Every art form has its own history and trajectory, and it is important to learn about it because it helps us understand the culture and reason behind every artistic revolution.

Contemporary dance was an artistic revolution because of many different factors that led to its development during the decade of the 80s. However, many things had to happen before we arrived to where we are at in the present day.

In this article you are going to learn about the origins of the genre, what other genres influence it, who are the dancers and performers behind its creation, and much more.

It is important for any aspiring student to learn about the history because it can help them understand certain factors and aspects of the journey they are about to embark on. 

For instance, learning what you need for a dance class involves understanding why contemporary dancers dance barefoot. Or knowing who are the icons of the genre can help you decide whose line of work you'd like to follow.

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Origins of contemporary dance

Contemporary dance was born as a way for performers to rebel against the performance scene that was already established. Many dancers wanted to break free from strict rules and notions, they wanted to explore their creative side, and thus create a form of expression never before seen.

Solo performance of contemporary dance
Modern dances are based on movement and expression. Foto de Miguel Salgado en Unsplash

This genre was developed by many choreographers and artists during the 1980s. They wanted to explore unconventional movements that were gathered from all dance styles of the world.

With that in mind, new techniques and movements were created, and with time the genre that we know as contemporary dance was born.

This genre doesn't use fixed moves, instead, it developed new dynamics and forms. Some of them are quick oppositional moves, expressions of raw emotion, shifting alignments, systematic breathing, dance moves that are performed lying on the floor, and working to find the limits of the human body.

For contemporary dance freedom is pivotal. Dancers are free to use the style and dances they wish, as they ignore old dance conventions and explore the limits of visual expression of feelings.

The history of contemporary dance shows us that beautiful things can be born with revolutions, with brave creators (in this case choreographers) who dare to break out of what is established.

Many classical schools are now offering lessons on contemporary dance because it has become so popular across the world, especially in the United States and European countries.

This doesn't mean that ballet or classical dance are forgotten, but it means that the pioneers of this genre created a powerful movement that is today at the center of the artistic scene.

This is why many performers strive to learn this genre, and if you are one of them, and are hoping to learn contemporary choreography, then you should search for a private tutor right here on Superprof.

Biggest influences in contemporary dance

Since this genre breaks out from the norm and relies heavily in creativity, improvisation, and expression of the self; it takes influence from many different genres.

For instance, contemporary dance originally borrowed elements from ballet, classical, modern, and jazz styles, and with time it has come to incorporate elements from many genres.

This genre was also influenced by eastern philosophies, applying ideals and values derived from Buddhism and Indian Hatha Yoga. This is especially true when it comes to mental training and postural strength, required to deliver unrestricted lines across spaces.

Street performance of contemporary dance
The arts can be performed on a theatre or at home, the stage is wherever the artist works. Foto de Nadim Merrikh en Unsplash

Since it is a genre with so many influences, it is easy to overlook all of them and sometimes it can be easy to spot one or all of them. Depends on the knowledge you have of the other genres. For instance, a ballet performer will identify the movements borrowed from ballet as well as a jazz dancer.

There are also many branches within the genre, and if you want to learn a dance influenced by ballet or jazz, or othergenre, then you should look for a school or teacher who can teach you exactly what you want.

For example, if you go to an institute and you don't investigate beforehand what line of work they teach or what influences they follow, you'll be at the mercy of whatever they teach.

However, if you do your research beforehand and you learn what exactly the field has to offer and decide for yourself what exactly you want to learn, then you can search for places that offer what you want and need.

If you opt for tutoring lessons you can always have a conversation with any prospect tutor and ask them what line they follow and see if you'd like to learn from them. The most important thing is that you find someone that will teach you what you want to learn!

Famous contemporary performers

As you could see, contemporary dance has many influences that it has adopted to develop one genre. As much as it has influenced, many icons shaped contemporary dance and turned it into what it is today.

The biggest names in the field are Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, and Merce Cunningham. Other names like Ailey, Humphrey, and Clarke are also known but Duncan, Graham, and Cunningham are always given credit for being the pioneers.

Isadora Duncan was born in San Francisco, California, and she was known for being the dancer that felt distant from the ballet routine.

Contemporary performance choreography

It is all about the movement of the body and the technique you use. Foto de Ahmad Odeh en Unsplash

She worked with more than one theater company across America and quickly developed her signature techniques and moves. She was a choreographer and a teacher from the age of 22 until she died at the age of 50.

Another great icon was Martha Graham, who was born in Pennsylvania but developed her career as a dancer in New York. Her style, known as the Graham technique, reshaped the dance scene and is still taught across the world.

The Martha Graham School is the oldest school of dance in the United States, which was founded in 1926 (the same year as Graham's professional dance company).

Finally, one of the most influential contemporary dancers of our time is Merce Cunningham, who was from Washington. He was one of the pupils of Graham and like every student, he reveled against his teacher and started developing his style.

Each of these icons set an important scene for American contemporary dance. From their life's work, many other classical performers have adequate their styles and developed dancing masterpieces.

These three icons created the foundation that allowed contemporary dance to be what it is in America.

Contemporary dance in the United States

As it was mentioned, this dance, much like modern dance and ballet, is highly popular in American choreographic centers and many European countries.

There are thousands of programs dedicated to teaching students contemporary choreography, which is not singular, rigid, or strict. Improvisation is one of the greatest elements of the genre, which is why there is more than one contemporary dance school or company in every city dedicated to teaching these arts.

Dancing a contemporary choreography
You can perform on a theatre or at a park, whichever works for you best. Foto de Ahmad Odeh en Unsplash

This genre is also gaining popularity in pop culture, especially since the singer Sia released her singles Chandelier and Elastic Hearts alongside music videos that starred Maddie Ziegler, a young contemporary dancer.

Since then, other artists, like Taylor Swift, have released music videos that had elements of contemporary dance. Although Taylor Swift's music video for her single Delicate was accused of being a copycat of a Kenzo fragrance ad campaign, it only shows that the genre was used in both products.

The use of the genre in pop culture shows how much it has grown and developed since it was first introduced in the art scene during the 20th century.

If you want to become a dancer and create your own contemporary performance, you can try to find a choreographer offering private lessons in your city.

You can start searching for teachers, a dance choreographer, or tutors right here on Superprof. Tutors can offer you a creative way of teaching so you learn a creative way of dancing.

Keep in mind that this art form relies highly on improvisation, which means you can't learn as much from a book as you could from a tutor or a dancing school.

Although reading a book on contemporary dance can be helpful to understand the work and performance of different artists, and it can help you create your own choreographic sequences.

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Maria