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Ill use the expression 'contemporary dance history' to talk about figures,
choreographic productions or related facts occurred in western culture between
the 1950s and the present time.

Though, it is important to keep in mind that this expression is used in a popular

way to gather many different (really really different) choreographic practices,
which can be sometimes contradictory in their aesthetical proposals.

So, the expression 'contemporary dance history' will serve here mainly as a
chronological reference. A discussion about contemporary dance features of the
following figures or pieces might come in other pages.

We could say that both ballet and modern dance are ancestors of contemporary
dance. Ballet creates the general concert dance frame work and technical
knowledge used or refused by contemporary dance. Modern dance is at the
same time its anti-reference and kind of mother in law.

So, theres a contemporary dance history before the 1950s: that one of ballet
and modern dance, which somehow serves society to make emerge
contemporary dance.

If you prefer to browse through a handy summary of contemporary dance

history (with the names of figures who were or are significant for it), go to our
general dance history page. The following is an expanded version of that part.

As the information about contemporary dance history is increasingly available in

time, the data about this chronological period is far larger than the one for
modern dance history or ballet history. Also, it continues to increase and change
everyday. So, the following text provides only a selection of very important
figures or trends, recognized for their creative work. A huge part of this story
will wait for later pages or discussions.

One reading tip before starting: if youre looking for a specific choreographer or
dance company that does not appear below, you might want to browse over
our contemporary dance companies page. Happily, nowadays most dance groups
have great websites, where you can know a lot about them and even have a
glimpse of their creative work in dance pictures or videos.

Merce Cunningham (1919 2009, USA)

"Variations V". Choreography: Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham is a student of Martha Graham. After being a main dancer in

her company for several years, he starts an independent career as a
choreographer in 1942. Accompanied by John Cages music, he presents a solo
entitled Totem ancestor, which opens his period of individual research.

Since 1943, always accompanied by Cage, he starts a series of concerts and

tours with the purpose of exposing his new ideas concerning dance.

In 1953, he creates a group in the Black Mountain College (North Carolina) that
allows him to develop a method full of new artistic postulates. He innovates from
almost all of the possible perspectives: choreographic, compositional, technical-
interpretative, musical, philosophical and others.

Contemporary dance history considers him as the first choreographer that

proclaims himself against the established conceptions of modern dance, and
develops an independent attitude towards the artistic work.

Some of his ideas:

Dramaturgical and compositional perspective:

- Abstraction: Movement is expressive and enough beyond any intention. Theres

no need to tell a story or reflect something.

-No figurative or emotional references.

-Away from the need of communicating something, from pre-established formal

elements or coming from an interior impulse.

-To compose in space and time without a goal.

-Immobility (as silence) is a sufficient aesthetical experience.

-Chance as a method for making aesthetical choices: throwing coins or dice,

using the I Ching.

-Multiple and simultaneous actions.

Musical perspective:

-Independence between dance and music.

Scenic frame perspective:

-Deconstruction of rules of perspective and symmetry defined by court ballet:

breaking of scenic space conceptions of front, center and hierarchies: space is
equal at any point, fragmented and exploded.

-No hierarchy between dancers.

-The audience is free to see in its own manner and with its own looking choices.

-Out of theaters: non conventional spaces.

-Inventor of the EVENT: sequence of dances whose dramatic structure or

content is never stable, with no sense of logical syntax or construction (ancestor
of what is later called happening).

Technical-interpretative perspective:

-Virtuous dancers in a new sense.

-Mastery of tempo and movement length by inner perception.

-Ability to dance with great speed and changing of rhythm and directions in an
unpredictable way.

-Capability of adapting and memorizing sequences.

-Rhythmical diversity without equivalent.

-Classical technique for the legs.

Philosophical perspective:

-Abandonment of the ideas of the inspired artist, the piece of art as an

expression of an individual and an evaluation criterion based on beauty or
expressive qualities.

-Order inside disorder.

-Never the two same events: not about fixing, but about reflecting flexibility of

-Reflecting life: no linearity, no classical dramaturgy, things dont happen only

in a successive way but also simultaneously.

-No politics, no narrative, no argument, no theme, no intention.

-Creative freedom.

-ZEN influence: non obstructive quality of things, they can coexist in nature
without interfering with each other.

-Dance to be danced or to be seen, not to be analyzed.


-Innovative lighting, sets and costumes thanks to the collaboration with

contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.
For contemporary dance history theres a before Cunningham and after
Cunningham. His work marks the time for a completely new era of dance and
gains it the inscription inside the story of contemporary art with the same status
as other arts.

The postmodern dance:

Post modern dancers during a session of contact improvisation.

To understand the so called postmodern dance, it is important to remember the

social context in which it develops. The 1960s in the U.S.A. are years of
questioning of the historical truths and ideological principles that rule over the
social, political and artistic fields. Society starts a process of opening to the
recognition of plurality, relativism of knowledge and subjectivism of perception.

According to contemporary dance history, the ambience of social and cultural

changing is noticeable in arts by a tendency for experimentation and radicalism.
From this time on, choreographers stop creating schools or styles like their
modern masters did. Influences between each others are less direct and more

Among the artists who start gathering with this new spirit (or join the group in
time) are Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, Yvonne Rainer, Judith Dunn, David Gordon,
Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton, Deborah et Alex Hay, Elaine Summers, Lucinda
Childs and Meredith Monk.

They do one first concert in the Judson Memorial Church (New York) in 1962.
After a time of stability there, the Judson Church Dance Theater is
consolidated. In 1970, it is followed by the gathering of an improvisation group
called Grand union.

