five women dancing top of gray stage

Understanding Modern Dance

Modern dance is a term used to describe a wide range of styles that emerged in the early 20th century. These styles were a departure from the traditional ballet and were often considered to be more expressive and experimental.

Some of the most influential modern dancers and choreographers include Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Merce Cunningham. Modern dance has also been influenced by other art forms such as music, drama, and visual art.

While there is no one definition of modern dance, it is often characterized by a focus on the body and movement, an emphasis on improvisation and innovation, and a rejection of the strict rules of traditional ballet.

Modern dancers often use floorwork, contractions, and release techniques to express their ideas. Floorwork is a type of movement that uses the floor as a tool for exploring movement. Contractions are when the muscles of the body tighten and shorten. Release is the opposite of contraction, and is when the muscles lengthen and relax.

Different Styles of Modern Dance

There are many different styles of modern dance, and no one dancer or choreographer can be said to represent all of them. Some of the most popular styles include:


Contemporary dance is a style of expressive dance that combines elements of both classical and modern dance. It is typically characterized by the use of both arms and legs, and often includes turns, lyrical movements, and sharp changes in direction. Contemporary dancers strive to connect their emotions with their movement, and the genre often incorporates a wide range of music styles. Although it has only been around for a relatively short time, contemporary dance has quickly gained popularity around the world. Many famous choreographers have adopted the style, and it is now commonly performed on stage and in films. Thanks to its versatility and emotional power, contemporary dance is sure to remain one of the most beloved forms of self-expression for years to come.

Graham Technique

The Graham Technique is an approach to modern dance that was developed by Martha Graham in the early twentieth century. Drawing on principles of additional ballet, the Graham Technique emphasizes contraction and release, breath support, and isolation of body parts. These elements combine to create a moving style that is at once expressive and powerful. The Graham Technique continues to be influential in the world of contemporary dance, and many of today’s leading choreographers have been trained in this distinctive approach.

Humphrey-Weidman Technique: Developed by Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, this style emphasizes fall and recovery, as well as the use of gravity.

Cunningham Technique

The Cunningham Technique is a form of modern dance that was developed by Merce Cunningham in the mid-20th century. It is characterized by its use of chance procedures and improvisation, as well as its disregard for the traditional balletic conventions of pointe work and pour enchainement. Cunningham dancers are trained to move in a variety of ways, with an emphasis on speed and versatility. The technique also makes use of floorwork and partners are often incorporated into pieces. Cunningham’s approach to dance was often seen as radical and his work often challenged traditional ideas about the role of the dancer and the purpose of dance. However, his work has had a lasting impact on the world of dance, and the Cunningham Technique is now taught at many prestigious dance schools around the world.

How Modern Dance Differ From Other Forms of Dance

While modern dance shares some similarities with other forms of dance, there are also several key ways in which it differs. These include:

  • A focus on the body and movement: Modern dance is often characterized by a focus on the body and movement, rather than on technical virtuosity or strict rules.
  • An emphasis on self-expression: Modern dancers often seek to express their inner emotions and experiences through their movement.
  • A rejection of traditional balletic conventions: Many modern dancers reject the traditional rules and conventions of ballet, such as the use of pointe shoes and pour enchainement.
  • An embrace of new technologies: Many modern choreographers make use of new technologies, such as lighting and multimedia, in their work.
  • A commitment to experimentation: Modern dance is often defined by its willingness to experiment with new ideas and concepts.

While all of these elements are important, they are not necessarily present in every style of modern dance. Some choreographers may adopt a more traditional approach, while others may be more experimental. Ultimately, the key defining characteristic of modern dance is its focus on self-expression and emotional connection, which sets it apart from other forms of dance.

Modern dance is a beautiful and varied art form that has something to offer everyone. Whether you’re looking to express yourself creatively, get a workout, or simply enjoy some stunning choreography, modern dance is sure to provide what you’re looking for. Thanks to its emphasis on self-expression and emotional connection, contemporary dance is sure to remain one of the most popular forms of dance for years to come.