Modern Dance History

modern dance history

modern dance historyBefore 1970, ballet was always the dominant dance style the world knew and loved. Today this is not so anymore as modern dance dominates our theaters more and more. Let’s look at some modern dance history.

You can read about how early modern dance started by clicking here.

Modern Dance History Retold

By the 1970s the London Contemporary Dance School in Britain and the company had been going for about four years and they were beginning to make an impact on the British Dance Scene.

In Canada, so close to American modern dance sources, modern dance had begun to grow during the same period but spread across Canada’s vast territory in small, uncertainly financed groups.

By the 1971-2 season, there were nine companies, one each in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Edmonton, two in Toronto and four in Montreal.

None of these companies at the time could offer more than sporadic employment to their dancers although the Toronto Dance Theater had begun to attract subsidies which before long made it the most firmly based modern dance company in Canada.

This was the beginning of a modern dance explosion in Canada which has continued throughout the 1970s and attracted all the young people.

In Australia, the same trend was discernible in 1970 in the work of some teachers and choreographers returned from Europe, although it would be some years before this new interest became translated into the development of professional modern dance companies.

In New Zealand, the trend is more recent but equally unmistakable.modern dance history

So What Exactly Is Contemporary Dance?

Contemporary dance is the name given in Britain to that branch of modern dance which derives from the school and company of Martha Graham (pictured above) in New York.

The London Contemporary Dance School and Company derive their work directly from Martha Graham through their artistic director and principal choreographer, Robin Cohan.

He was a dancer for many years in the Martha Graham Company and he became one of the company’s associate directors and teachers before accepting Robin Howard’s invitation in 1965 to help found a contemporary dance organization in London.

At around that time, Britains oldest ballet company Ballet Rambert abandoned its allegiance to traditional classicism in favor of a style of modern dance which though classically based was greatly influenced by the practices of leading modern dance choreographers in the United States, especially Graham and Glen Tetley Tetley, and thus modern dance history began in Britain.

In Canada, the influences were very similar.

David Earle and Peter Randazzo, two of the three initiators of the Toronto Dance Theater in the spring of 1968, were disciples of the teaching of Martha Graham. So, too, was Patricia Beatty who joined them later the same year to establish the company.

Earle also had experience with the London Contemporary Dance Theater and was a member of its company during its formation in 1967. ‘Witness of Innocence’ was part of the opening program in October that year.

In Australia, the American influence is much less marked and modern dance is closer to the classically based Rambert model. Former lead dancer Jonathan Tayler became director of the Australian Dance Theater which serves the states of Victoria and South Australia.

Graeme Murphy who was the artistic director of the Sydney Dance Theater is classically trained and gained his first experience of contemporary dance through working with the French Ballet’s Felix Blaska. Before him, it was Jaap Flier of the Nederlands Dans Theater.

Thus Australia has a long connection with the Central European tradition of modern dance through Gertrud Bondenweiser the Australian teacher, dancer, and choreographer who settled in Sydney in 1938, where she opened a school and formed a company of dancers, many of whom are still teachers today.

Australian modern dance history thus reflects European influences and may in time develop a style very different from the leading styles of America.

Modern dance now accounts for a substantial part of new choreography in the dance theater of all three countries and hence also for much new music and theatrical design.

The London Contemporary Dance Company and Ballet Rambert remain its creative centers, but there are other influences from across the Atlantic.

It is no longer possible, therefore, to speak only of classical ballet in any national dance theater.

Click here to see how you can obtain your own copy of Dictionary of Modern Ballet. General Editors: Francis Gadan and Robert Maillard which was published in 1959.

This was another version also published in 1959, which will also make fascinating reading for teachers of contemporary dance.

So when it comes to modern dance history, all the styles of modern and contemporary originated in the twentieth century.

Any earlier works were created using the style and technique of classical ballet.

Classical ballet, therefore, has both a historical image and a contemporary image.

For example ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ is spectacular and opulent and a classic fairy tale told in dance which is so obviously classical ballet and then you get ‘Serenade’ which was done by Balanchine with no story using the bodies rather differently with modern dancing influences.

The similarity here is the dancers were all classically trained and you can see this by the way that the dancers hold themselves and move.

I still believe that every dancer, no matter what type of dancing that they study should have good technical training in classical ballet. In this way, they are able to achieve all the lines and make them look good in all the other dance forms.

