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Modern Dance History, Movements, Styles, Dancers & Competitions Modern Dance History, Movements, Styles, Dancers & Competitions

Modern Dance History, Movements, Styles, Dancers & Competitions

story by Danceus Staff for DanceUs.org

Introduction to Modern Dance

Modern dance has many flavors. There are stark differences in the choreography of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, who formed "Denishawn", in dances like "Americaine" or "Radha" and today's Pilobilus, "Symbiosis," or the Swiss dance group, Mummenschanz, whose ultra-dramatic choreography is set to modern dance movements. Compare this to the style of modern dance in the film "Holiday Inn." Note the sequence where Danny Kaye performs a modern dance routine entitled, "Choreography," a kind of spoof on the contrast between modern dance, jazz and tap dance. The movements in "Choreography" are deliberately exaggerated to show the purpose of modern dance steps and movements.

History of Modern Dance

Modern dancers still rely on many ballet steps as part of their choreographed modern dance routines. Modern dance is deeply embedded in ballet syllabus. Historically, modern dance began as free form style lyrical ballet among a community of professional ballet dancers who refused to stop dancing. Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis promoted modern dance as a way of continuing their dance careers, according to their biographies. The first modern dances choreographed required no dancing en pointe or rigid adherence to ballet movement.

A historical study of modern dance makes evident three phases of this dance style:

  • The early period from 1880 to 1923
  • The middle period from 1923 to 1946
  • The late modern dance period from 1946 to the present

Basic Movements of Modern Dance

Basic movements in modern dance are fluidly free style. The ballet step, arabesque, in modern dance is often performed with oblique angles of the body and in turns. Other ballet steps like chasse, pas de bourree and port de bra of the arms are similar ballet movements used in modern dance choreography. Certain modern dance steps are performed on half pointe in bare feet or in modern dance sandals for stage performances.

Modern dance may include chaine tour (chain turns), glissade (gliding steps) that predicate jetes (jumps) and tour de basque (leaps) and front-to-back and side-to-side steps, like the ballet step "chasse". In groups, modern dance choreography often includes geometric shapes like triangular, rectangular and circular shapes using from dancers' bodies. The use of geometric shapes in modern dance helps the audience to "see" the theme and subject of each modern dance routine.

Today, modern dance is often confused with "jazz dance", a dissimilar dance form that also relies on basic ballet movement. It is performed to faster tempos in contemporary music.

The difference between modern dance and jazz is that modern dance choreography is performed with a theme in mind. Jazz dance is free form and employs a variety of sharp turns, hops, jumps, leaps and jazz walks set to an upbeat style of music. In modern dance, these movements are softer and more fluid.

Popular Styles

Modern dance from 1990 to the present has taken a very different approach. Some choreographers and dancers include in modern dance styles hip hop, lyrical, free style and fusion, a combination of dance forms like tap, jazz, modern and ballet.

Since modern dance is usually performed in themed choreographic sequences, it projects a message. Choreography of hip hop, fusion and free style dance tends to be improvisational and without specific themes. Lyrical dance may have a choreographed theme. It leans more toward interpretative dance. Todays modern dance choreography may or may not be interpretative.

Famous Dancers

Isadora Duncan is considered the First Lady of Modern Dance. Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, Hanya Holm and Doris Humphrey are earlier famous modern dancers.

In the US, Martha Graham is revered and honored for her modern dance technique. Among the most famous modern dancers is the statuesque Judith Jamison, whose style is a virtual testament to fluidity, grace and stature in dance.

Other famous dancers include Bela Lewitzky, Lester Horton, Twyla Tarp, Jerome Robbins, Paul Horton, Daniel Nagrin, Pearl Primus and Erick Hawkins.

Twyla Tarp is an actress/dancer/choreographer who is a legend in contemporary modern dance. Others include David Winters, Eliot Feld and Jaime Rogers. Jazz/modern dance choreographers include Bob Fosse, Gus Giordano and Luigi.

Current Trends

Current trends in modern dance focus less on interpretation and more on acrobatic and aerial movements in groups and with partners. Articulating crossover dance styles by adding words, drama and illusion are the most current trends.

Competitions USA / International

Modern dance competitions are a relatively new addition to the dance world. In the past, competitions were limited to established dance organizations and dance schools. Today, dance competitions are found in the US and internationally. These include, The Macedonia Open, The USA "Turn it Up" dance competition and annual Korean International Modern Dance competitions.

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