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"If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled (karma: 8)
By Arakmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Fri Nov 13, 2009 08:02 AM
Made sticky by oz_helen (35388) on 2009-11-14 04:18:21

Something I've noticed a lot, both here and in my everyday life, is that ballet dancers seem to consider modern dance to be nothing more than a good fallback, in case they don't make it into a ballet company. And since that's heinously untrue, I felt the need to spout off about it.

It's a common misconception among ballet dancers that modern dance companies are easier to get into and if a dancer is having no luck or has no potential in the ballet world, she ought to consider modern dance as a fallback, because there are no rules, no restrictions on body proportions, and whatever other notions they can come up with. That's really not the way it is. I would like to take a moment to examine a few of these ideas in some depth and offer a little reality to go with them.

Myth: Modern is easier, so dancers who aren't up to standards for ballet should try that instead.
Modern dance is just as demanding as ballet and modern companies are just as selective. Most of the major companies out there, and many of the smaller ones as well, practice one or maybe two specific modern techniques pretty much exclusively. Some companies require that dancers have studied those techniques for a certain amount of time before auditioning, and some just want you to be able to pick it up easily. But even then, unless you are proficient in modern dance in general, it isn't easy to just jump in knowing little to no modern at all and comfortably follow along. Unless a ballet dancer has excellent modern dance teachers who know how to teach modern to ballet dancers, it can be very difficult to make the transition between the two. I have seen many, many ballet dancers struggle with modern dance because they just can't seem to lose that perpetual upright posture that is so important in ballet but so undesirable in modern.

Myth: Ballet dancers who have been sidelined for a while should try modern because there's no way they can get back to professional ballet standards after so long.
While studying modern might help a dancer to get back into shape, it's just as physically demanding as ballet, if not more so, simply because of the differences in the movements. Modern requires more strength in the upper body, more flexibility and articulation in the spine, more overall strength to hold more contorted positions. If a dancer can make it into shape for professional modern dance, then they are capable of ballet as well. Whether or not it will be kinder to the body post-injury depends on what caused the injury. If a dancer has a recurring pointe injury, then yes, transitioning to modern might help her extend her career (but see above). But if she pulled a hamstring, modern would be equally as perilous as ballet. And regardless of the technique, when recovering from an injury or illness and beginning to take class again, one should always proceed with caution and be ready to back off again at the first signs that the body is not ready yet.

Myth: Modern dance - no rules, just right
Anyone who thinks this has obviously never studied modern. There are definitely rules and there is definitely technique - many different techniques, really, and each one unique. Learning one proficiently enough to be performance ready with it takes time, just like studying a ballet technique. What about all that weird stuff people do, like disrobing onstage or tearing up a newspaper and calling it dance? That would be postmodern, and yes, I agree, it's weird. But that's a whole 'nother can of worms.

Myth: Modern dance doesn't have height and weight standards like ballet does.
It may not have the same standards as ballet, but it does have standards. In order to meet the physical demands of the work, you have to be in a certain shape. They won't take Joe with the beer gut who came in off the street just because it turns out he's a natural mover. Many modern companies do seem to like the aesthetic of having a variety of shapes and sizes on the stage together, but even within those variations, all are in top physical shape; there's nothing but muscle there, and it shows.

Myth: If you're no good at ballet, try modern.
Even though the modern dance movement began as a counter to ballet, the two have become pretty close to each other in recent years. There are several techniques out there that are very close to ballet, and modern choreographers are sometimes commissioned to set modern dance works on ballet companies. Many modern dance companies out there want their dancers to have ballet experience as well as the modern technique of their choice and will even make a ballet warmup part of daily company class. I can remember this one time when I was in college and the Sean Curran Dance Company came to campus to give a performance. There were some modern dancers in my ballet class who begged the teacher to excuse them from class so they could go watch the company warm up in the theater. He let them go, and when they came back, they were dumbfounded. "They were doing a ballet barre," they reported. "And they were really good!" After that, they stopped looking for so many excuses to skip ballet.

So, even modern dancers are extraordinary dancers. They're not misfits who couldn't hack it in ballet but still wanted stardom and prestige (which, by the way, are bad reasons for wanting to dance in the first place). I think that more ballet studios should be offering modern dance - and offering it early, not just to the advanced ballet dancers - in order for dancers to understand more clearly the differences and unique difficulties it presents.