Some of the postmodern dance features are:

-Anything goes (time of subjectivism), which means that everything proposed

is valid.

-Questioning of modern dance principles and history (in the early times), and
recovering of its heritages and acquisitions (later).

-Search for the degree zero of movement: exploration of daily life movement as
a sufficient aesthetical experience and denial of the importance of technical

-Substitution of aesthetic judgment by observation and analysis (notions of good

and bad loose importance).

-Intention of approaching dance (arts) to life and big audiences (dance in the
streets, performers that are not dancers).
-Search of a lack of expression by the dancer.

-Identification of social and ideological marks in the body and its movement.

-Refusal of the pretention of creating a vocabulary, repertory or style.

-Questioning of the value of the notion of author of an art piece.

-Performance: doing something more than representing it. Dancers, actors,

musicians and visual artists have the same status within it. Frontiers between
artistic genres become undefined.

-Importance of improvisation.

-Exploration of repetition as a compositional method.

-Artists (dancers) react against the consumer society, the wars held by the
U.S.A., the art market and the elitism of its conventional places.

Some of the choreographers that started their careers during the 60s, in the
middle of this ideological ambience, continue their researches independently.

Contemporary dance history has records of those exemples: Lucinda Childs

(known for her repetitive procedures and purist minimalism), Twyla Tharp
(known for having become a popular -more than an avant-garde- artist, who
fuses her work with pop culture), Trisha Brown (known for her exploration of
gravity, accumulations and unstable molecular structure period) or Steve
Paxton (famous for the development of Contact Improvisation).


Butoh is the name given to a group of performance practices that could be

considered as a type of Japanese contemporary dance.

Around 1959, Japan sees the birth of a new gestural language, anchored in the
complex cultural experience of the country at the time. Contemporary dance
history commonly associates the motivation for this arising with the social
devastation and misery left by the world second war. Though, it has been
recorded that it also appears as a reaction against the contemporary dance
scene in Japan, which Tatsumi Hijikata (considered the founder of butoh) felt
was based on the one hand on imitating the West, and on the other on imitating
the Noh (major form of classical Japanese musical drama).

Hijikata critiques the current state of dance as being superficial and develops his
expressive way, giving it the name of dance of the darkness. In a search for an
individual or collective memory, butoh find its essential subjects and
components: death, eroticism, sex and mobilization of archaic pulsations.
After Hijikata and Kazuo no (considered as a founder of butoh as well), a series
of renowned figures are found in contemporary dance history: Ushio Amagatsu
(director of the famous group Sankai Juku), Ko Murobushi, and Carlotta Ikeda,
among others.

Some of the butohs common features are:

-Use of taboo topics.

-Extreme or absurd environments.

-Slow hyper-controlled motion.

-Almost nude bodies completely painted in white.

-Upward rolled eyes and contorted face.

-Inward rotated legs and feet.

-Fetal positions.

-Playful and grotesque imagery.

-Performed with or without an audience.

-No set style: There are as many types of butoh as there are butoh
choreographers. (Hijikata).

-It may be purely conceptual with no movement at all.

- Its technique uses some acquisitions from the traditional Japanese knowledge,
like the control of energy, which translates into an insistent rhythm (close to N
Theater) and strong expressivity.

Butoh is first rejected in Japan. The first piece by Hijikata, in 1959, creates a
scandal and he is socially banned. Later, he is greatly received in the western
world (especially in Europe in the 70s).

Butoh finally gains a big success in Japan in the 80s, thanks to an artistic trend
that is interested in the search for a national identity. By the 90s, the new
generations connect Japanese butoh with cultural references spread world wide.

Nowadays it is a dance preformed all over the world and mentioned in almost
every contemporary dance history record.

Pina Bausch (1940 - 2009, Germany):

"Cafe Mller". Choreography: Pina Bausch

Heir of the German expressive dance, Pina Bausch receives her dance training at
the Folkwang School in Essen, under the supervision of Kurt Jooss. She is
engaged there as a choreographer since 1973, thanks to what she creates the
Wuppertal Dancetheater. Under this name, although controversial at the
beginning, her company gradually achieves international recognition because of
the proposal of a new form of show that shatters the world of dance as much as
the world of theater.

The work of Pina Bausch is close related to contemporary dance but is most
commonly known as a modality of postmodern or contemporary ballet (from the
dance perspective and not the theatrical one)). This is possibly because she uses
classical, virtuous dancers, but goes far away from the classical ballet
performing conventions. At the same time, even if her pieces include theatrical
gestures and voice, she refuses the theatrical procedure of constructing

According to contemporary dance history, these are some of the features of her

-Combination of poetic and everyday elements.

-Shows where theres mixture of musical hall, operetta and happening.

-Recurrent subject: the human loss within social systems that are stereotypical
and hypocrite.

-Denunciation of codes of seduction.

-Repetition and non linear narrative.

-Refusal of creation of characters in a theatrical sense, but use of voice and

theatrical gestures.

-Virtuous dancers, daily trained in classical ballet.

Pina Bausch is also known for having developed her own compositional method.
She searches the choreographic material using the strategy of asking questions
to the dancers (about childhood memories or buried stories). By this, she pushes
dancers to exteriorize their selves through an introspective work.

Awarded some of the greatest prizes and honors world-wide, Pina Bausch is
recognized by contemporary dance history as one of the most significant
choreographers of the end of the XX century.

Ballet and contemporary dance (art) ideas:

While at the origins of modern and contemporary dance, ballet appears often
either as a model to refuse or as a foreign field, the second half of the XX
century sees classical and contemporary dance into a position of reciprocal

From the point of view of some contemporary dance cases, ballet will be an
allied that serves mostly for the technical development of performers.