Where Does Belly Dancing Come From

belly dancing lessons

As I believe that ballet dancers should expand their horizons and expand themselves by trying other dance forms, I have decided to write a little on where does belly dancing come from and belly dancing in general.

I am not a teacher of belly dancing and have only been to a couple of lessons in my life, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

As a dancer or dance teacher, you can only improve on your existing dance skills by exposing yourself to as many other dance forms as you can.

belly dancing

If you enjoy things like Pilates, yoga, Latin American dancing or slow and sexy movements, then I recommend giving belly dancing a go.

What Is Belly Dancing?

Belly Dancing is a sensual Middle Eastern dance form, where you learn to isolate body parts and translate movement from muscle groups in the abdomen, pelvis, trunk, spine, and neck into graceful hip rolls, circles, and drops. By doing belly dancing, you will gain more strength in your stomach, abs, and thighs, as well as tone up these areas even more.

Here is a quick video to watch on belly dancing basics.

Flexibility and cardio stamina will increase because you will be working your core while belly dancing. Balance and posture will also improve. Even though your focus is on your torso, your whole body will be used to dance.

You will need a few classes to get into this dance form, but be patient with yourself and it will come surprisingly quickly.

So Where Does Belly Dancing Come From?

Many people believe that belly dancing is the oldest form of dance, having roots in all ancient cultures from the Orient to India to the Middle-East. The greatest misconception with belly dancing is that it is a dance form that is designed to entertain men.

So where does belly dancing come from? No one is 100 percent certain of this, but you can rest assured it started up in one of the countries above.

Throughout history, this ritualized dance form has mostly been performed by women for other women, generally during fertility rites or parties preparing a young woman for marriage. In most cases, the presence of men is not permitted at all.

Belly dancing is a dance form especially designed for women to do and is generally performed barefoot. This dance form is thought by many to emphasize the intimate physical connection between the dancer, her expression, and Mother Earth.

Belly dancing costumes are often colorful, flowing garments, accented with flowing scarves and veils. Finger cymbals (made of brass and known as zills) are common, dating right back to 200 B. C. Exotic jewelry and belts made of coins that showed off the family wealth in the early days were worn and are still worn. The jewelry was sewn into the garments to make them portable in the event of the woman needing to flee in a hurry.

Other interesting accessories that were and are still used include swords, snakes, large vessels and flaming candles.

belly dancing

In America, this dance form enjoyed its first significant event when the famous dancer Little Egypt performed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Americans found themselves fascinated by the exotic body rhythms and music, eventually including them in many silent films made just a few years later.

Costumes and dancing styles were given a distinctive Hollywood flare and, in turn, influenced dancers in the Middle East, thus evolving the art form to a new level.

For example, belly dancing with flowing veils hadn’t been documented before the 1900s but is now quite popular throughout the world.

Since the turn of the century, belly dancing has grown hugely in popularity worldwide.

Belly dance festivals, workshops, and seminars take place constantly, attracting huge gatherings.

Many dancers now study the art form intensively, traveling to the Middle East and elsewhere to experience it where it all originated from.

Who Can Do Belly Dancing?

The wonderful thing about this form of dancing is that you can start at any age, as it is a relatively low impact form of exercise. It has become very popular with women in their 50s and 60s of all shapes and sizes.

A word of caution though, although it looks easy, it isn’t. It takes time, practice and patience to master all the movements so that they look effortless. There are also a lot of different styles of belly dancing to master and dancers can progress through the levels as they get more advanced. Styles can include Egyptian, Tribal, Turkish or Cabaret to mention a few.

To read about some interesting Belly Dancing Myths click here.

This type of dancing is a great way to shed extra centimeters and your self-confidence and body image will improve. This makes belly dancing an alternative form of therapy. It’s the toned limbs as well as the emotional lift that brings so many women back to classes week after week.

You can start off in leggings and socks with a scarf tied around your waist for effect. The fancy costumes come later, but some glitter and black eyeliner won’t hurt either.

Click here for a basic belly dancing course that you can do online to prepare yourself for your first real live class.

How To Train Stillness In Dance

Because dance is a moving art form, sometimes it is good to concentrate on stillness in dance. This is something that we don’t think about a lot but is quite important in getting an overall picture of a dance and understanding what stillness in dance is all about.

stillness in danceHow To Incorporate Stillness In Dance Into Your Classes

What is the opposite of moving? Stopping.

So today in class you can tell the children that you are going to concentrate on stopping.