49 Replies to "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled

re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By adageacemember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Fri Nov 13, 2009 08:12 AM
Amen! I love modern, which I only fairly recently picked up. It has its own unique challenges, although there is a degree of overlap, and it's definitely not easy as some people think. In fact, my ballet has improved from taking modern, because of how much stronger I've become.
Thanks for posting :)
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By Emdances
On Fri Nov 13, 2009 11:14 AM
Thank you so much for posting. I'm a student from a diverse (but well trained) dance background, but I feel like its time to pick a focus, for college and my future, so this was REALLY helpful.

I have one question though. Could you elaborate on the postmodern thing? I love modern dance, like Horton and Grahamn and especially Cunningham, but I must admit I am outright offended by some of the "lets throw lemons at each other and fold jeans onstage" kind of "dances." I've seen A LOT of them, but appreciated only one or two. So do you think it will be difficult to have a performance career in modern dance if I want to avoid these kinds of works? I mean I know big companies like Ailey do not tend to do works like these, but realistically that's not a goal for me. I've seen some smaller modern companies and even performed alongside one and know I will be able to and want to dance professionally. Yet most of these smaller companies I've seen do postmodern, and I know I would not be either happy or satisfied with this.
You seem to be informed on this topic, so what do you think, are there significant opportunities out there for non-postmodern modern dancers? How big is the non-postmodern dance world? I really want to dance, but I don't want to spend four years getting a performance degree only to discover that I've wasted my time...
Thanks again for a great post:)
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By mustangdancer
On Fri Nov 13, 2009 01:06 PM
I love this post! When I was a teen and serious pre-professional student, my teachers strongly encouraged me to take a modern class once a week because I was *such* a perfectionist - I tended to focus so much on the precision of technique that I wasn't very good at being expressive. They thought modern ballet would help me learn to relax into the dance, rather than forcing it, if that makes any sense.

And wow - the modern class was *really* tough. It challenged me in so many ways. I quickly learned that modern technique is just as demanding as classical. But learning to move my body in so many different ways, learning to really *use* movement as expression was really good for my classical dancing! :)
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By d4jmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Fri Nov 13, 2009 01:47 PM
Love this post! I found the modern training that I got for teacher certs to be GRUELING. It was challenging on my body in lots of different ways. For one thing, can you say 'floor work'?!? 'Nuff said! My teacher was a student of Eric Hawkins and we did tons of tossing and propelling our bodies through space and it was a harder work out than any jazz or ballet class I've ever taken.

When I first started with modern I found it difficult, if not impossible to to not look like a ballerina. But with time it got easier. I pretty much suck at modern dance, but I am fascinated it. In my classes we got so philosophical, it was wonderful to be able to tune your body and mind together and really say something with movement.

All I can say is - RESPECT for modern dancers, it is in no way a fallback, but a true dance art.

re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By adageacemember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Fri Nov 13, 2009 02:31 PM
^ God yes. Floor work is a killer for me. Some of it isn't too bad, but even after a term of practicing one particular floor routine, there are still bits of it that I struggle with. The other thing is getting a good relaxation in my upper body while keeping everything else held. You'd think relaxing would be easy, but it truly isn't. Goodness - and back flexibility. Doing modern will probably turn out to do more for my arabesques than anything else.

However, I have discovered a love of falls of all kinds. :) There's a bit in one of my routines which involves falling forwards and it is the BEST feeling ever.