From the perspective of ballet, contemporary dance ideas will mean the access
to huge creative and experimental issues, as much as the possibility to
experience technical alternatives.

The spreading of postmodern ideas triggers a series of recreations of classical

ballets (like Swan Lake, Giselle, Coppelia, The Sleeping Beauty or the
Nutcracker) by the new choreographers as well as the fusion of styles.

Some important figures that appear in contemporary dance history as

conductors of the crossings between ballet and contemporary dance values are:

Rudolph Nureyev (1938 1993): an archetypical classical figure who will not
hesitate to work with modern and contemporary dancers and that becomes a
great incentive for the classical community to start trespassing barriers.

Jir Kylin (1947, Czech Republic) and Hans van Manen (1932, Netherlands):
together they cause the explosion of the Netherlands School in the 80s,
incorporating modern ideas to ballet vocabulary and elaborating an own style.
The Netherlands Dance Theater becomes the working place of some of the most
renowned international choreographers like Mats Ek, William Forsythe and Nacho

William Forsythe (1955, U.S.A.): highly determines the 90s with his style,
searching for the dancers technical limits and breaking the conventions of the
representation. He would say: Classical vocabulary will never be old. Its the
way to use it what makes it get old. So, I use it to tell current stories.

The figures that could be considered as part of this trend are a lot and it would
be more than inappropriate to make generalizations about their works. I believe
each one of them deserves an own page, so Ill be constructing and providing
those at our site in time.

For the moment, here's a list of some of the choreographers that havent been
mentioned yet and that are commonly found in contemporary dance history:

Maurice Bjart, Keneth Mac Millan, Robert Joffrey, John Neumeier, , Mats
Ek, William Forsythe, Nacho Duato, Mark Morris, Jean Cristophe Maillot, Maguy
Marin, Angelin Preljocaj, Dominique Bagouet, Wim Vandekeybus, Matthew

Classifying ballet choreographers into a history of contemporary dance may feel

inadequate. Tough, Ive chosen to mention them briefly in this page, because for
this chronological period of contemporary dance history, aesthetical frontiers are
very much undefined. It would not be very precise to say that one
choreographer is more classical or contemporary, as the correspondent
features are used freely by all with the creative purposes of each choreographic

Thats why our contemporary dance history tale finishes here. Look in the future
for the linked pages that will provide the specific information about each one of
the artists.

Related threads:

Abstraction: when applied to dance, this word refers to choreography that does
not have a narrative character. In other words, an abstract dance does not tell a
story, nor is related to symbolic contents or any kind of associations with
feelings, ideas or other elements than movement itself. A dance can be
considered as abstract if it is seen through the frame of pure movement and/or
its components (like space, time, body and so forth).

Accumulation: this is a word introduced by the American choreographer Trisha

Brown in the 1970s. It was used by her to name a piece and it described a
graduated and repetitive way in which the gestures of the choreography were
built-up. As Trisha Browns works are so widely known, this word has spread
among the dance community and it is used nowadays to talk about her way of
creating choreography as a compositional method.

Alignment: placement of bones in such a way that increases physiological

effectiveness and health. Depending on the dance genre, the alignment can vary
according to its specific aesthetic goals. Read the definitions for 'Correct
alignment', 'Body placement' or 'Stance' below to expand.

Arch: position in which the whole or upper body is extended, creating the form
of an arch.

Beat: the beat is the basic unity used to measure time in both the
choreographic and musical language. It is the pulse that occurs repeatedly with
a certain frequency. When dancing, beats are what we count like five, six,
seven, eight! (bet you know this). Five, six, seven, eight are the last four beats
of a choreographic phrase of eight beats. Visit our page for contemporary dance
music to listen to some examples and expand your understanding.

Body placement: this is an expression that we use in dance to talk about the
way in which we carry our body (our selves), including the positioning and
alignment of big bones (like the pelvis or spine), limbs and head as well as the
micro organizations of muscles that are responsible for their positioning. Usually,
every dance genre or style has its own body placement, which facilitates its
technical execution and makes up the particular style.

Canon: dancers use this word with the same meaning as musicians. It defines a
compositional structure in which one same choreographic fragment is executed
by several dancers who space it out in time (usually with regular intervals).
Rudolph Laban identified four main types of canon used in dance: the regular
canon (dancers start and end one after another), the starting canon (only the
beginning of the fragment is stepped), the ending canon (only the end of the
fragment is stepped), the simultaneous canon (dancers start at the same time
but each one starts the fragment at a different point).

Choreographer: artist who creates with the movement of humans as material.

In dance terms though, a contemporary dance choreographer is usually
considered as a general director of scenic art pieces that include several
aesthetic languages (music, visual fine arts, architecture), all under his
creative judgment.

Clarity of line: the word line is most commonly used among ballet dancers. It
refers to an ideal shape that is created with the body while dancing, especially in
certain positions like arabesques or between legs and arms. The clarity or quality
of the line would be the degree of accuracy with which the shape achieved by a
dancer gets close to that ideal.

Contemporary Dance: art whose working material is the movement of humans.

It doesnt have fixed or established movement patterns but its rather in a
continuous search for new forms and dynamics. Therefore its dancers make use
of varied modern and classical dance techniques to train. It produces
performances or shows in conventional and non conventional stages (such as
theaters or public and private places), having a frequent dialogue with other
aesthetic languages such as audiovisual technologies, visual or fine arts,
lightning, architecture, music, circus and others.

