What is Contemporary Dance?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Contemporary dance is a style of dance that emerged in the 20th century as an outgrowth of modern dance and other 20th century dance techniques. Defining this style of dance can be difficult, as it is an extremely fluid and very nebulous style of dance. Unlike traditions such as ballet, contemporary is not associated with specific dance techniques, but rather with a dance philosophy. In it, people attempt to explore the natural energy and emotions of their bodies to produce dances that are often very personal.

Contemporary dance is not associated with specific techniques, such as ballet.
Contemporary dance is not associated with specific techniques, such as ballet.

Some notable names in the field of contemporary dance include Martha Graham, Trisha Brown, Isadora Duncan, Merce Cunningham, and Jose Limon. Martha Graham is perhaps one of the most famous people in the field, and the Martha Graham School of Dance in New York City offers training in Graham's techniques to dancers from all over the world. New stars are also always rising in this field of dance.

Bodywork techniques, such as yoga, is sometimes incorporated into contemporary dance.
Bodywork techniques, such as yoga, is sometimes incorporated into contemporary dance.

Contemporary dancers can come from any training background, ranging from classical ballet to break-dancing, and they integrate bodywork techniques such as yoga and Pilates into their dance, along with systems such as the Alexander Method. The contemporary style places a heavy emphasis on the connection between mind and body, with dancers being encouraged to explore their emotions through dances that push against traditional boundaries. This style of dance often involves a great deal of playing with balance, floorwork, fall and recovery, and improvisation.

In classes, students learn to use their bodies in a variety of ways, and they focus on breathing, posture, and emotional state to establish a mind-body connection. Students may learn choreographed works, or they may be encouraged to improvise dance pieces. A contemporary dance composition may take the from of a personal narrative, an allegory, a commentary on society, or an integration of cultures, and it can feature a wide variety of dance techniques, reflecting the melting pot nature of the style.

Numerous major cities around the world host contemporary dance companies that offer regular performances for the public, and some of these dance companies are attached to dance schools, for people who wish to pursue training in the style. Classes can also be taken through colleges and universities, community dance schools, and occasionally through health clubs.

A ballet dancer might become a contemporary dancer.
A ballet dancer might become a contemporary dancer.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


contemporary dance is all bout expressing your emotions and how you feel and bringing that into your dance. you can also combine contemporary dance with street or hip hop to create a more stylish affect.


how can i learn this dance at home myself?


Contemporary dance is the realm in which most concert dance artists work currently. It can trace its lineage back to Isadora Duncan. The timeline goes as such. Modern Dance: Isadora Duncan - Merce Cunningham, Post Modernism: Anna Halprin, Jusdon Church Group- Meredith Monk (These artist still work}. Contemporary dance is not limited to emotional investment.

Often it's defined by new research in body movement, aesthetics, politics, physics, and other avant garde approaches. Current key artists could be Shen Wei, William Forsythe, Ohad Naharin. There is no defined movement but rather a compositional philosophy to be original and progressive in performance and research.

The performance exists to satisfy an idea, not an audience. "So You Think You Can Dance"/ Lyrical is not contemporary concert dance.


i love this dance form and want to learn it so please suggest where to start from. pooja


I love dancing and i have just started my dancing class with contemporary style, and you know what? I loved it.


1- all those names listed were modern dancers.

2- contemporary dance is dancing how you feel; yes you should still have technique but basic technique of ballet (ballet is the core of most all dance).

3- there is no "best way" to dance it. although the keys are a. be able to move(i.e. muscle and control).

4- yes there are lots of different options to contemporary dance. it is basically a branch off modern.


The best way of performing contemporary dance is without a costume.

It allows the audience be free of distraction and be able to concentrate on the form,movement and style of the performer.

I always perform nude. For me it's about letting the audience see every muscle and sinew and feel what you (the performer) are feeling.

The best costume is no costume.


contemporary dance is a very general term. it is expressing everything you are feeling and illustrating it into a beautiful variety of moves that challenge the body to push its outer limits. there isn't one founder of contemporary dance nor a country. but i believe that martha graham was the mother of dance. she created works of art that moved people.


Why did contemporary dance start?


It is said that dancing is very unnatural process as human body is not made to twist and pull by default.

This genre of dancing is all about incorporating every unnatural technique as you do in stretching and yoga. Although this style of dance is said to be a modern style of dancing, it has been done from thousands of years ago by Indian sages in form of yoga and their yogic postures.

The only difference is now in modern timing. They do this with music and melody while in olden days they were doing with nature's music.


I am interested in contemporary dance, but I'd like to know if it has any spiritual roots and connections, especially seeing as it's all about connecting mind and body and emotions etc. I don't want to get involved in something new age and spiritual. Any info would be much appreciated. Thanks :-)


dancing is my fave thing to do and when i started contemporary in school i was hooked straight away and you couldn't stop me dancing. i praticed morning noon and night.


contempary dance is a brilliant way to express your feelings and emotion in dance, and you can do it at home on your own with no risk to you or anyone aronud you.


contemporary dance is a good way to say how you feel through movement.


i love this type of dance. that's why i chose it for course work.


i would like to say that contemporary dance is a good way to express your feelings.


The major part of contemporary dance is emotion. Emotion is a major part in dance, whether its hip hop, ballet, or lyrical.


i would also like to learn how to dance this genre and don't know how to get started. could i have some advice please?


Contemporary dance is very abstract as well as fluid.


I would like to know how to learn to Contemporary Dance at home by myself. Any advice I would greatly appreciate.

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