How was Contemporary Dance Born?

The origins of western contemporary dance can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century. While the big names in modern dance all date from this time period, the influences that inspired these contemporary dance founders go back for centuries, and are not limited to the western world.

While many dance genres, including jazz and lyrical, focus on flexibility and the mastery of various structured steps, the technique in contemporary dance is focused much more upon unconventional choreographic moves that were devised in the first 60 years of the 20th century by various masters of the craft. The techniques were unconventional because they moved away from the lyrical movements of ballet and other classical dance forms. In addition, they took influences from non-western dance cultures, such as the down-to-earth bent knees of African style dancing. Using these elements and more, the earliest contemporary dancers were revolutionary in breaking away from classical, traditional dance forms.



Martha Graham is often credited as the founding mother of contemporary and modern dance. As a dancer and choreographer for over seven decades, she brought modern dance into the mainstream. She was the first dancer ever invited to perform at the White House and receive a medal of freedom.








Born in Washington in 1919, Merce Cunningham danced for Martha Graham’s company until he formed his own company in 1953. He and his romantic partner, John Cage, created what is known in the contemporary dance world as “chance operations.”
Cunningham was instrumental in its technological, 21st century origins. He helped develop a dance software program called Dance forms, which allows choreographers to create dances using a computer.


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By Swetha Jairam



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