Madonna’s desire to stand out from the pack nearly got her expelled from the famed Martha Graham School — but also earned her a nickname from the school’s legendary founder that inspired the title of her latest album, Madame X.
In an interview with BBC 2 Radio’s Jo Whiley that’s set to air on Thursday night, the 60-year-old pop icon details some of the outrageous stunts she pulled in order to land on Graham’s radar.
“There was no room for individuality and that bothered me enormously. So I started doing things that made me stick out,” Madonna tells Wiley, as reported by the Daily Mail.
“At one point I took my leotard and ripped it from the top all the way down to my pubic bone and then I took tiny little gold safety pins and safety pinned it all the way from my vagina to… my fanny? That’s what you call it here in England,” she continues.
“And so it looked like a zipper or a vertebrae — it was actually quite cool looking — and I would put holes and runs in my stockings and I got criticized for it. I got asked to leave and change — and this kept reoccurring — and my goal was to get into so much trouble that I would get to meet Martha Graham.”
Madonna’s rebellious-yet-shrewd strategy paid off when the 19-year-old dance student found herself face to face with the dancer/choreographer who singlehandedly changed the face of modern dance, who was then in her 80s.
“So, it worked because… that’s when I got the visit from Martha and she gave me a lecture about following rules and how I couldn’t stay if I was not willing to follow the rules,” she adds.
“And then she started to let her guard down a little bit. I could tell she admired my cheekiness and my subversive behaviour, because she was also the same, otherwise she wouldn’t have changed the world of dance like she did,” says Madonna, explaining how the encounter came to inspire the title of her 14th studio album.
“She said, ‘I’m going to start calling you Madame X from now on,’ and I said ‘Why?’ and she said, ‘Because you’re like a secret agent. You’re like a spy. Every time I see you, you look different. I pass you in the hallway, I’m not sure it’s you. You keep changing the way you look, your identity.’ And I said ‘Yeah, that sounds good, I like that. I’ll take that.’ So it came back to me while I was making this record,” she says. “So, we came full circle.”
Admitting that Graham was “a force to be reckoned with,” Madonna admits she was “kind of taken aback by how strict she was,” given her rule-breaking reputation in the dance world.
“I thought I was going to meet a renegade and she was actually quite, what’s the word? Catholic,” Madonna marvels. “She had a very strict uniform that you had to wear. You had to wear your hair back in a sleek bun, pulled back at the back of your neck. You had to have a certain cut of a leotard, cut off at the feet, at the ankle. Everyone wore black.”
In advance of the interview’s BBC Radio 2 broadcast, Whiley shared a photo of herself and Madonna on Twitter.