About Contemporary Dance
Click on this image for a famously good 14-minute video introduction to contemporary dance.
What is Contemporary Dance?
Textbook definitions of contemporary dance refer to a collection of dance forms and methods which draw on 20th century western concert dance, including ballet, modern and post‐modern dance. Simply put, contemporary dance is dance that is being created and performed by dancers who are working now.
Contemporary dance in Canada encompasses a wide range of techniques, often challenging traditional boundaries by drawing on classical forms and fusing them with the diverse training, life experiences and cultural backgrounds of the choreographer and dancers. Building on the traditional use of such elements as lighting, props, costumes, and music, contemporary dance often draws on different dance styles (such as ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop, flamenco, tap, bharatnatyam, butoh, improvisation to name just a few). Contemporary dance may also involve an interdisciplinary approach, using tools and ideas from theatre, visual art and new media, and incorporating elements like text, voice and technology into the performance. Collaboration with artists from other disciplines is common.
Even with these diverse influences, the primary tool in contemporary dance is the body.
Contemporary Dance Artists
Contemporary dance artists come from a range of backgrounds. They may train in classical dance forms, they may have other physical backgrounds, such as martial arts or physical theatre, and they may come from other fields entirely. As in classical ballet, some contemporary dance artists begin their dance training at a very young age, but some contemporary dance artists come to dance as adults. In addition to dance training, contemporary dancers often use conditioning techniques‐ such as yoga and pilates‐ to help develop and maintain things like strength, alignment and body awareness, and may also learn other techniques‐ like voicework, or clowning‐ to add to their artistic toolbox. Whereas historically there has been a clear distinction between the job of choreographer and dancer, some contemporary dance artists work in both roles, sometimes dancing in their own choreography. To develop themselves as creators, contemporary dance artists may also study choreography and dance‐making.
Most contemporary dance is presented in a traditional theatre, on a stage, with the audience watching from one side. In the same way that contemporary dance challenges traditional boundaries by fusing different techniques, sometimes contemporary dance artists play with different ways an audience can watch a dance by placing the dance, and the audience, in an unexpected place‐ such as streets, restaurants, bars, parks, homes, and nooks and crannies of buildings. Contemporary dance is sometimes choreographed specifically for the mediums of video or film, and the audience can watch it in places like a theatre, an art gallery, on t.v. or online.
Because it uses the body as its primary tool, contemporary dance‐ like classical dance‐ is abstract by nature. Like music or poetry, contemporary dance relies on the audience to trust their gut responses to the dance. Audiences may be expected to enjoy the beauty of the body, the virtuosity and athleticism of the dancers, the craft of the choreography, and also to be curious about ideas, questions, or stories that the dance proposes.