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Modern dance is a form of dance which focuses on the serious expression of inner emotions, using a free-flowing, interpretive style, rather than following the rigid rules characteristic of many dance disciplines. When modern dance first developed at the turn of the 20th century, it was considered extremely radical and iconoclastic; over the years since, modern dance has become more closely mingled with other disciplines like jazz dance, ballet, and tap, and some dancers work in both modern and classical dance styles, drawing techniques from both.
The turn of the 20th century was a generally iconoclastic era, as life in Europe and the United States underwent some dramatic shifts. Industrialism was on the rise, many nations participated in the First World War, and society was rapidly changing. As the rules of life shifted underfoot, some dancers began to feel that the formal rules of classical ballet were too restricting, and they began to develop their own style of free-flowing dance, which came to be known as “modern” dance, to differentiate it from classical ballet.
In a modern dance performance, the dancer is often barefoot, or wearing soft shoes. He or she moves in a free, almost improvisational style, and it is common to see controlled falls and other interesting interplays of body weight and gravity. Unlike ballet, which reaches for the stars with leaps and high kicks, this style of dance often lingers near the ground, especially in a piece heavily influenced by psychology and intense emotional states.
Some famous figures in modern dance include Ruth St Denis, Martha Graham, and Isadora Duncan. Each of these women developed her own distinctive style, choreographing dances which were personal expressions, in addition to performances. Some of the dances choreographed by these women continue to be formed, along with new modern compositions and dances composed by other prominent performers in the field.
At the close of the 20th century, many dance forms began to intermingle, rather than remaining strictly separate. It is not uncommon for a modern dancer to have classical training, and dance sometimes appears in staged productions and films, when the artistic vision behind the piece calls for it. The flowing movements and dramatic appearance of modern dance also sometimes cross over to the ballet stage, bringing a note of seriousness to ballet performance.
Frequently Asked Questions
What defines modern dance as a genre?
Modern dance is characterized by its versatility and rejection of classical ballet's strict rules. It emphasizes the expression of inner feelings, the use of gravity and body weight to enhance movement, and the freedom for dancers to use their bodies in fluid, natural, and sometimes unconventional ways. Modern dance often tells a story or explores an idea through abstract movements, and it allows for individual interpretation and improvisation, making it a highly personal and expressive art form.
How does modern dance differ from ballet?
Modern dance differs from ballet in several key aspects. Ballet is known for its precise technique, pointed feet, and ethereal quality, often requiring dancers to appear weightless. In contrast, modern dance embraces the natural weight and fall of the body, often using flat feet, bent knees, and grounded movements. Ballet typically follows a set vocabulary and narrative structure, while modern dance encourages experimentation and emotional expression, often breaking away from traditional storytelling.
Who are some pioneers of modern dance?
Pioneers of modern dance include Isadora Duncan, who is often credited with laying the foundation for the genre with her free-spirited performances that emphasized natural movement. Martha Graham further developed the form, introducing the "contract and release" technique and exploring complex emotional themes. Merce Cunningham introduced chance procedures and collaboration with other art forms, while Alvin Ailey incorporated African-American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel, and blues music into his choreography, broadening the cultural scope of modern dance.
Can modern dance be performed to any type of music?
Yes, modern dance can be performed to a wide variety of music genres. Unlike classical ballet, which often uses orchestral music, modern dance is not limited to any specific type of music. Dancers and choreographers may choose from classical compositions, jazz, electronic, pop, world music, or even silence to accompany their pieces. The choice of music is typically driven by the theme or emotion the choreographer wishes to express.
How has modern dance evolved over time?
Modern dance has evolved significantly since its inception in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Initially, it served as a rebellion against the rigid constraints of classical ballet, but over time, it has incorporated elements from other dance forms, including jazz, hip-hop, and world dance traditions. Technological advancements have also influenced modern dance, with choreographers incorporating multimedia and digital elements into performances. Today, modern dance continues to be a dynamic and ever-changing art form that reflects contemporary cultural and societal issues.