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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Contemporary Ballet Companies

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Citibob, thanks for taking time to provide your perspective, untangle all those terms, and provide a historical background too. It gives me lots to chew on! :rolleyes:

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Are the terms modern dance and contemporary dance interchangeable? Do they mean the same thing or does the style of dance differ in each category? I would be grateful if someone would define the difference, if any, for me. Thank you in advance - I am ashamed to admit that I am rather an ignoramus when it comes to modern - I learnt modern musical and Modern American Jazz at school! That definitely puts me in the dinosaur category!

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Hamorah we were just discussing this at work yesterday as a matter of fact. No definitive answer here just an opinion that may be controversial.


Dancers who studied alternative dance techniques and may have danced in bare feet, at one time were known as modern dancers. Today, choreographers do "pieces" for bare feet, ballet slippers or pointe shoes. The classical vocabulary may or may not be used in works being choreographed today. It may be a point to ponder, does modern dance as a growing artform exists today. Of course I live in dance isolation so there may be quite a bit going on out there in dance havens, but from what is touring and what is choreographed on our lovely students, the classical vocabulary is used with a bit of twists and turns that make it contemporary movement. As for modern dance...outside of the classroom, I have not seen much actually new choreography, but maybe that has to do with an educational level and isolation. In order to have modern dance, the dancers might/would have to be educated very well in modern dance? Perhaps modern dance mixed with classical ballet is what is known today as contemporary? :shrug:

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I've always understood them simply to be English and US English usages, meaning the same thing, in terms of training. Here in the UK, we use the term 'contemprary dance class' - in the US (and Australia as I recall), the term 'modern dance class' tends to be used. But either term refers to the same thing.


I know this answer doesn't really address what differences there might be in dance styles, but just as 'classical ballet' is a catch-all term, which a number of dance historians might want to make more specific (eg Romantic ballet, Russian Imperial, and so on), so contemporary dance has a number of techniques and styles (eg Graham technique, release technique etc etc).

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I think the emphasis is more on American and British english, i.e. contemporary dance (british), modern dance (american).


In the UK, contemporary dance techniques contain Graham, Limon, etc., which is referred to as modern technique in the US.


From a linguistic perspective, there are more expressions in the dance world that are divided into British and American spelling, such as conservatoire (british) and conservatory (american). There was also a recent discussion on BT4D on 'centre' and 'center' work.


Depending on where an article/book has been published, American or British spelling maybe be used.

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In the UK I think we tend to use "contemporary" for Graham and other 20th century techniques because "modern" is used to refer to more musical theatre type technique. For example the ISTD and other examining boards offer exams in "Ballet", "Tap" and "Modern".

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I am curious: what is classified as "modern" by ISTD?

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Some Wikipedia articles here are very informative:





A few points of interest here:


1. In the Modern Dance article, Martha Graham is presented as the main example for the term "contemporary ballet." Certainly this is a very different meaning that the ballet companies today calling themselves "contemporary ballet." (I wrote more about this from a ballet point of view in another thread).


2. "Contemporary dance" is considered to be an outgrowth of "modern dance". Modern dance is the early 20th century foundation, which led later to "contemporary" and "post-modern" dance.


3. A little inheritence diagram is included for illustrative purposes.


4. "Rather than emphasising technique per se... contemporary dance as a field is more concerned with examining the choreographic and performing process." This is something I said elsewhere about "modern dance," but I suppose that I should have said "contemporary dance" there.


5. I perform in professional productions of something we all call "modern dance." But according to this article, it would really qualify more as "contemporary dance" because of the emphasis on the process as opposed to the technique. I probably end up there as opposed to more formal kinds of modern dance because, as a classically trained dancer, I lack the formal training in the various traditional modern dance techniques. Much less re-training is needed in a contemporary dance setting (while still seeking to build an aesthetic on stage that is significantly un-classical).


Finally, a disclaimer: Wikipedia is not always the Gospel Truth (no one source is). But they at least try to flag articles that are known the be heavily biased or controversial. If people on this board who are in the know about modern and contemporary dance feel that the Wikipedia articles are innacurate, controversial, incomplete or incorrect --- then they should definitely contribute to the articles to help improve them.

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My daughter's modern teacher says "modern" is a work, new or old, using the modern vocabulary and ideas, and "contemporary" is a new work, whether ballet or more free-form, that may draw upon some modern vocabulary and/or some ballet vocabulary but is not essentially modern-influenced. That said, my daughter is competing in the "contemporary" division of YAGP with a piece that her teacher says is "modern".

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dance1soccer1, your post is a great example of how confusing this question actually is! :shrug:


I've combined the two threads that are actually discussing the same topic, so that all of the discussion can be consolidated. :thumbsup:

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Some Wikipedia articles here are very informative...

Wikipedia is not always the Gospel Truth (no one source is). But they at least try to flag articles that are known the be heavily biased or controversial. If people on this board who are in the know about modern and contemporary dance feel that the Wikipedia articles are innacurate, controversial, incomplete or incorrect --- then they should definitely contribute to the articles to help improve them.


I agree with this, in large part because I am a Wikipedia editor. In fact, since we're on this subject -- I hate to bother all you kind people, but should anyone be wandering around in cyberspace and would actually like to take a look at the Wikipedia article here:


I'd appreciate it. I wrote this article about a month ago, and it is still fairly minimal. Should anyone find mistakes or like to contribute (sourced, please!) information, go right ahead. Or PM me with said info if you don't feel comfortable editing it yourself, and I will add it to the article.


Mods, please feel free to delete this post if it is inappropriate. I'd just like to add BT4D knowledge to a source that so many rely on!


Thanks, - Meggy

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  • 8 months later...

Would someone know of some contemporary ballet companies that do not have a minimum height requirement? We know of a few, like Aspen-Santa Fe and Alonzo King’s but they definitely favor the tall dancers. Someone recommended La La La Human Steps but it looks like they are tall also and the website is in French.

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"By only employing dancers who have received a minimum of a four-year baccalaureate degree, there is a great opportunity to provide not only mature and high quality work, but also offer a high standard of education." from Bidography

My husband told me that dance companies will change in the future regarding college, interesting.


Just another thought on this topic.

My impression of Contemporary Ballet was in the way the dancers were train. I guess I always imagine, most"contemporary companies hire dancers with intense ballet training. And companies that were modern, could have dancer that only train in modern dance. (not that they could not have ballet).

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