Let them dance freely to a drum beat or music and stop when you stop playing the drum or stop the music.

Now tell them to stop whenever they like whether or not the drum or music stops playing.

Try playing lively music, which makes it more difficult to find a still position as the body will naturally want to move.

Now experiment with shapes.

Tell them to make a shape like a sculpture when they stop. They should be interesting to look at from all sides. Let them stop for a short or long a time as they like. Let them feel what it is like to stop while others are moving around them, and also what it feels like when others have stopped and they are moving.

Next, tell them to forget about stopping for a bit and think about the free-flowing movement that has no thought of stopping. The body must feel itself moving through space and they should feel the air moving past them all the time. Let them run and feel the air move past their faces. They should move fast enough to feel the temperature of the air.

Now let them try walking as slowly as they can and still move with enough pressure to feel the air pass them.

Now try moving in the same free-flowing way but change the levels. Try sitting, rolling and spinning but keep them moving.

Let your students sit on the floor and use just their arms in a free manner feeling the air passing through and by them. Then stop and hold until the air is quiet. It must feel like they are churning the air. This is called a bound movement.

Try letting them move the arms in the same pathways and feel like they are pushing them through heavy water (also a bound movement). The arms should no longer feel free. Next add stops and short moves, making the arms jerky.stillness in dance

Let your pupils start combining free-flowing and bound movements now with their whole bodies through space and try adding some balance in on the stops. Let them try balancing at low levels, one knee or high on the ball of one foot. Aim to let them make the balance feel as exciting as the movement and let them try to hold the balance for as long as they can, so they can feel the body and the air around them become still and quiet.

For this exercise, it is best not to play any accompaniment, so that the dancers can establish their own rhythms.

At the end of the stillness in dance session let them combine free-flowing movement, bound movement and balance with music. Let them feel what it is like to move freely, in a bound way and then to hold a balance while the music is still playing.

While all this is happening, make sure that your pupils are making use of all their space. This sort of movement should feel good and be enjoyable for the children. As they grow, their movements should show increases in both variety and range.

What Is Creative Dance Exactly?

What Is Creative Dance?

Many people are not quite sure when you ask them what is creative dance. Some teachers think it is a load of rubbish aimed at those who cannot learn formal dancing, but I believe this is a specialized niche, and everyone can benefit from creative dance, even if you don’t know your left foot from your right foot.

Dance can be so many things, and this is why some forms of dance have to just be called creative dance.

What is creative dance? Well, dance can be a leap for joy, a religious ritual, a set of steps set to music or even a work of art, like you see at the theatre.

Dance can be anything from the Ostriches performing their mating ritual to Pavlova performing her Dying Swan.

Because dance can mean so many forms of movement, we have a niche called creative dance.

what is creative danceThe goal of creative dance lessons is to learn to communicate through movement.

Most dancers learn skills and become expert at executing difficult patterns or steps in a certain dance form, but unless they are good at expressing themselves through movement, their art is incomplete.

The language of dance is movement and the instrument used is the human body.

When it comes to creative dance, there is no right or wrong, no routines to learn, no feet that have to point or 180-degree turnout from the hips. The most important thing is that the dancer draws upon inner resources to make a statement. The statement comes before technique in creative dance.

Because creative dance comes from within, it cannot blossom in an instant, as most people are not that closely in touch with their souls. They have to find a starting place and first become familiar with the art of dance to develop a language of movement.

Working on this will open a pathway for expression for the inner being.

For any professional dance performer, the road to dance begins with the training of the body. In creative dance, the road begins with the exploration of the elements of dance. When it comes to answering the question what is creative dance, I find that this is one of the best ways to explain it.

Whenever a person moves, the body uses space, force and time. These are the four basic elements of dance. Creative dance explores all the possibilities inherent in combinations of these elements.

The body is a marvelous instrument, and it is fascinating to discover which parts can do which moves. In this way, one discovers both the function of the body and the poetry of its use.

There are eight basic locomotor steps in creative dance. They are called locomotor because they carry the body from one place in space to another. These include:

  1. Walks
  2. Runs
  3. Leaps
  4. Jumps
  5. Hops
  6. Skips
  7. Gallops
  8. Slides

When learning creative dance the steps are organized as follows:

  1. Walks, runs and leaps – they transfer weight from one-foot to the other.
  2. Jumps – Elevation on two feet.
  3. Hops – Elevation on one foot.

Skips, slides, and gallops are simply variations of the three basic modes of locomotion.

