Modern dance is a broad genre of western concert or theatrical dance, primarily arising out of Germany and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Modern dance is often considered to have emerged as a rejection of, or rebellion against, classical ballet. Socioeconomic and cultural factors also contributed to its development. In the late 19th century, dance artists such as Isadora Duncan, Maud Allan, and Loie Fuller were pioneering new forms and practices in what is now called aesthetic or free dance for performance. These dancers disregarded ballet's strict movement vocabulary, the particular, limited set of movements that were considered proper to ballet, and stopped wearing corsets and pointe shoes in the search for greater freedom of movement.
Throughout the 20th century, sociopolitical concerns, major historical events, and the development of other art forms contributed to the continued development of modernist dance in the United States and Germany. Moving into the 1960s, new ideas about dance began to emerge, as a response to earlier dance forms and to social changes. Eventually, postmodern dance artists would reject the formalism of modern dance, and include elements such as performance art, contact improvisation, release technique, and improvisation.
American modern dance can be divided (roughly) into three periods or eras. In the Early Modern period (c. 1880–1923), characterized by the work of Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, and Eleanor King, artistic practice changed radically, but clearly distinct modern dance techniques had not yet emerged. In the Central Modern period (c. 1923–1946), choreographers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Katherine Dunham, Charles Weidman, and Lester Horton sought to develop distinctively American movement styles and vocabularies, and developed clearly defined and recognizable dance training systems. In the Late Modern period (c. 1946–1957), José Limón, Pearl Primus, Merce Cunningham, Talley Beatty, Erick Hawkins, Anna Sokolow, Anna Halprin, Paul Taylor introduced clear abstractionism and avant-garde movements, and paved the way for postmodern dance.
Modern dance has evolved with each subsequent generation of participating artists. Artistic content has morphed and shifted from one choreographer to another, as have styles and techniques. Artists such as Graham and Horton developed techniques in the Central Modern Period that are still taught worldwide, and numerous other types of modern dance exist today.
Modern dance is often considered to have emerged as a rejection of, or rebellion against, classical ballet, although historians have suggested that socioeconomic changes in both the United States and Europe helped to initiate shifts in the dance world. In America, increasing industrialization, the rise of a middle class (which had more disposable income and free time), and the decline of Victorian social strictures led to, among other changes, a new interest in health and physical fitness. "It was in this atmosphere that a 'new dance' was emerging as much from a rejection of social structures as from a dissatisfaction with ballet." During that same period, "the champions of physical education helped to prepare the way for modern dance, and gymnastic exercises served as technical starting points for young women who longed to dance." Women's colleges began offering "aesthetic dance" courses by the end of the 1880s. Emil Rath, who wrote at length about this emerging artform at the time stated,
"Music and rhythmic bodily movement are twin sisters of art, as they have come into existence simultaneously...today we see in the artistic work of Isadora Duncan, Maud Allan, and others the use of a form of dancing which strives to portray in movements what the music master expresses in his compositions—interpretative dancing."
In Europe, Mary Wigman in Germany, Francois Delsarte, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (Eurhythmics), and Rudolf Laban developed theories of human movement and expression, and methods of instruction that led to the development of European modern and Expressionist dance. Other pioneers included Kurt Jooss (Ausdruckstanz) and Harald Kreutzberg.
Disturbed by the Great Depression and the rising threat of fascism in Europe, the radical dancers tried to raise consciousness by dramatizing the economic, social, ethnic and political crises of their time.
In 1915, Ruth St. Denis founded the Denishawn school and dance company with her husband Ted Shawn. St. Denis was responsible for most of the creative work, and Shawn was responsible for teaching technique and composition. Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman were all pupils at the school and members of the dance company. Seeking a wider and more accepting audience for their work, Duncan, Fuller, and Ruth St. Denis all toured Europe Fuller's work also received little support outside Europe. St. Denis returned to the United States to continue her work.
