A Brief Guide to Contemporary Dance

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Some styles of dance are instantly recognizable. The percussive sound of the shoes makes tap dancing easy to identify, and classical ballet, with its pointe shoes and tutus, is unmistakable. As the history of dance progresses, however, the categories become more nebulous. What is modern dance? What is contemporary dance? Do these terms describe the same style? Ahead, learn a little bit about the history of modern dance, and how contemporary dance differs from it.

The Beginning of Modern Dance

Modern dance began as a form of rebellion. Choreographers and dancers, feeling stifled by the regimented form of ballet, decide to break away from classical dance and create their own style. The modern style took was developed in the US and Germany in the first half of the 20th century, and Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, and Eleanor King were some of its earliest practitioners. The style was codified by the second wave of choreographers, such as Martha Graham and Lester Horton, who created new dance vocabularies in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. This generation was followed by choreographers like Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, and Anna Halprin, who pushed modern dance in an avant-garde direction.

Modern Dance and Contemporary Dance

Modern dance refers to highly specific styles developed in the first half of the century. The Martha Graham technique, for example, utilized movements of contraction and release, and the Lester Horton technique emphasized a whole-body approach to self expression. These techniques are still taught today, but many of today’s choreographers draw from a variety of influences, rather than adhering to one specific modern technique.

The Many Facets of Contemporary Dance

Contemporary dance is the legacy of modern dance, but it’s not interchangeable with that earlier art form. In the second half of the 20th century, modern dance trends shifted and bifurcated; some choreographers experimented with postmodern ideas, while others scavenged dance history for new influences. At its most basic, contemporary dance combines modern dance with classical ballet. The best contemporary dancers have great technical skill and the versatility needed to shift between various styles. Contemporary dance also draws from African dancing, Japanese dancing, and other world cultures. This diversity makes it a great field of study for any burgeoning dance considering contemporary dance Miami FL.

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