Rocky Mountain School of the Arts Contemporary Dance

#TMYK: Difference Between Contemporary & Modern Dance

Frequently, I am asked to explain the difference between Modern dance and Contemporary dance. One of my dance professors in college, Dr. Sandra Cerny Minton, wrote several books regarding modern dance. In her book, Modern Dance, Body & Mind, she states “The philosophy behind modern dance allows considerable freedom to the dancer.”

Modern dance is a break-away from classical dance (ballet), almost a rebellion. Practiced and performed in bare feet, modern dance doesn’t use the same amount, if any, turn out like in ballet, and although there are many different modern techniques, in general, these techniques will be void of ballet steps. Contemporary dance on the other hand is based on movement that has no boundaries, rather than a specific technique. Contemporary will use modern, ballet, jazz, or any other style suitable to relay a message or idea. Contemporary takes from all styles, which can create a different look, method, and way of moving, but this movement doesn’t have a universal technique.

So, the real question is “What is modern dance?” If we understand modern, just like understanding ballet, we can begin to see the unique qualities associated with modern that define the genre. Dance is a performing art, therefore; to really understand we need to experience first-hand what each genre “looks like”. But, if none of this makes any sense, just use the rule I tell my husband: “If there are lots of steps you recognize, it’s contemporary”.

Many years ago, at RMSA, I taught modern dance. As contemporary became more popular through mainstream society, I switched to contemporary. Much of my contemporary has roots in modern, as well as ballet. If you would like to experience modern dance, I suggest watching the following:

Elizabeth Fernandez

RMSA/RMDT Executive Director & Instructor

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