Dance Blog

What Is Contemporary Dance? – Part 1

When it comes to the title it’s a bit of a misnomer since many of the techniques and methods use in contemporary are from over a century ago. However, the title continues to roll over into each New Year with ease simply because there are no real defined parameters for what it is exactly. Because of this, emerging styles can easily be slotted into the term that continues to evolve as new forms of physical expression do. Contemporary dance is really an amalgamation of various styles put together and executed as one knitted together routine.

Modern Dance

Modern Dance as we come to know it today is ironically getting older and older. With its latest iteration as far back as the 1950’s the term modern was clearly introduced a good while ago. What this movement did however was to chronicle and teach new ways to move to a series of generations. The leading teachers in this movement originated from the United States and Germany around the same time, pushing the boundaries that had been set in place for many years. The origins of this dramatic step outside of the box were largely an act of rebellion, an attempt to make a conscious and purposeful move away from what dance had come to be recognised as. At the time the highest form of dance was clearly ballet, the only real place where people would pay to see a choreographed series of sequences. However, ballet was not moving forward in any way and in fact many of the pioneers of modern dance loathed it. The homogenous and stagnant stag shows provoked innovators to do something that looked different, moving away from the delicate and standardised movements that ballet was known for.

This rebellion took on several forms, movement for a start was more than just form and composure. Martha Graham (often recognised as the mother of modern dance) incorporated new core elements that included the circling around the spine as well as timed contractions and releases. These movements continue into contemporary dance and the breath-like in and outward flow she pioneered is still one of the pacing measures that dancers incorporate now.

Aesthetically it also changed, with the typical ballet dancer being one of many ‘mannequin’ forms new bodies started to take the stage in a much-varied range than before. As African dance was also brought into the mix with its heavy limb work, the best of this group of dancers would also slowly becoming integrated into the scene. Costume also changed, often the lack of costume altogether put more focus on the movements and took another step away from the theatrical. As the world became more modern and people were taking new approaches to art while the art world itself was redefining itself, this era of dance presented itself to people in places other than the stage. Street performances took the public by surprise as well as in art installations and other gatherings. The ground was steadily being broken and reworked by an up and coming mix of new dancers. But this isn’t where dance stopped to move forward.

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