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Modern Dance - General
What the Heck is Modern Dance??? (karma: 51)
By calypsomember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 3453, member since Fri Aug 10, 2001
On Sat Mar 09, 2002 11:46 AM
Made sticky by balletgurl (11968) on 2004-01-06 10:37:50
The question has been asked four million times. "So, what is Modern, anyway?" "Is it like lyrical jazz?" "How about Hip Hop?" "I know, I bet it's like ballet, only looser." "I heard it's that stuff that Britney Spears does, that's pretty modern, don't you think?" "It's just kind of free flowing movement where you show your emotions." <br /> <br /> NOPE. <br>

So.... What the Heck is Modern Dance???



The question has been asked four million times. "So, what is Modern, anyway?" "Is it like lyrical jazz?" "How about Hip Hop?" "I know, I bet it's like ballet, only looser." "I heard it's that stuff that Britney Spears does, that's pretty modern, don't you think?" "It's just kind of free flowing movement where you show your emotions."



NOPE.



The truth is, Modern Dance has been widely misunderstood. In fact, even the name is now kind of obsolete! When Modern dance began to emerge, well, it was pretty modern. But that was around 1900, making Modern Dance's foundation over a hundred years old! Shouldn't we call it something else now? Well, we can certainly see how the name "Modern Dance" only adds to the confusion.



Around 1900, the dance scene had gotten fairly stale. Romantic Ballets were just about the only things being performed, but the peak of their popularity had been some 60 years earlier. At that time, a young woman named Isadora Duncan decided there must be another way to move; ballet was too artificial. So modern dance arrived as a rebellion to ballet.



Isadora took her ideas from Greek statues and art; also drawing much of her inspiration from the music. Instead of the romantic tutus, audiences of Isadora Duncan would have seen a woman clad in long, flowing tunics and bare feet, the sight of which shocked many theatergoers. Isadora danced on a carpet, which travelled with her – perhaps to make her footfalls silent or provide a softer landing. Her dances consisted of simple phrases of movement... skips, walks and leaps, all very eloquent, the use of gestures... she would frequently end a dance with one arm drifting skyward. In any case, for an audience used to romantic ballet, Isadora Duncan was highly unusual.



Nearly at the same time, another dancer was thinking many of the same thoughts about conventional ballet. Her name was Ruth St. Denis. Interested in performing "non-balletic" dance, St. Denis sought to find inspiration from the Orient and mystical things, and later she used Indian and Hindu images. Like Isadora Duncan, St. Denis had dance reformation on her mind. She and her husband, Ted Shawn, formed a dance school/company. It was called Denishawn (makes sense), and it was perhaps the most important thing to happen to modern dance ever, for two of the students at the school were named Martha Graham, and Doris Humphrey.



By 1930, most people had heard of modern dance, even if they had never seen one. The Indian/Orient themes had been done over and over (not unlike the overwhelming number of romantic ballets that spurred modern dance in the first place!), and some of Denishawn's students sought different ways to express themselves. Forming companies of their own, Graham and Humphrey choreographed dances that were complex and dramatic, showing the audience that dance could convey deep meaning and themes. Both women left Denishawn with a rebellion in mind- - no more fluffy Oriental dances. So here we see, the first rebellion against the rebellion!



Graham's work was especially important to our brief history of modern. You see, she was the first modern pioneer to actually codify her movement- – that is, to have a vocabulary of steps and moves uniquely hers. She also created exercises in class that would reinforce those steps and moves. A Graham class begins on the floor with exercises called "breathings", and moves on to contractions. It is HIGHLY technical work. Anyone who says that modern dance is just "free flowing movement" has never seen Graham work, let alone taken a Graham class.



Incidentally, at the time, there was another form of dance that had a codified set of steps and moves, and exercises that reinforced them. Can you guess? It was ballet. So in fact, Martha Graham was doing something quite similar to the procedure used to train ballet dancers, but don't tell Martha that. The only difference was the vocabulary of steps that were taught. Both forms are equally demanding. Both forms require exactness of movement. Both forms can only really be done well by accomplished dancers.



Like her predecessors, Martha Graham's and Doris Humphrey's companies and schools consisted of dancers who would eventually choose to create their own styles/ syllabi/ companies. If you will, rebellion against the rebellion against the original rebellion. Among them: Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, and Paul Taylor.



At this point, our family tree becomes a bit too diverse to continue without writing an entire book on the subject. We can see how the roots of modern dance started with Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, continued with the Denishawn school/company, then to Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, and onward. Each person sought to create movement that was unique and rooted in something other than the existing dance forms. To this day, Modern dance seeks to re-create itself and reach out in an ever widening circle of creation and movement.