What is contemporary dance? Heres another answer:

Contraction: term introduced by the modern dancer and choreographer Martha

Graham as one of the key elements of her own dance technique. It refers to the
forward curving of the spine, starting from the pelvic zone.

Corporeality: (or corporeity) this is a term used by dance researchers mainly.

Its introduction is attributed to the French philosopher Michel Bernard. It
replaces the word body, under the justification that it is a broader concept that
understands the body as an imaginary and malleable matter, a sensitive net with
a constant pulse, inseparable from an individual and collective history.

Correct alignment: placing the body (mainly bones and muscles) in such a way
that they are physiologically correct. This means that when moving under such
an alignment, the dancer will not hurt her/him self and there will be a more
efficient expenditure of energy as a consequence. For example, when falling
from a jump, knees should point in the same direction of feet. The better that
alignment is, the safer the jump is. Read the definition for 'body placement'
above to expand.

Counterpoint: this is a musical term used to talk about dance as well. When
referring to music, it expresses the harmonic interdependence or relationship
between two melodic lines whose rhythm and contour are different. When
referring to dance, it expresses the same but in choreographic terms: two (or
more) choreographic fragments with different use of space, time and/or body
are executed together and make part of a choreographic unity.

Dance steps: this is an expression that we use to refer to codified movements,

which make part of a dancing vocabulary. A dance step is not necessarily a
common step (with a leg), but can be any movement of the body that is already
recognized as part of a dance type or style. The expression dance moves is also
used for the same purpose.

Dance Theatre: this expression is used to refer to a stage genre that combines
aesthetic features or methods that belong both to dance and to theatre.
Choreography, use of voice and text, creation of dramatic situations, dance
improvisation or any practice that belongs to those two aesthetic languages are
combined and used freely according to each specific artistic project.

Director: the director of a contemporary dance performance is usually its

choreographer too, but this is not a rule. It is called the director if he coordinates
general production and delegates a part (or all) of the artistic work to other
members of his group. She/he is generally the author of the original idea and
the person who makes the final decisions over aesthetic and practical matters.

Dynamic (s): when used as a dance term it expresses the way in which shape
of movement is executed (see effort qualities too). From the point of view of
Rudolph Laban efforts theory, there would be four main factors that make up
the dynamics of movement: space (direct or indirect), time (sustained or
sudden), weight (light or strong) and flow (free or bound). The combination of
these 8 possible ways of executing any movement would create the variations in
its dynamic. Laban gave a name to 8 basic actions that would result from these
combinations, to give an example of the difference between dynamics: punching,
floating, pressing, flicking, gliding, slashing, dabbing and wringing. Outside
Labans theory, dynamics would also refer to movement qualities associated with
expressive, affective or other physical components.

Effort: effort is a word introduced by Rudolph Laban. According to him, it is a

mental impulse from which movement originates. There are four motion factors
that constitute it: SPACE (direct or indirect), WEIGHT (strong or light), TIME
(sudden or sustained) and FLOW (bound and free). The dynamic of movement is
the result of the combination of these factors and its effort qualities.

Effort actions: Rudolph Laban stated that the different combinations of the
effort qualities produce eight basic ways of moving, called basic actions: to press,
to flick, to wring, to dab, to slash, to glide, to punch and to float.

Effort economy: although effort is a word associated with Rudolph Labans

movement theory by the dancing community, it is also used with another
meaning when talking about effort economy' in technical terms. It refers to a
way of moving in which expenditure of energy is optimized by using only the
parts of the body needed and relaxing the rest.

Effort qualities: single effort elements or their combinations (direct, indirect,

strong, light, sudden, sustained, bound, free).
Flow (free, bound or continuous): one of the four main factors that make up
the dynamics of movement, according to the efforts theory by Rudolph Laban.
When flow is free, the dancer would not have big control to stop movement
immediately (like the arm of a country worker, when throwing and spreading
rice seeds or when a dancer makes a grand jet). When flow is bound, the
dancer would have control to stop moving at any moment (common when
moving slowly or when doing movements that require control, like a pirouette).
Flow is also usually called as being continuous, which would mean that the
stream or momentum of movement doesnt stop. (Look for the definitions above

Form: this is a word that is most commonly used to refer to movement (dance)
from an abstract point of view. The form of movement, also called the shape,
would include its occupation of space, timings, body uses and such kind of
elements that do not express other contents than movement itself. In this sense,
the form could be understood as opposed to the content, the qualities, dynamics
or any expressive and communicative feature that makes up movement.

Genre: this word is used to classify and differentiate types of dance in the
broader way. For example, contemporary dance, classical western dance (ballet),
and folk dances are three genres of dance.

Gesture: in the Laban language (system for analyzing and recording

movement), the word gesture is used to talk about movements that do not
involve carrying the weight of the whole body throughout space. A gesture
would be different to a transfer of weight (for example, raising an arm would be
a gesture and stepping forward would be a transfer of weight). Some people also
use this word to talk about movements of the body or limbs that express or
emphasize ideas, feelings or attitudes, in opposition to what would be a
movement, considered only in an abstract way.

Grounded: it is said of a dancer that has a good sense of gravity, i.e. efficient
use of her/his bodys weight.

Happening: form of interdisciplinary theatrical intervention, developed by visual

artists in the 1960s, mostly in non conventional places (art galleries or outside
spaces). It usually demands the audience participation and tends to modify its
perception of the environment. Contemporary dance choreographer Merce
Cunningham is considered to be the creator of the happening prototype in 1952,
in collaboration with the composer John Cage.

High level: this is a dance term taken from Rudolph Labans division of space.
It is used to talk about movements executed in positions like standing, tiptoeing
or jumping (see Low Level and Middle Level too).

