Contemporary Dance History

The Trey McIntyre Project is a contemporary dance company. You might have heard of ballet or modern dance. But what is contemporary dance? Contemporary dance changes and expands everday. That's why it is hard to define exactly what we mean when we say "contemporary dance".
 
Did you know that "modern dance" and "contemporary dance" are not synonymous? Contemporary dance is a more recent phenomenon that was established in response to modern dance and ballet. To understand contemporary dance, it is important to look at its origins.

"People have always danced. The first dances were part of religious and community ceremonies, but by the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, dancing had also become a form of entertainment. In The Middle Ages, the Church in Europe claimed dancing was sinful, but when Renaissance arrived in the 1400s, dancing became popular once again." (Royal Winnipeg Ballet Study Guide)

Ballet was the first formalized dance technique. It has a very rich history. Ballet began in the 15th century and is still widely popular today. Originally there was Italian "court ballet", entertainment for the aristocracy while dining; ballet was performed in short pieces by the royalty themselves.
 
Since then, ballet has undergone many drastic changes. Most notably, ballet and its descendants (modern and contemporary)  perform today for public audiences. Also, when ballet expanded to France, Russia, and England, professional dancers emerged. Additionally, women, who were previously banned from performing, are now permitted and are some of the most prominent figures in dance. For a century both male and female ballerinas were restricted by elaborate costumes that included masks, large headdresses, heeled shoes, and large hoopskirts. However, today dance attire is radically different. Ballerinas wear lighter costumes and wear flat ballet slippers so they can jump and turn with greater ease. Also, the content of the ballet performances have changed throughout time. Court ballets were transformed into various scenes, loosely connected to a plot and accompanied with other art forms such as music, poetry, and painting. Then, long ballet stories coined "classical ballet", including favorites like Swan Lake and the Nutcracker, came at the end of the 19th century. After classical ballet emerged shorter one-act pieces, which eventually led to a rise in neo-classicalism and abstraction. 

"Modern" is a bit of a misnomer. When applied to art, "modern" refers to work that was developed in the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. Modern dance originated in the U.S. and German in opposition to the rigid form of classical ballet. Much of modern dance is inspired by ancient civilizations or non-western movements. On the stage, modern dance is viewed as less restrictive than ballet. For example, many modern dancers do not wear shoes. Also, the torso can is free to move and the movements are often "earth-bound", whereas in ballet, the back is held straight and the movements are light and "air-bound". Modern dance is very interested in expression; expression of emotions, spirituality, sociality, and nature. Modern dance also has its own set of principles that include concepts such as contraction/ release, and the use of breath.
 
Contemporary dance describes all of the advances in dance since the 1950s up until today. However, it is really a hybrid of ballet and modern dance which came before it. Contemporary dance is often referred to as contemporary ballet or post-modern dance. Contemporary dance describes an eclectic array of choreographic practices, which can contradict one another in their aesthetic proposals. The technical knowledge of ballet is either used or refused in contemporary dance. Contemporary dance is also built on the foundations laid by modern dance.