— BalletGurl
<p>
<small><i>(Author's note: I have attempted to briefly show the roots of modern dance, and thereby define it. In doing so, I have omitted many important names, and have tried to generalize on dates. Anyone truly interested in modern beyond just being curious should pick up a copy of <A HREF="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0688049109/dancenet">Time and the Dancing Image</A>, by Deborah Jowitt, as I have found it an excellent reference tool.)</small></i>

232 Replies to What the Heck is Modern Dance???

re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By linhPremium member Comments: 2688, member since Sun Mar 07, 1999
On Sat Mar 09, 2002 12:32 PM
Bravo! What a great article! Thanks, I learned a lot. This will definitely help people understand and appreciate modern more. (I'm also working on a FAQ and ranking system so great explanations like these are not lost in the clutter.)

Linh
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By dancin_amy Comments: 50, member since Fri Dec 21, 2001
On Sat Mar 09, 2002 12:42 PM
thanks so much for clearing this up for people. modern is one of my favorite kinds of dance and i get tired of hearing "its just like lyrical, only different," and that kind of stuff. awesome history!

-Amy
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By starstruckdancer Comments: 501, member since Sun Sep 30, 2001
On Sat Mar 09, 2002 01:09 PM
Edited by starstruckdancer (13618) on 2002-03-09 13:11:26
Wow, that really cleared some things up about modern dance! thanks balletgurl! :D
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By BlackTyger Comments: 2568, member since Sat Jan 12, 2002
On Sat Mar 09, 2002 02:18 PM
I thought you were asking and saw a few replies. When I read that I was well "Gobsmacked" Brilliant info. Thanks. Tim
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By kiki Comments: 787, member since Mon Sep 24, 2001
On Sat Mar 09, 2002 02:18 PM
That was a great article. I get more questions about what Lyrical is more than modern though. :)
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By Foreveradancer Comments: 1522, member since Thu Aug 23, 2001
On Sat Mar 09, 2002 04:55 PM
Thanks so much for posting that!! Modern is one of my favourite types of dance. I really learned alot from that!
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By GCtines18 Comments: 1602, member since Fri Jan 11, 2002
On Sat Mar 09, 2002 04:55 PM
Wow, I had some serious misconceptions about modern dance! I'm so happy now that I have an understanding, if only a somewhat brief one. Once again, thank you for providing helpful information!

Christine
cool article
By grinning99 Comments: 683, member since Fri Mar 08, 2002
On Sat Mar 09, 2002 07:57 PM
I had always wondered what modern was! Thanks for the brief insight to this 'mysterious' dance form!
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance??? (karma: 1)
By lms Comments: 110, member since Sun Feb 17, 2002
On Sat Mar 09, 2002 11:08 PM
Thanks balletgurl, that was a nice read. :)

I just found a link to this Modern Dance Primer: www.pbs.org . . .

It talks about how modern dance is defined, characteristics of modern dance and some pioneers.
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By calypsomember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 3453, member since Fri Aug 10, 2001
On Sun Mar 10, 2002 12:10 AM
Ims,

Thanks for the link- - that was informative as well.

BalletGurl
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By hilly11148 Comments: 2317, member since Mon Dec 31, 2001
On Sun Mar 10, 2002 01:11 PM
wow, that was great! thanks for that, i already knew about modern as i have taken it, but i never knew the history of it, thanks alot!
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By dancin_michaela Comments: 153, member since Fri Mar 01, 2002
On Sun Mar 10, 2002 05:22 PM
Thanks for writing that, it was really helpful, and it expanded my knowledge of the history of Modern dance..good job ;)
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By DancinQueen1424 Comments: 940, member since Thu Jan 24, 2002
On Sun Mar 10, 2002 06:36 PM
thanx for writing that.
i myself did not know what modern dance meant exactly.
now i do :)

Erica
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By NidiaBD Comments: 32, member since Tue Aug 07, 2001
On Sun Mar 10, 2002 06:59 PM
Great Article! Thankyou for giving us some information, I've always wanted to know how modern dance originated.
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By tibbit Comments: 905, member since Tue Feb 19, 2002
On Mon Mar 11, 2002 11:58 AM
Great article. Thanks for sharing it. :)
Wots modern!!
By DancinDiva82 Comments: 4, member since Mon Feb 18, 2002
On Wed Mar 13, 2002 10:27 AM
I just want to join everyone else in saying that was a great article. I love doing modern but never know exactly wot to say when people ask me wot it is. I have an idea now.
Thanx again.
More on Modern (karma: 2)
By TheWinged Comments: 315, member since Tue Mar 05, 2002
On Thu Mar 14, 2002 03:33 AM
Hi,

I agree, Balletgurl. I'd just like to add a few tidbits and one not so tidbit. St. Denis/nee Ruthie Dennis from new Jersey was inspired by an illustration of an Eyptian Hooch Dancer illustration on a match box...voool, huh? Thus, her first inspiration for the Oriental. Ted Shawn formed the first all-male mopdern company to prove that men could be dancers and men!!!

