Modern dance is frequently seen as the “arty” and “fashionable” stem of dance, but this is because many people don’t really understand why and when modern dance came about. It is now frequently taught along side of performing arts and theatre studies as the expression and power to connect with the audience is a strong and potent possibility for aspiring dancers and actors.
In the early 1900s, dancers were feeling restricted by the formality and restrictions that they felt were being placed on them within the world of ballet.
In ballet, facial expressions and the expression of emotions are portrayed through steps that have been done a thousand times before. Although ballet was, and still is, terribly beautiful, to remain within this world offers no way for a dancer to freely express themselves.
Modern dance is a direct assault against the restrictions of this type of dance. It became more widely known in the early 1900s possibly as a reaction to the turmoil’s that the world was facing.
It takes the grace of ballet and adds the freedom of emotion. This is meant to allow the audience to engage with the emotion of the piece with much more ease than the traditional dance.
There are three main women that have been accredited with the success of modern dance as we know it today. These women are:
- Mary Wigman. Born in Germany, Mary taught schools during the second world war, renowned for her use of masks and ended her career teaching in the United States.
- Ruth St. Denis, who founded one of the first dance departments in an American university. Heavily influenced by spirituality she brought the ‘solo’ to the forefront of dance.
- Most importantly, Isadora Duncan, considered the founder of the modern dance movement. Born in the USA she married a Russian man and worked all over the world. Rejecting traditional dance steps in favor of improvisation, Isadora inspired artists throughout the early 20th century. Uninterested in the commercial use of dance she dedicated herself to educating young girls in the art of dance, founding schools in Germany, Russia and the United States. Killed in a freak accident related to her love of flamboyant, flowing scarves, Isadora Duncan’s contribution to modern dance cannot be overestimated.
These women were among the masses of dancers who were tired of being so heavily restricted through the classical dance.
This art form has become increasingly popular as it offers endless possibilities. Modern dance has infiltrated the movies and Broadway most notably from the 1950s. The reason why modern dance has thrived is because of the energy and vitality it can express.
One of the most influential choreographers is Bob Fosse. This is because he incorporated modern dance with energetic Broadway performances such as Cabaret. Winning an Academy Award, a Tony and an Emmy, Bob brought innovative dance and choreography to society at large. His semi-autobiographical movie, All That Jazz has become the standard against which all other serious dance movies are judged.
In just about any musical produced, whether on screen or stage, it is likely to have a solid core of contemporary dance to help get the message and the plot across.
Modern dance is an act of rebellion against ballet, but despite this, much of the form and positioning still resemble that of ballet. Modern dance will continue to develop, unlike ballet, as it is open to a whole world of possibilities.