Martha Graham is often regarded as the founding mother of modern 20th-century concert dance. Graham viewed ballet as too one-sided: European, imperialistic, and un-American. She became a student at the Denishawn school in 1916 and then moved to New York City in 1923, where she performed in musical comedies, music halls, and worked on her own choreography. Graham developed her own dance technique, Graham technique, that hinged on concepts of contraction and release. In Graham's teachings, she wanted her students to "Feel". To "Feel", means having a heightened sense of awareness of being grounded to the floor while, at the same time, feeling the energy throughout your entire body, extending it to the audience. Her principal contributions to dance are the focus of the ‘center’ of the body (as contrast to ballet's emphasis on limbs), coordination between breathing and movement, and a dancer's relationship with the floor.
After shedding the techniques and compositional methods of their teachers the early modern dancers developed their own methods and ideologies and dance techniques that became the foundation for modern dance practice:
In 1927, newspapers regularly began assigning dance critics, such as Walter Terry, and Edwin Denby, who approached performances from the viewpoint of a movement specialist rather than as a reviewer of music or drama. Educators accepted modern dance into college and university curricula, first as a part of physical education, then as performing art. Many college teachers were trained at the Bennington Summer School of the Dance, which was established at Bennington College in 1934.
Of the Bennington program, Agnes de Mille wrote, "...there was a fine commingling of all kinds of artists, musicians, and designers, and secondly, because all those responsible for booking the college concert series across the continent were assembled there. ... free from the limiting strictures of the three big monopolistic managements, who pressed for preference of their European clients. As a consequence, for the first time American dancers were hired to tour America nationwide, and this marked the beginning of their solvency." (de Mille, 1991, p. 20 30
The development of modern dance embraced the contributions of African American dance artists regardless of whether they made pure modern dance works or blended modern dance with African and Caribbean influences.
The legacy of modern dance can be seen in lineage of 20th-century concert dance forms. Although often producing divergent dance forms, many seminal dance artists share a common heritage that can be traced back to free dance.
Postmodern dance developed in the 1960s in United States when society questioned truths and ideologies in politics and art. This period was marked by social and cultural experimentation in the arts. Choreographers no longer created specific 'schools' or 'styles'. The influences from different periods of dance became more vague and fragmented. It is very common for postmodern dance to be performed to little or no music at all.
Contemporary dance emerged in the 1950s as the dance form that is combining the modern dance elements and the classical ballet elements. It can use elements from non-Western dance cultures, such as African dancing with bent knees as a characteristic trait, and Butoh, Japanese contemporary dancing that developed in the 1950s. It is also derived from modern European themes like poetic and everyday elements, broken lines, nonlinear movements, and repetition. Many contemporary dancers are trained daily in classical ballet to keep up with the technicality of the choreography given. These dancers tend to follow ideas of efficient bodily movement, taking up space, and attention to detail. Contemporary dance today includes both concert and commercial dance because of the lines being blurred by pop culture and television shows. According to Treva Bedinghaus,"Modern dancers use dancing to express their innermost emotions, often to get closer to their inner-selves. Before attempting to choreograph a routine, the modern dancer decides which emotions to try to convey to the audience. Many modern dancers choose a subject near and dear to their hearts, such as a lost love or a personal failure. The dancer will choose music that relates to the story they wish to tell, or choose to use no music at all, and then choose a costume to reflect their chosen emotions."
This list illustrates some important teacher-student relationships in modern dance.
