Contemporary dance, also known as modern dance, has a rich history and has been influenced by many well-known and important choreographers over the last century. Choreographers and dancers such as Ruth St Dennis, Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Jose Limon, Mats Ek and Twyla Tharp to name but a few have changed the face of dance, broken down barriers and introduced the public to a whole world of possibilities and artistic expression.
Some of the choreographers mentioned above have had such an impact on the history of dance that they have their own technique which you can go to class and learn. These techniques include Graham Technique from the late Martha Graham, Cunningham Technique from the late Merce Cunningham and Limon technique from the late Jose Limon. They all have their own unique styles and signature movements.
Contemporary technique is grueling and extremely physically demanding just like it's precursor, classical ballet. As with ballet, contemporary dancers are highly trained athletes who train Credit: Chloe Back 2011many hours a day and compete for highly coveted dancing roles. They train in a variety of ways. Some contemporary dancers start as youngsters whilst many come to contemporary dance as they reach adulthood having previously trained in classical ballet. There are no universally recognised examination systems in place for contemporary dance as there are with ballet. This is because contemporary dance is much broader and less defined. Some dancers attend a performing arts school before a career in professional contemporary dance, some go straight into an adult program for dance and some even study dance at university. Contemporary dance roles and positions in dance companies are gained by audition.
A career as a contemporary dancer is a tough choice. Only the best and most determined will succeed well enough to support themselves financially. A contemporary dancer has to learn to accept rejection on a regular basis. Constant rejection based on your ability and scrutiny of your body by those wCredit: Chloe Back 2011ho would employ you, or in performance, can have a devastating effect on self-esteem. Whilst a career in dance could be a dancer's lifelong dream, in reality it is tough and unglamorous.
A contemporary dancer uses their body as their tool and is susceptible to injury at all points in their career. Some injuries can be career-ending and at some point in a dancer's career they will need a secondary vocation whether due to injury or retirement from dance. This is another point in a dancer's life when self-esteem and mental health are vulnerable. It is helpful for a dancer to expect and plan for such a time and to try their best, even with their hectic schedule, to cultivate a life outside of the dance world.
With special attention paid to the care of a dancer's body and their emotional well-being, contemporary dance can be a rewarding and healthy career. As an audience member it can be deeply moving, uplifting, frightening and inspirational. The breadth of movement and expression permitted in contemporary dance as opposed to other dance forms leads to powerful expression and a unique audience experience.