Doss 1Brooke DossMs. BennettBritish Literature15 September 2011 The Art of Contemporary Dance and How it is Choreographed What is contemporary dance, and what makes it different from other styles of dance?These are both frequently asked questions, as contemporary dance is a very unique and diversestyle. It is also fairly new, compared to the many other styles of dance that have been around forcenturies. A common misconception is that contemporary, modern, and lyrical dance are all thesame style, just with different names. They are actually all very different, but sometimes inrather small ways. All of the confusion about this dance genre can be eliminated through anadequate background on the art of dance itself, a better understanding of the contemporary styleand how it differs from others, and some insight into how contemporary choreographers findtheir inspiration to choreograph. Throughout history, dance has been used both to express oneself and to entertain others.The history of dance spans a very large time period—in fact, there is no exact date to describewhen dance began, or an exact place to describe where. The art form has existed since ancienttimes, and has been used for many purposes, including rituals and meditation (Stewart). “Whatconstitutes as dancing has been defined and re-defined by the cultures of the world and there isno single definition for the term” (Stewart) because of its diversity, as well as the fact that it isconstantly changing. Dance styles change with time and adapt to the different cultures of thosewho are involved in it. For example, the way people dance in Russia is very different from the
Doss 2way those in Africa dance. Even within the same style, such as ballet, different regions havedifferent ways of expressing themselves and defining that style. Dance is also very influencedby personal preferences. With the growing popularity of television shows like So You Think YouCan Dance, dance genres such as contemporary have emerged in the dance scene more than everbefore. Similarly, changes in musical preferences can cause changes in the popularity of aparticular dance style. Dance is almost always complemented by music, and music is used togive the dance more depth and substance, as well as helping to convey a story or emotion.Changes in the popularity of a certain musical style, such as rap, can cause a change in thepopularity of the dance style associated with that music—in this case, hip hop dance. “Contemporary dance is a style of dance which emerged in the 20th century as anoutgrowth of modern dance and other 20th century dance techniques” (Smith), and moderndance had its beginning in ballet. Ballet is a style defined by technical difficulty; soft, flowingmovements; and elegant, graceful behavior (Stewart). There are several prominent figures in thehistory of dance who helped create and shape the art form known as modern dance. MarthaGraham, also known as the mother of modern and contemporary dance, was a strong believer inthe idea that dance was continuously changing and adapting to different time periods andcultures, and that it could not be strictly defined or have a specific notation (Warta). It was shewho first decided to branch off from the strict tradition of ballet and create her own style. Othernotable modern dancers include Merce Cunningham and Lester Horton. The styles that thesepeople created are most commonly known as modern dance. Modern dance was created becauseof a desire to make movement more free, open, relatable, and expressive. It explored the humanbody in a different way than ballet, through things such as articulation; contraction and release ofthe abdominals and pelvis; fall, rebound, recovery, and suspension; floor work; and use of
Doss 3breath—all things that were considered too tasteless in the past because of the modesty of theera. Modern dance was essentially formed to rebel against the strict rules of classical ballet(Bedinghaus). Lyrical and contemporary dance were both born from modern dance, and have manysimilarities and differences. Lyrical dance incorporates more relevant aspects of dance, such astricks, and is a pretty, light, and flowing style designed specifically for the purpose of telling astory. Contemporary also contains more relevant factors such as tricks, and is also usually moredaring, exciting, and interesting. It can be pretty and tell a story—or it can be dark andcompletely abstract. Contemporary dance is more diverse, sometimes incorporating moreelements of jazz dance, African dance, or whatever the choreographer is inspired by.“Contemporary dancers can come from any training background, ranging from classical ballet tobreak dancing, and they integrate bodywork techniques such as yoga and Pilates into theirdance” (Smith), creating a very distinct dance style. Because of the great variety of choreographic choices in contemporary dance, it is one ofthe most thrilling and thought-provoking forms of dance. It is also very popular, thanks to showslike So You Think You Can Dance. In fact, many dance choreographers have now become verypopular even among nondancers who normally would not know anything about dance.“Choreographers are trained professionals that create and arrange original dances by combiningsteps and movements” (“So, You’re thinking of Becoming A…Choreographer”) and providedancers with an outlet for their technique and performance skills. They are crucial to the art ofdance, and they have a very demanding and often difficult job. They must have plenty ofknowledge about the style of dance that they choreograph, as well as creativity, patience, andperseverance (“So, You’re Thinking of Becoming A…Choreographer”). Many people think that