Even when people are not moving, their bodies are making shapes in space at a certain level.

When they do move, each move has direction, size, focus, a place and a pathway to get there.

All movements in creative dance can be altered by changes in force, depending on the attack, flow, weight, and strength of the dancer.

A thorough knowledge of the basics is essential to anyone contemplating the teaching of dance.

Once a teacher has a clear view of what is to be presented, the next step is working out how to present or structure the class.

The objective is to take the basic elements and explore them with joy, challenge, and involvement in the personal artistic growth of the dancer.

what is creative danceThe Importance Of Creative Dance

Creative dance is unique and is the only activity in which physical movement is used nonfunctionally and as personal expression.

A lot of children find a fulfillment through dance that can be realized through no other discipline because dance simultaneously involves the inner being and the physical body.

Because children are fixed on the act of moving, they discover a great deal about their bodies, minds, thoughts, imagination, and ideas through the use of creative dance.

Dance experience teaches children both awareness and control of movement. They use these skills in other areas of their lives like sport, games, other performing arts, and everyday living.

Awareness helps them to appreciate line, design, mass, and shapes in art, music, and imagery and flow in literature. They learn to speak through their bodies and so become aware of body language and its relation to words.

It is important for all children to be aware of themselves as growing and changing beings. Awareness of self is of primary importance to difficult and withdrawn children, in fact, all children. So another way to describe what is creative dance is that it is a discipline for dealing with the self.

In addition, the use of free and large body movements during the school day has been shown to benefit children’s ability to concentrate on mental subjects.

Dance can also be related to mathematics, social studies, language and science and it often only takes a question or two from the teacher to start the children making the connections.

Movement of any sort gets the brain working. If you are under stress you will find that you want to move. Children need to move – a lot.

As a formal ballet teacher, you may think that free dancing will be too embarrassing for a class, but children need and want to dance so badly they will ask for free dancing at each class, so I do try and include some of this in my lesson plans.

Here are some more ideas that border on creative dance for class.

Do You Need A Ballet Turning Board To Do Good Turns?

ballet turning board

The new dance rage at the moment seems to be the ballet turning board. This board also goes by other names like dance turn board, pirouette turning board or just plain TurnBoard.

It seems like this is the must have for any dancer who wants to improve their turns.

Training to do pirouettes in ballet requires focused spotting, a strong core, and correct arm placement. Will the turning board teach a dancer all of this?

The ballet turning board was designed to have very little friction, which allows dancers to concentrate on the individual components of turning, with the option of rising to relevé. The skills learned from using the dance turn board lead to better and increased turns, even when turning without the TurnBoard, or so they say.

So let us take a closer look at the ballet turning board

ballet turning board
Official Turnboard

The ballet turning board on the left is the official TurnBoard, and the one below is identical, but endorsed by Kenzie Ziegler. The price of the TurnBoard that isn’t endorsed is about $5.00 cheaper. Nevertheless they are both exactly the same performance wise.

Kenzie Ziegler TurnBoard (Official TurnBoard)

Kenzie Ziegler who shot to fame on the TV Series Dance Moms endorses the official TurnBoard, and this one can be bought on Amazon for about $35.00.  Although this is the official TurnBoard, there are other cheaper options at Amazon that you can also look at.

  • New Limited Edition Kenzie Ziegler TurnBoard.
  • Designed by Kenzie Ziegler and Developed by Ballet Is Fun.
  • Improves Spotting and Balance.
  • World’s Most Popular Ballet Training Product.
  • Made in U.S.A.

Learn with the Best. Turn with the Best.

The Kenzie Ziegler TurnBoard® uses the same proven design as the original TurnBoard®, with several beautiful additions that reflect Kenzie’s personality. Key enhancements include an engraved Kenzie Ziegler signature on the board, a customised foot pad with Kenzie’s unique logo, and a beautiful pink and glitter finish. The Kenzie Ziegler TurnBoard® helps dancers turn better by minimising floor friction and allowing dancers to truly focus on the sensation of turning.

Ballet Turning Board Pros:

  • The ballet turning board or TurnBoard helps a dancer to find their centre.
  • The spotting action of the head is vastly improved upon, as the board spins fast and the dancer really needs to get that head moving.
  • The TurnBoard increases a dancers confidence to actually work towards multiple turns.
  • The dancer learns to feel his or her weight placement while turning and work on correcting it.
  • The ballet turning board is designed to minimise friction between your foot and the floor and let you turn faster.
  • Using a ballet turning board is a great way to experience the sensation of doing additional turns, and gain confidence as your turns improve.