African-American dance has developed within Black American communities in everyday spaces, rather than in studios, schools or companies. These dances are usually centered on folk and social dance practice, though performance dance often supplies complementary aspects to this. Placing great value on improvisation, these dances are characterized by ongoing change and development. There are a number of notable African-American modern dance companies using African-American cultural dance as an inspiration, among these are the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Unlike European-American dance, African-American dance was not taxed in the fields of Europe where it began and has not been presented in theatrical productions by generations of kings, tzars, and states. Instead, it lost its best dancers to the draft and started requiring taxes from establishments in the form of a federal excise tax on dance halls enacted in 1944. Dance halls continue to be taxed throughout the country while dance studios are not, and African-American dance companies statistically receive less taxpayer money than European Americans. However, Hollywood and Broadway have provided opportunities for African-American artists to share their work and for the public to support them. Michael Jackson and Beyoncé are the most well-known African-American dancers.Alvin Ailey
Alvin Ailey (January 5, 1931 – December 1, 1989) was an African-American choreographer and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Ailey School in New York City. He is credited with popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation in 20th-century concert dance. His company gained the nickname "Cultural Ambassador to the World" because of its extensive international touring. Ailey's choreographic masterpiece Revelations is believed to be the best known and most often seen modern dance performance. In 1977, Ailey was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1988. In 2014, President Barack Obama selected Ailey to be a posthumous recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) is a modern dance company based in New York, New York. It was founded in 1958 by choreographer and dancer Alvin Ailey. It is made up of 32 dancers, led by artistic director Robert Battle and associate artistic director Masazumi Chaya.American Dance Festival
The American Dance Festival (ADF) under the direction of Executive Director Jodee Nimerichter hosts its main summer dance courses including Summer Dance Intensive, Pre-Professional Dance Intensive, and the Dance Professional Workshops. It also hosts a six-week summer festival of modern dance performances, currently held at Duke University and the Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham, North Carolina. Several site-specific performances have also taken place outdoors at Duke Gardens and the NC Art Museum in Raleigh, NC.Charles Weidman
Charles Weidman (July 22, 1901 – July 15, 1975) was a renowned choreographer, modern dancer and teacher. He is well known as one of the pioneers of modern dance in America. He wanted to break free from the traditional movements of dance forms popular at the time to create a uniquely American style of movement. Born in 1901, he choreographed from the 1920s until his death in 1975. While he is most famous for his work with Doris Humphrey, Weidman did a lot of work on his own. He created a bridge to a new range of movement that he only began to explore. His work inspired many and helped to create a whole genre of dance that is still evolving today.Contemporary ballet
Contemporary ballet is a genre of dance that incorporates elements of classical ballet and modern dance. It employs classical ballet technique and in many cases classical pointe technique as well, but allows greater range of movement of the upper body and is not constrained to the rigorously defined body lines and forms found in traditional, classical ballet. Many of its attributes come from the ideas and innovations of 20th-century modern dance, including floor work and turn-in of the legs.Contemporary dance
Contemporary dance is a genre of dance performance that developed during the mid twentieth century and has since grown to become one of the dominant genres for formally trained dancers throughout the world, with particularly strong popularity in the U.S. and Europe. Although originally informed by and borrowing from classical, modern, and jazz styles, it has since come to incorporate elements from many styles of dance. Due to its technical similarities, it is often perceived to be closely related to modern dance, ballet, and other classical concert dance styles.
In terms of the focus of its technique, contemporary dance tends to combine the strong but controlled legwork of ballet with modern that stresses on torso. It also employs contract-release, floor work, fall and recovery, and improvisation characteristics of modern dance. Unpredictable changes in rhythm, speed, and direction are often used, as well. Additionally, contemporary dance sometimes incorporates elements of non-western dance cultures, such as elements from African dance including bent knees, or movements from the Japanese contemporary dance, Butoh.Dance in the United States
There is great variety in dance in the United States of America. It is the home of the hip hop dance, tap dance and its derivative Rock and Roll, and modern square dance (associated with the United States of America due to its historic development in that country—twenty three U.S. states have designated it as their official state dance or official folk dance) and one of the major centers for modern dance. There is a variety of social dance and concert or performance dance forms with also a range of traditions of Native American dances.