Doss 4choreographers have an easy and fun job, and that all they have to know about are dance stepsand technique. What people do not realize is that choreographers must also have knowledgeabout costumes, music, lighting, and staging, as well as how to communicate with students welland get their ideas across so that they can be executed properly onstage (“So, You’re Thinking ofBecoming A…Choreographer”). Furthermore, they must be able to find inspiration, motivation,and concepts in their lives that they can pull from to create their pieces and meaning.Choreographic ideas can be obtained from just about anything, such as the choreographer’s lifeexperiences, emotions, thoughts, and visions (“How Do Choreographers Get Their Ideas ForRoutines?”). The best choreographers are the ones who can make their dancers and theiraudiences feel something from the dance, even if the dance has no clear story—it should still bepowerful, full of passion, and exciting to watch. Although there are many amazing contemporary choreographers out there today, thereare some who stand out more than others due to the incredible pieces that they have created;pieces that many people can relate to, even nondancers. Understanding where thesechoreographers get their inspiration for their dances can provide a better understanding of the artof contemporary dance itself. When asked where he is able to get his unique ideas and creativecharacters from, renowned choreographer Wade Robson says, “I spend as much time as possiblewatching films, going to museums, traveling around the world, studying other cultures, andspending as much time with my biggest inspiration, nature” (Movmnt Magazine). Emmy-nominated choreographer Stacey Tookey reveals where she obtains her inspiration by saying,“My inspiration definitely starts with music. I pick music Im drawn to, sometimes because theartists voice is so pretty, raw, and passionate. I also love violin, because it tears at myheartstrings. I want to choreograph something that makes people feel something and walk away
Doss 5with an impression and an emotion” (Roberts). When asked where she gets her motivation tocreate, choreographer Cherrise Wakeham says, “The layers in a song. The texture of a piece offabric. The position of the sun at a certain time of day. Anything that lends a fresh perspectiveand offers the basis for a story. I think life is constantly inviting us to see the possibilities inthings. If we’re open to it, there are endless opportunities to pull from and be moved by”(“Wakeham’s Choreography Creates Waves.”). Famous choreographer Mia Michaels explainsher unique style and creative choreographic process by saying, I direct moves a lot. I’ll have a dancer that is totally open to the movement, that knows my thinking and creative process, and I just start directing them. It’s like painting a picture sometimes. It’s all an explosion of the unknown, which is the most uncomfortable part. But it’s cool because then once your body goes into those places it starts a whole thing of newness, and that’s kind of what I’m always about - always pushing to the unknown. (Searle)Getting an insight into where choreographers pull their ideas from shows very clearly thatcontemporary choreographers, as well as the dancers, are very creative people who are able tofind inspiration in just about everything they come across. The art of contemporary dance and the choreographic content is something to beappreciated, and in order to be to be fully appreciated, it must first be understood. Dance,especially of the contemporary style, is tremendously intricate and demanding, as well as verypoignant. The creativity, inspiration, passion, and artistry involved is truly incredible, and eventhose who have never danced before can benefit from dance, enjoy it, and fall in love with it.
Doss 6Contemporary is one of the most relatable and moving styles, and therefore deserves to berecognized not just as a dance style, but as a lifestyle. Works CitedStewart, Cindy. "A Brief History In Dance." Article Alley. N.p., 22 Aug. 2006. Web. 3 Sept. 2011. <http://cindystewart.articlealley.com/ a-brief-history-in-dance-84030.html>.Smith, S.E. "What is Contemporary Dance?" Wise GEEK. N.p., 15 May 2011. Web. 2 Sept. 2011. <http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-contemporary-dance.htm>.Warta, Tamara. "Origins Of Contemporary Dance." LoveToKnow. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Sept. 2011. <http://dance.lovetoknow.com/ Origins_of_Contemporary_Dance>."So, Youre Thinking of Becoming A...Choreographer." Sokanu: The Blog. N.p., 8 June 2010. Web. 2 Sept. 2011. <http://blog.sokanu.com/ so-youre-thinking-of-becoming-a-choreographer>."How Do Choreographers Get Their Ideas For Routines?" The Dance Routine Corner. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Sept. 2011. <http://www.danceroutine.org/articles/ choreographersideas.html>.Movmnt Magazine. "Conversation - Travis Wall to Wade Robson." Movmnt Magazine. N.p., 12 Mar. 2009. Web. 1 Sept. 2011. <http://www.movmnt.com/ traviswall-waderobson_003954.html>.Roberts, Anna Monette. "Emmy-Nominated Choreographer Stacey Tookey on Inspiration, Health, and SYTYCD." fitsugar. N.p., 18 Aug. 2011. Web. 2 Sept. 2011. <http://www.fitsugar.com/