The History of Modern Dance
Modern technique was founded in the 20th century by pioneers including Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn. Each of these artists and choreographers wanted to explore a freedom and emotional expression of dance that differed from the very popular style of the time, ballet. The exploration took place within the different technical approaches, costumes, venues, and music.
What are the different styles that make up Modern technique?
o Martha Graham’s technique is a cornerstone of American dance that is still used throughout the world. Her technique is based on contractions and releases in the body that attempt to create a spiral movement within the dancing. Graham structured her class starting with floor work that focuses on contractions and standing exercises in center. Class ends with across the floor combinations to really challenge the dancers to move, and falling exercises to explore the different ways of moving vertically. Her technique has a dramatic and tension-filled flow from one to step to the next that has influenced many modern choreographers.
o Lester Horton took a different approach to his modern technique by incorporating many different diverse styles; Native American Folk Dance, Japanese dance arm gestures, isolations of the upper body, and circular hip movement from Afro-Caribbean technique. Within all of these technical elements, Horton focused on way the physical anatomy worked in order to create this movement, with the hope that this could help correct and strengthen physical barriers dancers faced.
o Merce Cunningham’s approach to modern dance is to explore the independence of movement and music, by using the space both elements share. He creates this concept in the technique by focusing on the spine as a hinge that works both together and separate from the upper and lower body. Cunninham’s technique also challenges the dancers to move throughout the room in space by not using one front (the mirror or audience) but exploring different facing of the body.
What Are the Benefits of Modern Technique?
Taking modern classes as a supplement to ballet will not only challenge your dancer but will strengthen their back, core, and spatial awareness. Dancers will also hear a variety of different music in class, including drums, classical, piano, and other contemporary music that will educate them on different rhythms and musical textures. By learning about all of the different aspects of the technique, dancers may explore the different realms of movement that dance can offer.
Example: Alvin Ailey
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is a stunning artistic and athletic modern company that is “a vital American cultural ambassador to the world”. The company celebrates the African-American culture through the enrichment of American modern dance. Ailey’s second company is coming to perform in Chicago and would be a wonderful show to go watch if you're curious to learn a little more!