The reality shows and competitions So You Think You Can Dance, America's Best Dance Crew, and Dancing with the Stars, have broadened the audience for dance.Graham technique
Graham technique is a modern dance movement style and pedagogy created by American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham (1894–1991). Graham technique has been called the "cornerstone" of American modern dance, and has been taught worldwide. It is widely regarded as the first codified modern dance technique, and strongly influenced the later techniques of Merce Cunningham, Lester Horton, and Paul Taylor.Graham technique is based on the opposition between contraction and release, a concept based on the breathing cycle which has become a "trademark" of modern dance forms. Its other dominant principle is the "spiraling" of the torso around the axis of the spine. Graham technique is known for its unique dramatic and expressive qualities and distinctive floorwork; dance critic Anna Kisselgoff described it as "powerful, dynamic, jagged and filled with tension."The phrase "Graham technique" was registered as a trademark before Graham's death, and was the subject of a trademark dispute in the early 2000s.Grupo Corpo
Grupo Corpo are a Brazilian dance theatre company founded in 1975. The group performs internationally and has been acclaimed by critics. Their routines are particularly known for challenging audience perceptions of ballet and modern dance.Jewish dance
Jewish dance refers to dance associated with Jews and Judaism. Dance has long been used by Jews as a medium for the expression of joy and other communal emotions. Dancing was a favorite pastime and played a role in religious observance.Dances associated with Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions, especially Jewish wedding dances, are an integral part of Jewish life in America and around the world. Folk dances associated with Zionism and the formation of the State of Israel became popular in the 1950s.List of dance companies
This is a list of notable dance and ballet companies.Martha Graham
Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991) was an American modern dancer and choreographer. Her style, the Graham technique, reshaped American dance and is still taught worldwide.She danced and taught for over seventy years. Graham was the first dancer to perform at the White House, travel abroad as a cultural ambassador, and receive the highest civilian award of the US: the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. In her lifetime she received honors ranging from the Key to the City of Paris to Japan's Imperial Order of the Precious Crown. She said, in the 1994 documentary The Dancer Revealed, "I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It's permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable."Mystic Ballet
Mystic Ballet is a modern dance company based in Mystic, Connecticut, founded in 1997 by Goran Subotic.Paul Taylor (choreographer)
Paul Belville Taylor, Jr. (July 29, 1930 – August 29, 2018) was an American dancer and choreographer. He was among the last living members of the third generation of America's modern dance artists. He founded the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1954 in New York City.Postmodern dance
Postmodern dance is a 20th century concert dance form that came into popularity in the early 1960s. While the term "postmodern" took on a different meaning when used to describe dance, the dance form did take inspiration from the ideologies of the wider Postmodern movement, which "sought to deflate what it saw as overly pretentious and ultimately self-serving modernist views of art and the artist" and was, more generally, a departure from modernist ideals. Lacking stylistic homogeny, Postmodern dance was discerned mainly by its anti-modern dance sentiments rather than by its dance style. The dance form was a reaction to the compositional and presentational constraints of the preceding generation of modern dance, hailing the use of everyday movement as valid performance art and advocating for unconventional methods of dance composition.
Postmodern dance made the claim that all movement was dance expression and any person was a dancer regardless of training. In this, early postmodern dance was more closely aligned with the ideologies of modernism rather than the architectural, literary and design movements of postmodernism. However, the postmodern dance movement rapidly developed to embrace the more broad idea of postmodernism, which was reflected in the wide variety of dance works emerging from Judson Dance Theater, a pioneering postmodern dance collective located in New York City during the 1960s.The peak popularity of Postmodern dance as a performance art was relatively short, lasting from the early 1960s to the mid 1980s, but due to the changing definitions of postmodernism, it technically reaches the mid 1990s and beyond. The form's influence can be seen in various other dance forms, especially contemporary dance, and in postmodern choreographic processes that are utilized by choreographers in a wide range of dance works.Principal dancer
A principal dancer (often shortened to principal) is a dancer at the highest rank within a professional dance company, particularly a ballet company.
A principal may be male or female. The position is similar to that of soloist; however, principals regularly perform not only solos, but also pas de deux. Principal dancers can be hired into a dance company or can also be a company dancer that is a corps de ballet dancer that gets promoted from within the company. That process can take multiple performance seasons or even years to achieve based on skill level and company interest. It is a coveted position in the company and the most prominent position a dancer can receive. The term is used mostly in ballet but can be used in other forms as well, such as modern dance. They are usually the star of the ballet. The term senior principal dancer is sometimes used as well.The Modern Dance
The Modern Dance is the debut album by American rock band Pere Ubu. It was released in January 1978 by record label Blank.
A 5.1 surround sound version was released as the DVD-Audio side of a DualDisc in 2005.Théâtre du Silence
Théâtre du Silence (Theatre of silence) was a dance company created by Jacques Garnier and Brigitte Lefèvre.