History of choreography: this expression could be understood as something

different from the one that refers to dance history, which has traditionally and
mainly consisted of a listing of dance figures and some of the aesthetical
features of their artistic work. Strictly talking, the history of choreography would
refer to the choreographies themselves, describing or analyzing movement as
the main topic and including basically its shape, dynamics or group
configurations. Other complementary aspects like symbolic contents, music,
costumes, lighting or stage design could be included, but as a secondary topic.

Improvisation: this is the action of dancing without defining movement

previously; the dancer does not know what s/he will execute but moves
spontaneously and freely, in opposition to composed dance, where the dancer
memorizes choreography. Other than the dance improvisation that is totally free,
there are types of improvisation that use guidelines which define some features
of the dance (like its structure, genre, length, dynamics, etc.). Examples of
dance improvisation guidelines are: following the music, occupying space in
specific ways, movement qualities, choreographic phrases that are executed
according to chosen rules and so forth.

Inversion: one of the strategies used in the compositional method that makes
variations of a leitmotiv. Inverting the leitmotiv would mean to execute it from
the end to the beginning of the movement, like rewinding a videotape. For
example, if the leitmotiv is a step forward, applying inversion will convert it into
a step backwards.

Jet: this is a word in French that belongs to the vocabulary of ballet. It

expresses a dynamic of movement in which the force goes outwards and the
flow of movement is mainly free. Battement jet, for example, stands for
bringing a leg outwards (with the dynamic described), or grand jet stands for
a big leap in which one leg is strongly thrown forward. Depending on the use you
make of the word, it may construct the name of different codified steps.

Kinesthesia: the sixth sense, according to Rudolph Laban, it is the ability to

perceive or be aware of one selfs position, movement and body (including
muscles, bones, entrails, skin) in a sensitive way.

Kinsphere: (or kinesphere) imaginary space that surrounds the human body. It
has a spherical shape and its size is determined by the maximum space reached
by limbs in any possible direction.

Legato: this is a word borrowed from musical language, but it is used in dance
with the same meaning. It expresses a quality of movement in which flow
doesnt stop, but the feeling is always continuous and fluent.

Levels: this word is used to refer to one aspect of the division of space
introduced by Rudolph Laban. Laban established three main levels, both for the
scenic space and for movement within the kinespheric space. For definitions of
the high, middle and low level of the scenic space, read the correspondent
definitions in this same page. Within the kinesphere, levels are combined with
the 9 basic directions and refer to the orientation towards which movement is
executed. It is different to the levels in scenic space, which refer to the specific
space occupied by the body.

Lighting: this is the art of designing and arranging the lights for a show.
Designing the lights is usually done together with the choreographer. Afterwards,
theres the work of putting equipments in place and ordering the electrical
system for everything to work. This last task is made by technicians or electrical

Lyrical (dance): style of contemporary, modern or jazz dance that has

emerged from the fusion of one of those three types of dance with ballet and
pop music (mainly). It combines simple choreographic vocabulary with
technically difficult moves, in an expressive style that follows the lyrics of songs
and is often interpreted in the short solo format.

Low level: this is an expression taken from Rudolph Labans division of space.
It is used to talk about movements executed in positions like lying or
movements like cringing and rolling on the floor (see High Level and Middle
Level too).

Lunge: this is a word that comes from the language of aerobics and it is used
by some dancers to name a movement in which you transfer the weight forward,
and put half of it (or more) on one leg that advances and bends; the leg behind
may stay extended or may bend too. It is like going to a wide fourth position (as
we call it in dance), with legs in parallel or in a turnout position. Some classical
dancers name it tomb.

Middle level: this is an expression taken from Rudolph Labans division of space.
It is used to talk about movements like crawling on four legs or executed from
positions like kneeling or sitting (see High Level and Low Level too).

Minimization: one of the strategies used in the compositional method that

makes variations of a leitmotiv. Minimizing the leitmotiv would mean making it
smaller, mainly in terms of its occupation of space. For example, if the leitmotiv
is a step forward, applying minimization will convert it into different smaller
possibilities of that same step.

Mirroring: exercising method that may be used by dancers but that is most
commonly used by actors or in the training field for drama. It consists of a bodily
activity for two, in which one person moves and the other follows as if s/he was
a mirror. This strategy is used to develop concentration, communication,
cooperation and creative skills.

Modern Dance: modern dance could be considered as a synonym of

contemporary dance as in some cases they share aesthetical or ideological
characteristics. Though, this is a dance term commonly used to name a dance
trend that was born in the late XIX century and lasted till around the 1950s. Its
homes were Germany (and surrounding countries) and the United States. Some
of its most renowned figures are Isadora Duncan, Rudolph Laban, Mary Wigman
and Martha Graham (see our modern dance history page to expand).

Motif: this is a word that is most commonly used within the dance composition
speech. It refers to a small choreographic unit (a gesture, movement or phrase)
that is the main reference from which a bigger choreography (or dance piece) is
built and composed.
Motif development: is a procedure of a dance composition method that
consists of transforming a basic choreographic motif to create a larger or whole
piece of dance. Variations of the motif are done through strategies like repetition,
inversion, rhythmical modifications, amplification, minimization, ornamentation,
deconstruction and all imaginable compositional tools.

Movement image: perception of movement from a mental and kinesthetic

perspective (i.e. from the dancers imagination and the inner perception of
her/his body and movement).

Musicality: ability to perceive music and integrate it to the execution of dance.