Aaaand /hijack... ;)
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By jlfuller22
On Fri Nov 13, 2009 02:53 PM
You don't have to tell me. Very ballety lyrical is about the most non-structured I can get. I look like a mess when I do modern. I tried pursuing it this year but I wasn't really fond of my teacher (some college girl who didn't really know how to teach and pretty much annoyed the crap out of me) but it's something I hope to try at my new studio either this summer or next year. I really believed in most of these myths and thought I could just jump right into modern with no problem. In fact, I looked much worse than the "hip hop" girls and only slightly better than those without any dance experience.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By luceroblanco
On Fri Nov 13, 2009 03:10 PM
I have done both and definitely modern dance has its own challenges. I agree with a lot of the things you wrote. I do think that ballet demands certain things from the body and physique that modern does not--such as the need to have a great turnout, start early and height restrictions. Weight restrictions are worse in ballet but they exist just as well in modern. I always found modern more difficult mentally and ballet harder on the body physically. There are modern techniques but there is also more freedom of creativity, so there are more movements and shapes the choreographer can present or ask for, that a dancer has never seen or done before. That is what makes it mentally challenging in my opinion. You have to be able to identify the movement and put it into your own body the way he/she wants it to look, and it may have no name and completely new to you.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By odile53
On Fri Nov 13, 2009 07:41 PM
I agree, 100%, that it is an entirely different dance discipline, as opposed to an "easier" dance discipline.

When I was in nursing college we had a choice of one of two freshman phys ed. credit courses that we had to take: a mix of volleyball and basketball, or modern creative dance.

By that time in my life I had had over eleven years of ballet training (without any supplemental training other than character,) and you wouldn't have believed what I looked like in that class! It was nearly impossible for me to move laterally without turning out, and I kept tripping over my own two feet in parallel. My knees screamed in protest with deep plies in parallel a la seconde (or whatever they called it in modern) especially if a lateral stretching movement was also involved. I also hated the idea of slamming around so close to the ground in my bare feet. I never really had the upper body strength to do some of the floor movements, no matter how many pushups I forced myself to do each evening.

I'd been used to the idea of warming up before class from all those years of ballet, and one day I arrived at the studio in the college center and was doing a mini ballet barre, turned out, in slippers, the whole bit.

The instructor came in, took one look at me, shook her head, and said, "It figures."

That course was my first, and only, experience with modern dance. All I can say about it was, I passed the course (it would have been too humiliating to have flunked phys. ed.) Far from freeing me of the constraints of classical ballet, it made me appreciate the structure we do have, and the predictability of that structure. It was a humbling experience. And as a result, I have nothing but respect for the modern dancers, because I am just too much of a ballet technician to be able to do it well, or happily!
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By Tyterope
On Sat Nov 14, 2009 12:16 PM
^odile53 I can empathize! Omigosh I had almost that complete experience... I mistakenly took a modern class once when my ballet was becoming increasingly difficult and I thought that the more liberal movement style would free me and give me a chance to breathe again... But instead, this idea backfired... I felt completely lost in a free-form technique where nothing was as structured or at least I couldn't SEE the patterns/structure that may have been there; and when it came time to truly move, I just looked like a kid who hadn't done a step of dance in my entire life... I convinced myself (and my teachers) that I didn't want to be free and promptly returned to ballet... where, even if I couldn't reach a technical proficiency, at least it was something I could understand and grasp.
To this day, while I truly enjoy watching modern dance, I in no way want to try it.... I'm way too right-brained for an absence of structure. (I blame this on all my family's staunch right-brained-ness) HA!
Students who believe modern will be easier are in for a surprise. It may require less turnout, but it requires a whole different skill set and mental acuity that ballet does not develop. Neither is easier, they are just different.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By Arakmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sun Nov 15, 2009 01:30 PM
^That sort of experience is why we need modern teachers who know how to teach modern to ballet dancers. I struggled for years hating modern until I finally found a teacher who spoke my language, and the difference was like night and day. The other thing that seems to hold dancers back from making the transition is that we have a tendency to want to skip the beginners' levels and jump right into the more advanced classes. The work may be more on a level with what we're capable of physically, but if we never got the basic technique in the lower levels, your brain doesn't know what to do.

And those interested in learning more about postmodern dance, a few things to look up:

Judson Dance Theater
Yvonne Rainer (Chair/Pillow Dance)
Trisha Brown (Trio A)
Robert Brown (Site)

