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Written by: Vanessa

Tradition of theatrical dance unique to the 20th century.

Modern Dance originated in Europe, but by the 1930s the United States had become the centre for dance experimentation.

Early modern dances were miniatures solos of highly compressed effect. They were unlike anything for dance was dominated by late 19th century ballets, characterized by large casts, a variety of dance numbers and spectacular scenic effects.

Ballet was not always so monumental in scale and just as ballet evolved over the centuries, so has modern dance during its shorter period of existence.


Having begun as a reaction against ballet, it is often defined in contrast to ballet. Certain traits can be observed in much of the enormously varied modern dance that has been created in the past three quarters of the century.

Choreographer Performer

The tendency is for one artist to act as choreographer and performer. In some cases also as scenic, costume and lighting designer.

During the last 300 years of ballet, in contrast choreographers have seldom continued to dance when they were at the height of their choreographic achievements.

Unlike ballet choreographers who rely on a language of codified steps, modern dancers create their own conventions, or dance language; thus finding it a practical necessity to both choreograph and perform.

Creation of a Dance Language

Elements such as posture, use of the bodys weight and character movements, as well as movements of the head, torso, hands, arms, legs and feet, has led creators of modern dance to consider it essential to examine their own style of movement and to develop theories. Such explanations may refer to the physical dynamics of dance motions, such as the role of gravity or of breathing. Theories may refer to ethnic and other non-ballet traditions.

Use of Space

In keeping with the conventual language of ballet, the ballet dancers movements are developed from a basic orientation of facing the audience. At the same time, the ballet dancer maintains an erect posture and a turned-out position.

Modern dancers in contrast, usually assume a multidimensional orientation in the theatre space and they do not always remain upright.

Despite the variety of modern dance styles, they generally tend to take into account the weight of the body, whereas ballet requires the dancer to create the illusion of freedom of gravity.

Relation to Music

In Ballet, the momentum and impulses of the dance movement is typically parallel to the rhythms of the music. Such a parallel may be present in modern dance, but it is not assumed that this must be the case.

The dance may be composed first and the music written afterwards, underscoring the impulses of the dance movement or the momentum of the dance. Music may even be absent, the sounds of the dancers movements being heard against a backdrop of silence.

(This independent relation of modern dance and music has, in fact, influenced some contemporary ballet.)

Vanessa van Rensburg

Modern dance is a performing art and a cultural activity


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