New Dance: new dance is a name given to a contemporary dances European

trend. It is classified by historians between de 1980s and 1990s. Some of its
French figures are D. Bagouet, O.Duboc, J.Cl. Gallota, D. Larrieu, M. Marin, A.
Preljocaj, K. Saporta .

Opposition: this is a word that is mainly used during our technical trainings.
The opposition of the movement of one part of the body to another serves the
dancer in several ways. Opposing facilitates grater extensions, maintaining
placement, balance or controlling weight. For example when raising an arm, the
shoulder should go down. The direction of their movements creates an
opposition (upwards and downwards at the same time) in order to maintain a
right placement of the upper trunk (unless another specific placement of the
trunk is wanted).

Parasite tension: this is an expression used mainly by dancers who practice

techniques with elements from the somatic trend. It expresses the activity of a
muscle or a group of muscles that is not necessary to execute a movement.

Pas de bourre : French expression that belongs to the vocabulary of ballet. It

refers to a combination of three weight transfers over alternate legs (steps). It is
performed like this: one leg behind the other, then second leg to the side and
then first leg in front of the other leg, usually ending in a demi pli with one or
both legs. There are different ways to execute that same basic structure, in
order to adequate the combination to the needs of the dance.

Pas de chat: this expression means cats step in French and is part of the
vocabulary of ballet. To execute a pas de chat you usually start from the fifth
position of the feet and jump sideways with one leg going first. That leg is bent
and the knee guides the jump. Being in the air, you quickly raise the second leg
up so both legs form a diamond shape while jumping. Then you land on the
same leg you started with and bring the other leg down in front of the first leg to
the fifth position again.

Percussive: when referring to movement, the word percussive is used to

express a broken and attacked quality, which would be opposed to a fluid, or
continuous quality. A percussive movement is unconnected or detached from its
neighbors by a pause and it usually has a little accent at the end of execution.
Sometimes the equivalent musical terms are also applied to dance. A percussive
movement would have a staccato quality and would be opposed to the legato
or fluid quality.

Phrase: short choreographic fragment that has an intention and feeling of a

beginning and an end. Phrases are commonly constructed by following rhythmic
patterns (like for example the popular dancing phrase of eight beats) but they
can also be defined just by means of their moves or dynamics.

Piece: a choreographic work.

Pirouette: this word belongs to the vocabulary of ballet, but it is used by

contemporary dancers too, with the same meaning. It refers to a full turn on one
leg, having the other leg bent, till the point where the foot reaches the knee (in
a parallel position or with the classical turnout).

Postmodern Dance: name given to a contemporary dance trend that emerged

between the 1960s and 1970s in New York (U.S.A.).
Created by a group of artists who worked in the Judson Church, it defended the
aesthetic value of everybodys and everydays movement.

Projection: when talking about executing a dance, it refers to the skill of bodily
expression and communication.

Quality of movement: (movement quality) a particular way of executing the

shape of a movement, concerning its dynamic, affective or expressive content.
Example: the action of caressing is different in its quality to the action of sliding,
even if the shape of the movement might look the same.

Release: name given to a training method developed and used by

contemporary dancers since the second half of the XXth century. Its main
characteristic is described by its name: the dancer emphasizes on releasing the
muscular tension, in order to achieve a most efficient expense of energy. This is
complemented with a postural organization composed of proper alignment,
placement of breath and carrying of weight which intend to give the dancer the
ability to use gravity while moving instead of muscular force.

Retir: this is a term from the vocabulary of western classical dance (ballet). It
refers to a position of one leg, which is bent so that the point of the foot is close
to the knee of the supporting leg. In ballet, it is executed with an outward
rotation of the leg. It is very common in pirouettes or as a transitional position.

Retrograde: Other than the usual meaning of this adjective, this word is used
by choreographers or dancers to talk about the action of executing choreography
inversely, from the end to the beginning (like a rewinding video).

Rhythm: in dance, this word has the same meaning as in music. Though, it is
used to refer to different things. When choreographers say to dancers stick to
the rhythm, they are usually talking about the tempo, which is the speed at
which the beat is counted. The rhythm can also be the particular form of
gathering the beat, together with a certain character or dynamic that give name
to a type of dance (for example the waltz, the march, etc.). In the widest sense,
the rhythm is the way in which the temporal factor of movement is organized,
including beat, tempo, measure, accents and dynamics. When talking about
movement dramaturgy, rhythm is also used to refer to the effect produced in a
choreographic piece by the combination or arrangement of formal elements, as
length of scenes, intensity, timing, or recurrent themes, to create movement,
tension, emotional value and progression in the development of the dance.

Scattering: (according to Laban's space harmony) general shaping going away

from the body, not specific about where in space.

Score: written text that records the movement of one or several dancers. There
are currently various systems used for writing dance scores. The following are
some of the most popular: Labanotation, Benesh notation or Cont notation. The
'score' may also refer to the series of guidelines created by a choreographer that
are followed by the dancers to perform a show. This is a common compositional
method used mainly by postmodern or contemporary choreographers.

Gwen Rakotovao Company

Shape: (movement shape) opposed to quality or dynamic, shape is an outside

visual aspect of movement which includes the body and its way of making use
of space and time.

Somatic trend: term used to gather movement techniques like Release, BMC,
Pilates, Feldenkrais, Alexander, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, Ideokinesis or Eutony
(visit our page about dance techniques to expand).

Space: for contemporary dance, space is one of the main factors that make up
the shape of movement (together with time, body and weight). These categories
were first introduced in modern dance theoretical foundations by Rudolph Laban
at the beginning of the XXth century, and have been spread world wide as
working tools, both for creative and technical purposes. Laban established three
main different ways to understand space: the kinespheric space, the scenic
space and execution of direct or indirect space from the point of view of his
effort theory.