The postmodern movement really began as a way to experiment with movement. My personal opinion is that it should have stayed that way - an experimental technique for furthering understanding of movement and an educational tool - as such it is incredibly effective at broadening one's understanding of dance and movement in general. I sort of understand the whole concept of bringing this educational tool to the masses, but time has made it clear that the majority of the masses didn't know what to do with it and/or weren't ready to accept it and take its lessons as part of their everyday lives.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By Tyterope
On Sun Nov 15, 2009 05:15 PM
^Arak, I am really glad that you eventually found a modern teacher who used your ballet background to help you grasp modern... But yours would be the exception, not the rule... As odile53 hinted at... ballet and modern still have such a rivalry between them that often times, it's not really worth it to branch out... (unless the student begins his/her training in modern and ballet at the same time.)
I have walked into modern class with the modern students bashing the ballet students, and vice versa... It's just not something I'd ever want to participate in and I believe alot of people feel this way too... I don't, however, think this rivalry exists in jazz, but I'm not sure since I never tried it.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By Arakmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sun Nov 15, 2009 05:36 PM
Well I'm sorry you interpreted what said as a personal criticism, but I believe that your experience is also an exception and not a rule. Even though I struggled in modern for so long, I never ever encountered any sort of open hostility between modern and ballet dancers! That's just totally inappropriate and unproductive of them, and completely not the norm.

I believe I stated that dance needs more teachers who understand how to ease this transition - not that every teacher out there is doing it right and the dancers are just not getting it. The whole point of this posting was to educate ballet dancers on the realities of modern dance, and to perhaps encourage a healthier relationship between the two based on the understanding of what modern dance actually has to offer a ballet-trained dancer and not on a misconception which will only lead to frustration and disappointment when it is realized the hard way. Nothing more than that.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By Tyterope
On Mon Nov 16, 2009 01:19 PM
Hi Arak... no, I didn't take what you said as a criticism at all and sorry if my response came across that way... I am sincerely glad you found a teacher who helped you. My experience wasn't like that, but that was it. It was only my experience. Everyone's will be different... Peace. T.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By Flitzcgcg06member has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Tue Dec 15, 2009 08:29 AM
I am so glad I read this! I have had the same issues thinking I could easily adapt to modern dance and I just made a complete fool of myself. The lack of control and definition for what we were doing actually made me very uncomfortable and like I had never danced in my life! Most of the time I had a "huh?!" expression on my face.

Also, I'm really glad to hear that I am not the only one who had this problem. lol....I don't feel as stupid as I did before.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By PinUpGirlmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sun Dec 20, 2009 08:47 AM
Great post. I've always said you need a foundation in ballet to move into modern. I also noticed that a lot of dancers jump into the higher levels of modern and find themselves just as lost as they would in an advanced ballet class with a minimal background. Personally, I love modern and wish I could take more classes. :D
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By cutedancer1
On Wed Dec 30, 2009 05:21 PM
I don't think that modern is any easier than ballet. I bet that some people are better at modern so it seems easier but I dont think that it is.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By hazelrah
On Thu Jan 07, 2010 02:53 PM
Enjoyed reading this!

I was just telling someone about being steered into modern when it became apparent I was too tall and not talented enough to make it as a ballet dancer. I took modern for years and truly loved parts of it, but really ... those were the parts/movements/dances that were basically contemporary ballet. However, I didn't like other aspects of modern (it was a bit new-agey for me at times) and never felt comfortable with some of the more abstract movements and HATED improv (I'm kind of weird about people touching me) with a passion. I guess what I'm trying to say is even if a person can adapt and do the movements, the desire and drive still has to be the same to commit to the artform itself. It is definitely not a fall back!
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By loveballet101
On Wed Feb 03, 2010 08:29 PM
While i definitely think modern is difficult (and I look so awkward trying to attempt anything that isn't just classical ballet), I don't think it's right to argue that modern dancers have aesthetic requirements as rigorous as ballet. modern dancers must be muscular. ballet dancers must be lean, muscular, with long limbs, long necks, small heads, short torsos, arched feet, lots of turnout, back flexibility, etc.

i've had many modern teachers at my preprofessional school. the overwhelming majority have been EXTREMELY strong dancers. however, all but 1 of the 5 were former preprofessional ballet dancers who chose modern because they felt they weren't the right fit for ballet. 2 lacked turnout, 1 was a bit too large, 1 has EXTREMELY flat feet. that's the truth

i'm not arguing they're not talented. but modern dancers simply don't face the same standards. people can begin training in modern when they're in their late teens (if they've already been talking ballet), and join a modern company just a year or 2 later. to be a female ballet dancer, one must train for 7-10 years in general
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By Fun_In_Phoenix
On Tue Feb 16, 2010 06:08 PM
I have to agree with loveballet101. Modern is not easy, no dance genre is. But classical ballerinas are in a league of their own as far as needing a specific body type and skill set.

