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What is Contemporary Dance?

By Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance(Performing Arts)

Contemporary Dance or Contemporary Ballet requires the skills, technique, and flexibility of a ballet dancer. It uses these skills to create movement and choreography that deviates and distorts traditional ballet.

Contemporary dancers and choreographers take risks with movement with the intention of making the viewer feel something in relation to what they are seeing. Contemporary dance is dancer-centric, with a focus on choreography, a theme, an idea or a concept.

Contemporary dance developed in the late 19th century predominately in North America before spreading throughout the world. Contemporary dance was a kind of rebellion against the tradition of classical ballet, and although freedom was gained in the formation of the style, it does have key elements that characterize the style. Some of these include parallel leg and arm positions and abstract and twisting movements of the body.

Modern or Contemporary dance is there a difference? Yes and no depending on who you talk to, but generally modern dance refers to the contemporary style dance created in the past. Contemporary on the other hand is the evolution of modern dance and is what we are creating today and will continue to develop. This is why it can get confusing. Martha Graham’s school for contemporary dance focuses on techniques of the past so they teach modern dance. In 1920 it was contemporary to that era but now it is modern also known as classic modern.

It is also important to understand that there IS a difference between Lyrical and Contemporary dance, especially for those entering competitions. Lyrical dance is fluid and dynamic, it should follow and match the tone of the song and lyrics being danced to and is emotionally expressive. Whereas contemporary dance distorts ballet technique, is generally avant-garde, and is dancer-centric, with a focus on the choreography or a theme, idea, or concept. Similar dance steps may be used in both styles but it is the way in which they are sequenced, performed, and matched with sound and music that can make them different.

This page is just one of hundreds of definitions of the many styles and genres of dance. This library is being continually added to by the writers and contributors of Dance Parent 101!