What is Modern Dance?

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What is modern dance?  It’s a tricky question to answer for anyone that’s asking for a description, so I’ll do my best to outline it here.

The best way to describe modern dance to begin with is that it began with ex-ballerinas that wanted a style of dance that broke away from the rigid structure of ballet and balletic narratives.  Okay, so what does that mean?

Typically, I start talking about the different “teachers” of modern dance.  Martha Graham, Lester Horton, Isadora Duncan.  Most teachers I know seem to do a combination of these three “teachers of modern,” but in truth, there is no ‘one thing’ that points to modern dance as a whole, like ballet (ie: Swan Lake,) Jazz (ie: Cabaret,) and Tap (well, tap.)

Martha Graham: is considered the “mother of Modern dance,” and although Modern Dance started well before her time, she is responsible for popularizing it in the United States.  Martha developed her own dance technique after studying dance for years- she wanted dancers to focus on “feeling.”  Feeling the floor beneath them, contracting and releasing the core of the body (the center of the body, as contrast to ballet’s emphasis on the limbs,) coordinating breathing and movement.

Isadora Duncan: technically came before Modern Dance.  She concentrated on the center (core), bare feet, loose hair, long and flowing costumes that was important for the dance.  Isadora built in quite a bit of athleticism in her dances:  Skipping, running, leaping, abrupt movements and some simple gymnastics.

Lester Horton: developed his own approach that incorporated Native American dances and modern jazz.  His technique is the most demanding:  focusing on the whole-body:  Flexibility, strength, coordination.  A common Horton move seen in many modern classes:  the arms straight above the heads and a flat back.

I’ve always found Modern Dance as incredibly difficult to describe and taking one modern class vs. another could be very different.  Modern classes can also be very close to ballet (ballet with bare feet, I call these classes) so it all depends on the instructor and what “teachings” he or she is instructing.  Modern is a great addition to a ballet class, given the free-flowing movement, being on the floor, and using your body in different ways. It’s also a great alternative if your dancer is growing tired of ballet or needs to try something different.  Modern dance does have technique involved, but might feel more like “dancing” since the first half of class isn’t done at the barre.

~ Miss Jenna

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”  – Martha Graham

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