I turned to modern in my late teens when I realized that my turnout was never going to get better. Modern is very challenging, for all the reasons mentioned, but it is much more accepting of body quarks than ballet can be.

Not good, not bad. Just different.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By ex_gang_girl
On Sun Mar 28, 2010 03:36 AM
All forms of dance require a great deal of training and a certain level of discipline. We all know how full of myths and stereotypes ballet is, or how misunderstood it is. The same applies to modern dance. Just because it follows a more free approach doesn't mean that just anyone can do it. I'm sure that those who are modern dancers would take offense if someone told them that what they do is easy, or at least easier than ballet. Ballet is the basis for all forms of dance and I imagine a high percentage of modern dancers studied ballet for a few years.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By Fun_In_Phoenix
On Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:49 AM
Part of the challenge with a discussion like this is that difficulty is so relative. I think the challenges of modern and ballet are different. In my mind, the question of which one is harder is pretty petty. The important question is which genre are you or your students anatomically better suited for?

There are some girls in my beginning pointe class for whom pointe work is relatively easy because they have the stereotypical body for pointe work. Others work twice as hard to get to releve because of quarks in their alignment. Similarly in modern class, some girls have more ease getting on and off the floor making the work "easier" for them than for others with, say, knee issues.

For me, it comes down to the body's natural advantages and limitations. Dancers have to work very hard. All of us, regardless of genre. We all understand that. That's why we love it. But when it comes down to it some bodies were build for more ease in specific genres than others.

Ballet has a reputation for being harder because it has a longer list of physical attributes that a person should have to get to the top. And unless you are built for it, it is very hard to succeed in.

I think that finding happiness in dance is in part finding a genre that you can succeed in and that you can enjoy.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By Newway
On Sat Apr 24, 2010 05:11 PM
I do not agree with this at all I am mainly a modern dancer and only have a little ballet ( which I was only learned the very basics of it) training but I am an amazing modern dancer. Not all people are good at ballet but at the dance studio I learned from the teacher was not very good at teaching ballet, but was amazing at teaching tap and jazz
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By lacey_lou
On Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:37 PM
Edited by lacey_lou (135825) on 2010-04-29 00:27:45
Thanks for this thread. It is great to dispel some of the misconceptions about modern dance. I just wanted to dispel some of the misconceptions about post-modern dance as well. Trisha Brown did not choreograph Trio A. Yvonne Rainer did. I have met and performed/learned work by both women this semester. I have the pleasure (not sure if I feel it is pleasurable or not but is an opportunity) of learning Trio A this semester and performing it in the fall. Trio A is the seminal work of post modern dance. The piece does not give one element such as an arabesque or even and inversion hierarchy over other movements. A hand gesture is not more important than a turn. Each movement is extremely detailed. While going through the piece the dancer must maintain the same tempo/pace. The dancer's face never looks directly to the front except for once, and the dancer's eyes are closed. This piece of course has technical elements to it (as does a lot of post modern dance on further inspection) but eliminating the hierarchy of movement is the main focus of Trio A (if you are interested do a quick google search of Rainer's No Manifesto). It is also a political idea. A lot of the first post-modern movement found its ground during the 60s. A time of political unrest for many artists and non-artists a like. The piece can be seen as pro civil rights and anti Vietnam War. Post-modern dance was the later part of the last decade's response to modern dance and ballet. It sought to strip away all the artifices of both forms of dance. A lot of contemporary (and I don't mean competition dance) today has elements of postmodern work in it. Oh and the Chair/Pillow dance link provided would not be around if it were not for Baryshnikov. He begged Rainer to come back to dance. She first showed her work at his White Oak when she returned to dance.
re: "If you can't do ballet, you should do modern!" A few myths dispelled
By pondflyPremium member
On Thu Jun 03, 2010 09:30 PM
Well I just got guilted into taking a modern class starting next week. This ought to be interesting. Thanks for the info so I can at least get a grasp of the situation.
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