Modern Dance History, Movements, Styles, Dancers & Competitions

History of Modern Dance

Modern dancers still have ballet steps as part of the choreographed dance routines. The roots of modern dance can be traced back to its roots in the professional ballet dancers’ community. This group of dancers declined to stop from dancing. Two prominent figures, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, advocated modern dance as a way of keeping their careers going. The first modern dances choreographed went away with the ballet movement and instead, focused on free form and movement.

In the history of modern dance, there are three phases that are identified with its development: the period from 1880 to 1923, mid-1923 to 1946, and 1946 to the present.

The Basics of Modern Dance

Basic movements in modern dance are fluidly freestyle. In modern dance, the ballet step, arabesque, is often performed with oblique angles of the body and in turns. Other ballet steps are also utilized in modern dance. However, such steps often depend on the teacher’s preference and, to a degree, the theme present.

Modern dance may include gliding steps that predicate jumps, chain turns, and leaps and front-to-back and side-to-side steps. In groups, modern dance choreography often employs geometric shapes from dancers’ bodies. Such usage of geometric shapes is to convey to the audience the theme and subject of each dance routine. As such, symmetry is given importance to achieve a perfect conveyance.

While similarities can be made between modern dance and jazz dance, a fundamental difference between them is the presence of a theme. For jazz dance, it is more free form. Therefore, you can expect much more lively steps and patterns such as tapping, jumping, and fast gliding. Often, it is played to the tune of fast-paced music. In modern dance, these movements are softer and more fluid. Investment is made towards evoking a theme to the audience.

Popular Styles

Compared to the style of the 1990s, modern dance has taken a very different approach.  Choreographers often include a fusion of various dance types in their dance routine. These include hip hop, freestyle, tap, ballet, and jazz. Since modern dance is performed in highly thematic choreographed sequences, it tends to project and send a message. Other dance styles may be improvisational and without any specific themes. Today’s modern dance can be interpretative or not but still retains an underlying theme.

Famous Dancers

Isadora Duncan is widely regarded as the First Lady of Modern Dance. She is given credit as well as the Mother of Dance. While her schools in Europe didn’t last, her influence cannot be underestimated. Other early famous dancers include Ruth St. Denis, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, and Ted Shawn.

In the United States, Martha Graham became well-known for her technique. Based heavily on the breathing cycle, the technique is widely given credit to have reshaped the American dance scene. Her technique has been exported worldwide.

Among the most famous modern dancers is Judith Jamison. Her fluidity, grace, and stature won her praise around the world.

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

Twyla Tharp is regarded as a legend within the contemporary modern dance scene. She is given credit for her work Deuce Coupe, the first crossover ballet. Others include Jaime Rogers, David Winters, and Eliot Feld. Jazz/modern dance choreographers include Bob Fosse and Gus Giordano.

Current Trends

Nowadays, the focus on modern dance is more on the movements of the dancers rather than on the interpretation itself. It mainly highlights the acrobats in the routine. The addition of words, drama, and illusion are some of the most current trends today.

Dance Competitions

Thanks to its rising popularity among the new generation of dancers, modern dance was recently added to the roster of dance competitions. Historically, only dance organizations and dance schools are the venues where dance competitions are held. Nowadays, numerous modern dance competitions are held all over the world. These include Youth America Grand Prix, Hip Hop International, and World of Dance.

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