Stance: it can be used to refer to the dancers posture, positioning or placement.

Depending on the technique within which the word is used, it might include
bodily, physiological, anatomical, mental or general attitude issues about how
the dancer organizes and projects her/him self. Read the definition for 'body
placement' above to expand.

Style: this word is used to refer to the specific way in which a dancer, a
company or a school executes a dance genre. For example, David Zambrano has
a different style of interpreting contemporary dance than Steve Paxton; the
Italian ballet school has a different style of executing classical dance than the
French ballet school.

Sustained: the use of this word in the dance field usually refers to its meaning
inside the frame of Rudolph Labans effort-shape theory. Sustained is an effort
quality that can be applied to the execution of the main factor TIME (see the
definition of Dynamics above to expand). One way of understanding this quality
of effort is to think that Labans motion factor of time can be executed with an
intuitive readiness for decision making, either suddenly or with sustainment.

Technical skills: these are the abilities (in terms of physical and physiological
knowledge) to execute dance movements precisely, with their correct dynamics
and shapes. For example, having control over the vertical axe of the body,
knowing how to turn the head while spotting and correct placement of the trunk
are technical skills used for turning.

Technique: this is a word used in dance to talk about specific ways of training,
preparing or learning dancing skills. Examples of dance techniques are the
release dance technique, ballet (as a training method) or the Martha Grahams
dance technique, among many others. Technique is the popular name to talk
about the different training types though in the dance research field it is
considered to be more appropriate to talk about practices or methods, as the
word technique seems to presuppose a reduced idea of what the human body is
(like if it was just a mechanical entity). Read our specific page for contemporary
dance techniques to expand.

Tempo: (or bpm: beats per minute) this is a word borrowed from musical
language, but it is used in dance with the same meaning. It expresses the
frequency of the beat of any rhythmic pattern, in numbers. For example Tempo=
60 or Tempo = 120. This means that there are 60 or 120 beats in a minute
respectively (the higher the number, the fastest the tempo). Tempo is measured
by a tool called metronome.

Tilt: starting from a standing position, to lean or incline the upper body (from
the hips up) towards any direction. It is usually accompanied by the lifting of one
leg really high up.

Time: for contemporary dance, time is one of the main factors that make up the
shape of movement (together with space, body and weight). These categories
were first introduced in modern dance theoretical foundations by Rudolph Laban
at the beginning of the XXth century, and have been spread world wide as
working tools, both for creative and technical purposes. Laban established two
main different ways to understand time: as a rhythmical component (exactly the
same way as it works for music) and as an effort component, in which case it
would be sudden or sustained.

Triplet: name given to a way of walking that is executed in three counts: one in
demi pli and two and three in relev (it is sung by the teacher like this: pli,
relev, relev and repeat). It can be executed with different rotations of the
legs, arm combinations, turns and so forth. The triplet is most common among
modern dance techniques like the one of Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Jos
Limn or even Lester Horton.

Turnout: a position of the legs in which the feet are pointing outwards. It is an
external rotation of the limb that is executed with the whole leg, including the
hip. The turnout, also called the en dehors in French, has been used and
developed within the ballet technique mostly, but is also used by many other
dancing genres.

Unison: when a group of dancers perform the same choreography at the same
time. It opposes to other forms of group timings like the canon, the counterpoint,
the dialogue mode and so forth. The word is also used by musicians with the
same meaning.

Variation: this word is mostly used by ballet dancers and refers to a dance
excerpt for a soloist, which makes part of a bigger ballet. The word is also used
in an informal way to name short dances or choreographies that are part of a
dancing class or of a compositional process.

Weight: among the field of dance, weight is one of the main factors that make
up the shape of movement (together with space, body and time). These
categories were first introduced in modern dance theoretical foundations by
Rudolph Laban at the beginning of the XXth century, and have been spread
world wide as working tools, both for creative and technical purposes. In Labans
system, weight can be understood in two different ways: as its usual meaning,
but referring to the gravitational relationship of the human body towards earth
and as an effort component, in which case it would be light or strong.

Imagine being sucked up through a soda straw to teach students to lengthen

through the back and sides of the torso as well as the front.

Imagine your head floating up like a helium-filled balloon to teach spine

lengthening and alignment.

Touch the edges of a bubble surrounding yourself to teach students to extend

themselves in every direction when teaching a circular port de corps.

Trace the rainbow - to teach port de bras side

Imagine yourself wearing a sandwich board to teach the students to bend

directly side without leaning forward or backward.

Imagine water spraying out of the top of your head and arching backward
Arch up over a brick wall behind you to teach port de bras back

Imagine yourself breaking through the top of the water in a lake or pool
when opening the arms to 2nd from 5th position.

Draw each circle on the floor larger than the one before to achieve a
lengthened leg in rond de jambe par terre

Allow your leg to go over a speed bump and not into a pothole - to help with
the movement of the leg from 2nd postion en lair to an arabesque position and from
arabesque to 2nd position.

Let your knee open the door to achieve a turned out retir or pass.
Envision a telephone pole in front of you & wrap your arms around it to
help with holding a balance with the arms in first position.

Drill a hole down through the floor to help teach strength of the standing leg and
alignment in turns.

Jump over a hurdle to teach grand jets

Types of Dance - Categories

Here are some of the most popular dance categories and types:

Ballroom Dances

These dances started appearing first in Italy, during the early years of Renaissance.
Popularity of this kind of entertainment quickly swept over the Europe, United States
and the World. Although many other simpler and more easily preformed types of
dances caused the ballroom dances to lose some of their influence, modern
worldwide dancing audience started resurrecting these immortal dances in ever
increasing pace.