Turn better with the TurnBoard Video’s

Ballet Turning Board Cons:

  • Is very slippery and you could fall quite hard, so can be quite scary until you get used to it.
  • Shouldn’t be used by beginners who can’t even do one turn without the board, or you could injure yourself.
  • Can scratch your fancy wooden floors.
  • If you are not careful, you turn quite easily on your heel, and this is hardly ever done in dancing. Really concentrate on turning with the weight on the front part of the foot so the upper body can also train accordingly.
  • In classical ballet, the turn needs to be done on the toes or demi-pointe, and the TurnBoard promotes turning flat, which may cause problems when the dancer needs to turn without the board. The dancers may start to turn on a low demi-pointe, instead of pulling up onto a high demi-pointe. It is definitely easier to turn on a flat foot than on demi pointe or full pointe.
  • Because of turning flat on the board, the weight will need to be adjusted when turning on pointe, and this could cause technique problems.

Just remember, although the TurnBoard can help immensely, there is no substitution for quality teaching from an accredited Ballet Teacher.

In conclusion, if you are having trouble turning, holding your upper body in position or spotting your turns then the Turnboard is for you. Make sure to use it as a tool for your dance journey, not as a substitute for proper training.

For more tips on turns visit:

How Did Modern Dance Start?

how did modern dance start

how did modern dance startIf you are a ballet lover like myself, then naturally you would also enjoy modern ballet. How did modern dance start and who began it all? I only started modern dancing in my teens but have always loved it, so much that I got my teachers qualifications for it, and it is still one of my favorite dance forms next to ballet.

How Did Modern Dance Start?

Modern ballet, or modern dance as we know it today started around the end of the nineteenth century. Modern dance was initially started in the United States by Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller, and Ruth St. Denis and in Germany by Rudolf von Laban and Mary Wigman.  Modern dance was initially a sort of rebellion against the strict constraints of both the Victorian society and classical ballet.

Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan were among those that started it all, by abandoning the classical tutu for draperies that allowed for freer and more natural movement. Loie Fuller was almost invisible because she wore so many yards of fabric and she manipulated the fabric with long sticks.  Isadora Duncan preferred to dance in flowing silk tunics, to imitate the nobility of the Greek architecture and the motion of the ocean waves.

how did modern dance startComposers like Chopin were used, and Fokine was also influenced by this so much so that ballet was transformed.

Ruth St. Denis was another trailblazer in the beginnings of modern dance. Ruth was fascinated by the Eastern culture and mythology. Her dances were a Western reimagination of Indian and Asian dance. Together with her husband, Ted Shawn, she founded Denisshawn and toured Vauderville. Students at their school in Los Angeles included future pioneers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman.

Thus the second wave of modern dancers emerged in New York.

Together Humphrey and Weidman created a more lyrical style of modern dance, and like all modern dance it worked a lot on the floor. While ballet denied gravity, modern dance, on the other hand, embraced it.

Martha Graham founded her own company and developed her own technique, and a lot of her technique is still used in syllabus around the world today.

Although when people consider how did modern dance start, it is often considered an American phenomenon, the evolution of this dance form can also be traced to central Europe and Germany, with Rudolf von Laban being the most influential. In 1910 he founded a school in Munich at which Mary Wigman was one of his students. He was exiled in the 1930’s and he immigrated to England and established the Art of Movement Studio in Manchester where he worked until his death on his system of notation.

Mary Wigan went on to perform in Germany and opened her own school in Dresden in 1920. She became the most influential German in expressive movement and toured extensively. Her school was closed by the Nazis, but she reopened it in Berlin in did modern dance start

Modern dance was based on basic human movement experiences such as walking and breathing, and these actions were transformed into dance movements. The technique of contraction and release came from natural breathing and further explored the movements initiated in the torso. Fall and recovery were evolved from the natural dynamic of the human footfall.


During the 1930s, choreographers defined modern dance and ballet in opposition to one another. Modern dance was established as a technique with its own internal coherence and ballets was defined by reaffirming the essential tenets of its tradition. Both ballet and modern choreographers focused on the purity of their traditions.

So this answers how did modern dance start out. Of course, this was just the beginning, and over the years since then, modern dance has evolved into many other styles, including cabaret, broadway, physical theatre, jazz and even hip-hop.