Doris Humphrey and later, Jose Limon created a system of technique that is vastly different from the Graham, equally complex andgenerative and quite breathtakingly beautiful(IMHO).

p.s. guess what technique I do and teach?!

Next, we'll explore the following genrations of modern, like: Taylor, Cunningham, Lang, etc. from Graham; and: Falco, Muller, Currier from Limon...

Peace, TW
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By calypsomember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 3453, member since Fri Aug 10, 2001
On Thu Mar 14, 2002 09:49 AM
TW,

Do you teach Humphrey or Limon? I just (Tuesday in fact) got a GREAT book on Humphrey technique...written by one of her dancers. It's excellent. VERY cool to see what she used of her own and what she used from her predecessors.

I've taken a very few Limon classes... Liked what I took, but there just isn't anyone who teaches it around here. Seems like everyone in this area does/teaches Hawkins.

BalletGurl
Bravo!
By lovelydancer Comments: 1908, member since Fri Jul 20, 2001
On Thu Mar 14, 2002 04:25 PM
Balletgurl~

Your articles are always very informative. I think that is really cool!! And I have a friend who is just as cool as you ;) Thanks for the info I always learn something new everyday!!
GO YOU!!!
lovelydancer
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance??? (karma: 1)
By Madame_Moulin Comments: 5, member since Sat Feb 16, 2002
On Wed Mar 20, 2002 04:14 AM
Great info thanx... a couple of other points i have found out that could be thought rather interesting by some readers...

1. Isadora did not wear underpants when dancing in her flowing costumes resembling greek statues. ( rather MODERN don't u think???)

2. Ruth St. Denis had never seen any oriental dances of which she based her works until long after she was recognised for them and was established with ted shawn and had created denishawn. She was originally inspired by a cigarette poster which showed a woman dressed like an egyptian sitting on a grand chair.

( i study dance at school and know a lot about modern dance and the origins of ballet! )

If u have ne questions ask away!!! at shari_chic_@hotmail.com

i hope these small short facts have interests u!!! :)
Modern Dance
By dance_is_life Comments: 36, member since Wed Feb 27, 2002
On Sun Mar 24, 2002 04:05 PM
Awesome posting, balletgurl!
I loooooove modern dance and whenever my friends ask me what it
is, I don't know how to describe it. "It's....different. Not ballet. Not hip-hop. I don't know."
My modern teacher is so awesome and she uses a lot of Graham
movements during class. In repertoire, though (that's when she
choreographs a piece and we perform it) she does so many weird
movements ranging from lyrical and flowing to completely NOT. In
one piece she had us actually speak out loud to the audience.
It's so much fun though! And there are so many ways that you
can teach modern, and so many ways to do it... There's really no
boundaries to what you can do!
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By TheWinged Comments: 315, member since Tue Mar 05, 2002
On Sun Mar 31, 2002 10:53 AM
Further more: Ruthie Dennis was inspired (according to my information) by the illustration of an Egyptian hooch(or street)dancer. She actually had the timerity to perform her ersatz Indian, Japanese and Arabian dances in India, Japan and the Middle east!...and they loved her!!!

Isadora didn't wear underwear, but created the first "leotard" by sewing the crotch of a man's undershirt and then dying it in tea...great, huh?

Ballet Gurl,

I teach Limon, but have learned alot about his mentor, including several of her works...and love them!

Hawkins(sorry)leaves me cold witn his infusion of pseudo zen philosophy and all the stuff that I've seen has bored me to tears.

I only wish that the Limon technique were available to a wider "audience". It is so building, strengthening as it is freeing, broadening the scope and subtlety of movement, musicality , spatial awareness, the use of weight, breath...I could go on all day, but enough for now...any questions?

Peace, TW
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By AussieAsherinamember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 2389, member since Thu Jan 10, 2002
On Mon Apr 01, 2002 03:39 AM
Wow that was really interesting, thanks balletgurl!!!
re: What the Heck is Modern Dance???
By calypsomember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 3453, member since Fri Aug 10, 2001
On Thu Jul 29, 2004 10:44 AM
I wish more people would read this before they

a) try to tell people what modern dance is (and they're WAAY off base)

or b) ask what modern dance is for the millionth time!!!

bg
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