by Barbara Morgan

    Camera Creativity and Collaboration

    Learn from Objects

    Take a close look at a famous picture of Martha Graham, then grab your camera and make your own dance photo with a friend or family member.

    Download the PDF »
  • Young dancer making a shape with her body

    Make a Mini Dance

    Play and Create

    Get creative and make a dance that spells out a special word or message!

    Download the PDF »
  • image of filmstrips

    Explore Your Theater

    Take a Trip

    Visit a theater or dance class in your area and talk about what you learn about performing arts near you.

    Download the PDF »
  • Green bars representing the sounds heard in a piece of music

    "Seeing" Music

    Use Technology

    Dance is just one way to turn music into something you can see. Your computer can take music and turn it into a different kind of visible art.

    Download the PDF »

Need the Adobe® Acrobat® Reader® ? Download it here.

Need the Adobe® Flash® Player? Download it here.

See all OurStory activities »

Smithsonian's History Explorer