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Ballet Talk for Dancers

What is the difference between Modern dancing and Contemporary dancing


swantobe

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...or is it only a matter of nomenclature? According to "The Ballet Companion" by Eliza Gaynor Minden, Contemporary dancing 'encompasses a wide array of styles that have their roots in both modern and ballet'. She also suggests that 'in the United Kingdom, contemporary dance is usually what Americans refer to as modern' - is this true? I did Modern dancing when I was younger, and I'm going to a Contemporary class for the 1st time tonight - I'm intrigued to see the difference.

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It's a matter of English usage. English terminology refers to non-classical ballet modern dance as 'contemporary.' US English calls this 'modern' -- as they do in Australian English, which has made many borrowings from US English.

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So, if you're in South Africa, which is it? :yes: Because both names are used here, although Modern is more commonly used. But I'd always though there was a difference in style between the two. And from what I've seen of US contemporary in shows like SYTYCD, it SEEMS different to modern dancing as we do it here.

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I really don't think there's a hard and fast usage. In the UK, we do contemporary class, which can draw on Graham technique, Cunnigham or Limon work, or release-based technique. I should think that the class you're about to attend is this sort of work.

 

Then there is Musical theatre dance (show dance), ballroom, street dance, beat-boy, hip-hop, Bhangra, and Bollywood.

 

But if you're being purist about it, not all ballet is classical ballet. Some of it is actually Romantic ballet!

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I think I need to do some research and try to find out more about the Modern I did when I was younger, and see if I can find out what "school" or style it was based on (I just had a brainwave - my husband's aunt was a professional contemporary dancer - I'm sure she'd be able to help clarify this...I know she has numerous biographies of Martha Graham). The contemporary class I did tonight was very similar to the Modern I did. From what I've read, I think that Modern/contemporary as it is understood here is based on Martha Graham's (and those who came after her) style. It's also highly possible that Modern as I remember it has evolved quite a lot since I last did it (in 1998!).

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Well, you should be able to tell what sort of contemporary technique it is, by the actual work you do in class. In the Graham-based classes I used to take in Sydney, we did a lot of work on contraction and release, with work in turned out positions, and fairly formal structured plié and tendu exercises. Across the floor I have done a lot of very detailed work on the triplet, for example.

 

In release-based technique classes, there is a lot more floor work, far less work on contraction, and a focus on working with systems of release of the body, particularly working the breath, and working in a much less turned out and 'held' body style.

 

In Limon technique classes I have done (not many of those) there was a focus on working contractions with quite explosive jumping and leaping sequences across the floor from early in the class, and far less back and floor work than in release technique work.

 

And this kind of dance technique is entirely different from jazz or musical theatre dance classes I've taken.

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I'll have to take more contemporary classes before I could say for sure, but it's definitely either Graham or Release-based technique. And yes, this is definitely not musical theatre dance - I'm very much aware of the differences between contemporary and musical theatre or jazz. (I'd actually love to take one of those, preferably jazz, at some point :yes: ).

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In the U.S. these terms are distinct. "Modern" dance refers to Graham, Mark Morris, Limon, Duncan, etc. All those forms that grew out of the initial rejection of classical ballet. It was danced barefoot. Today most modern companies still dance barefoot but some wear shoes, although NOT ballet shoes. The techniques vary and some companies do not follow a set technique but invent as they choreograph. Predominant though, are two modern schools, Graham and Limon (grew out of Humphrey). Most of the dancers who started companies in the 20th century could trace back to either the Graham, Humphrey or Dunham (but she also has some Graham elements). "Modern" dance offered in American universities and dance schools is usually this.

 

There is also "contemporary" used with respect to ballet companies in the U.S. I am just discovering this myself and this refers to ballet that is not classical or neoclassical (although I think there would be some overlap with the neoclassical) but that still maintains the much of the structure of ballet. The contemporary piece I recently saw by our regional company had the women in pointe shoes and men barefoot. This is very different from "modern" because women in modern would never wear pointe shoes and most of them do not have extensive ballet training on pointe to be able to do so. But this contemporary piece was different from the storybook romantic Russian ballets in the style and also length, music, and lack of narrative. There are also some contemporary pieces done by ballet companies that probably do not have the women on pointe but still they are coming from a ballet vocabulary/technique. They do not have to keep the codified poses or head/arm positions as in the tradition but still their technique is very much based on ballet. Here in the U.S. I have not seen schools or universities offering classes in this. There may be some and since I'm not yet familiar with this genre yet, I may just not know about them.

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Having very little training outside ballet, I can only speak of what I have seen in performances. I have however been an avid audience member for some decades, and am starting to see more contemporary and experimental dance since I've become involved in a small company (in a non-dancing role!)

 

luceroblanco does a good job of describing what I've seen. It's like Modern (capital M) was rejection of stuffy old ballet technique, replacing it with more upper-body movement, more variety of turned in as well as out, and more dealing with the floor, while comtemporary tries to heal the split by combining the forms - recovering the ballet technique but extending it to the floor and the upper body and more flexible movements. Modern dance as a term is after all more than 100 years old, and becoming something of an oxymoron...

 

Normally I am quite a stuffy person myself - musically my heart is in Mozart through Mahler, and I still use a dial telephone when I can. But I am finding contemporary dance quite compelling when done well - it's a growth and expansion of my experience, an added richness. Quite different from deconstruction of art forms, where you seem to tear away the old structure without replacing or building on it.

 

Well, that's how I see it - but I'm not an artist or a critic, I'm just a fan. :^)

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It's like Modern (capital M) was rejection of stuffy old ballet technique, replacing it with more upper-body movement, more variety of turned in as well as out, and more dealing with the floor, while comtemporary tries to heal the split by combining the forms - recovering the ballet technique but extending it to the floor and the upper body and more flexible movements.

 

Olddude, with respect what you define here is quite the reverse of standard usage in terms of training. Maybe you mean 'contemporary ballet' ?

 

But 'contemporary dance' is a blanket term for concert dance which is neither ballet nor show dance (eg musical theatre or balroom). Certainly, in dance studies -- both theoretical historical/critical studies and practical/vocational training of dancers -- thats generally the way the terms are used.

 

Lau, you might also search our sister board, BalletTalk, as there've been numerous discussions of this terminology. Mainly, I'd say that there isn't a hard and fast answer, although there are customary usages.

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Goodness Redbookish, you're right! I totally didn't read that carefully. I was going to say, in my experience in the US and the UK, US modern = UK contemporary... and that just like ballet, there are schools and techniques behind them, as Redbookish has noted: Graham, Hawkins, Limon, etc.

 

This is not a type of ballet! Of course, in ballet you have neo-classical ballet, and now what has loosely been termed 'contemporary ballet' or 'modern ballet'.

 

And, I also agree with Redbookish that now you see things labelled more as 'contemporary' in performances (a la So You Think You Can Dance). Sometimes in those situations, I feel like the label is a catch-all phrase, as the contemporary choreography can really vary.

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...

Olddude, with respect what you define here is quite the reverse of standard usage in terms of training. Maybe you mean 'contemporary ballet' ? ...

I did indeed mean contemporary ballet, I just don't know enough to be careful in my usage. Thanks for the correction!

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