Waltz - This graceful and slow two person dance was first introduced in mid-
19th century and was greatly popularized by the music of the famous
composer Johann Strauss. Today this dance represents gold standard and
the most famous dance of the ballrooms around the world.
Viennese Waltz - Original form of waltz, first performed at the Italian courts is
today remembered as Viennese Waltz. It differs from the much more famous
"English Slow Waltz" by having much faster 180 beats per minute and was
the first who introduced "closed hold" between performers.
Tango - Originally created in the Argentinean region of Rio de la Plata, this
dance is today known by many of its variations (Argentine tango, Uruguayan
tango, Finish Tango and two types of Ballroom tangos - standard and
American) and the fascinating sensual and energetic style.
Cha-Cha-Cha - This incredibly rhythmic dance created in Latin America
managed to meld together both the slow and very energetic movements,
making it an instant hit among the dancers around the world.
Rumba - Popularity of this Cuban dance came from its focus on sensual hip
movements of dance partners. Since its creation in 1930s many types of
Rumba were created, most notably Cuban Rumba (with the style of the
African slaves which created it), Catalan Rumba (with Spanish flavor),
Flamenco Rumba and African Rumba.
Samba - Samba is a famous dance and musical genre that originated form
the coast of Africa and land of Brazil. Today infectious rhythm of Samba is
regarded as the national dance of Brazil, and its famous Brazilian Carnival
gathers millions Samba dance fans every year.
Mambo - This Cuban dance that accompanies the music of the same name
was introduced in 1930s, and quickly managed to gain popularity with the
exploits of famous musicians and dancers such as Perez Prado, Benny Mor,
Tongolele, Adalberto Martnez, Rosa Carmina and Lilia Prado.

African-American and Traditional Jazz dances

Charleston - This extremely popular dance type was popularized by famous
tune called "The Charleston" by composer and pianist James P. Johnson.
Charleston craze soon took over the enthusiastic dancers of Prohibition era of
United States.
Swing - This dance is today synonym for the jazz and swing music of the
1920s-1930s.Because of the many styles of Jazz music, Swing also comes in
many flavors - Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Boogie Woogie, West Coast Swing and
Rock and Roll.
Tap Dance - This extremely popular form of dance was first introduced during
1920s Prohibition era in United States. Originally created by the African
slaves, tap dancing came into the mainstream with the performances of
Nicholas brothers. Few short years later, tap dancing conquered Hollywood
and then entire world.
Moonwalk - This extremely famous dance move that emuates the illusion of
walking backwards was first performed by pop icon Michael Jackson in March
of 1983, and ever since then it gained planetary fame. No single dance move
ever created managed to receive this amount of popularity and recognition.
Boogie-woogie - This quick and energetic style of dance became widely
popular during 1930s and 1940s.

Worldwide Dances / Latin dances

Salsa - This Latin dance is today one of the most popular dances in Latin
America, North America, Europe and Australia. It's very sensual form,
energetic movement and innovative choreography that was influenced by
Mambo, Changuyi and Rumba made it very popular all around the world.
Flamenco - This famous Spanish dance originated from the region of
Andalusia, and it gained its name only in 18th century. Its magical, passionate
and energetic fusion of singing (cante), guitar playing (toque), dance and
handclaps (palmas) made it famous in entire world and became one of the
accepted heritages of entire humanity.
Argentine tango - Among many types of tango dance, Argentinian dance
strives to preserve original form of tango that was first created in the region of
Rio de la Plata.
Lambada - This famous dance that originated from Para, Brayil became
internationally popular during 1980s. It managed to successfully fuse aspects
of Forro, salsa, merengue, maxixe and the carimb into unforgettable dance
Polka - Appearance of polka in mid-19th century created one of the largest
"dance crazes" that our world ever seen. It managed to influence countless
other dances, became national dance of many European countries and is
extremely popular in entire Western hemisphere.
East Coast Swing
Country/ Western Dances
Folk Dance
Belly dance

Professional performance dance

Professional dancing was first introduced in the early years of Italian Renaissance
when music, dance, arts and poetry started to rise in popularity after the millennia of
medieval stagnation. Refined by the efforts of the France and Russia, ballet became
the premier technical concert dance. Hailed as one of the most revered and most
complicated dance of all time, ballet continued its rise to worldwide domination. In
the modern times, many other professional dances came to be, such as
Contemporary dance, Modern Dance, Concert dance, but none of them managed to
surpass the complexity, physical strain, and heritage of ballet.

Contemporary dance
Concert Dance
Modern Dance
Tap Dance

Modern Dances

Advancements in music technology brought the birth of many new types of dances.
Introduction of electronic and rock music brought the era of House, Punk, Rave and
Disco dance. Faraway country of India did not cared much for those styles, and in
accordance to the deeply seeded religious beliefs, they incorporated dance of their
gods to everyday life and was and profitable Bollywood movie scene.

House dance
Punk dance
Rave dance
Disco dance
Bollywood dance

Hip-hop & Funk dance

Dancing style of Hip-Hop evolved from the music style that was first introduced
during 1970s. Powered by the great popularity, exposure in media, movies and
television programs, hip-hop dances found a great foothold in United States, France,
United Kingdom and South Korea. A very similar style called Funk was also created
during 1970s, and is today regarded as one of the most influential pieces of Hip-hop
dance styles.

Breakdance (Breaking)
Electric boogaloo
Street Jazz