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Modern dance

Beginnings of Modern Dance


Developed in the 20th cent., primarily in the United States and Germany,
modern dance resembles modern art and music in being experimental and
iconoclastic. Modern dance began at the turn of the century; its pioneers were
Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller, and Ruth St. Denis in the United States, Rudolf
von Laban and Mary Wigman in Germany. Each rebelled against the rigid
formalism, artifice, and superficiality of classical academic ballet and against the
banality of show dancing. Each sought to inspire audiences to a new awareness
of inner or outer realities, a goal shared by all subsequent modern dancers.
Early Dancers in the United States
Isadora Duncan shocked or delighted audiences by baring her body and soul in
what she called "free dance." Wearing only a simple tunic like the Greek vase
figures that inspired many of her dances, she weaved and whirled in flowing
natural movements that emanated, she said, from the solar plexus. She aimed to
idealize abstractly the emotions induced by the music that was her motivating
force, daringly chosen from the works of serious composers including
Beethoven, Wagner, and Gluck.
The pictorial effects achieved by Ruth St. Denis had a different source: the ritualistic
dance of Asian religion. She relied on elaborate costumes and sinuous improvised
movements to suggest the dances of India and Egypt and to evoke mystical feelings. With
Ted Shawn, who became her partner and husband in 1914 and who advocated and
embodied the vigor of the virile male on the dance stage, St. Denis enlarged her repertoire
to include dances of Native Americans and other ethnic groups. In 1915 St. Denis and
Shawn formed the Denishawn company, which increased the popularity of modern dance
throughout the United States and abroad and nurtured the leaders of the second
generation of modern dance
German Contributions
Although often considered an American phenomenon, the evolution of modern
dance can also be traced to central Europe and Germany, where the most influential
was probably Rudolf von Laban. Although there is almost no documentation to
describe his choreography, he founded (1910) a school in Munich at which Mary
Wigman was one of his students. He established (1946) the Art of Movement Studio
in Manchester and worked until his death on his system of notation. She became the
most influential German exponent of expressive movement and toured extensively.
Other important and more recent German dancer-choreographers include Kurt Joos
and his student Pina Bausch.
The Second Generation in America

At the end of the 1920s those who rebelled against the art nouveau exoticism and
commercialism of Denishawn devised their own choreography and launched
their own companies. Their dances were based on new techniques developed as
vehicles for the expression of human passions and universal social themes.
Martha Graham found the breath pulse the primary source of dance;
exaggerating the contractions and expansions of the torso and flexing of the
spine caused by breathing, she devised a basis for movement that for her
represented the human being's inner conflicts.
To Doris Humphrey, gravity was the source of the dynamic instability of movement; the arc
between balance and imbalance of the moving human body, fall and recovery, represented
one's conflicts with the surrounding world. Forsaking lyrical and imitative movement and
all but the most austere costumes and simplest stage effects, Graham and Humphrey
composed dances so stark, intellectual, and harshly dramatic as to shock and anger
audiences accustomed to being pleased by graceful dancers.
Graham explored themes from Americana, Greek mythology, and the Old Testament; she
viewed music merely as a frame for the dance. Humphrey experimented more with sound;
in a 1924 work she discarded music altogether and performed in silence, and later she used
nonmusical sound effects, including spoken texts and bursts of hysterical laughter. Charles
Weidman's gestural mime of movements abstracted from everyday situations provided a
different kind of social commentarycomic satire. Winning ardent devotees, the Graham
and Humphrey-Weidman companies dominated modern dance for 20 years
Later Dancers
By the end of World War II, young choreographers had begun breaking the rules of the
modern dance establishmentcreating dances that had no theme, expressed no emotion,
dispensed with the dance vocabulary of fall and recovery, contraction and release. Sybil
Shearer's random fantasies, Katherine Litz's surrealistic vignettes, and Erick Hawkins's
impressionistic soft rhythms changed the emphasis of choreography. They had no desire to
uplift or inform.

Foremost of this third generation of modern dancers is Merce Cunningham, whose company
bred avant-garde choreographers for more than 25 years. Cunningham freed dance from
spatial restraints, eliminating strong central focus from choreographic patterns and devising
dances that can be viewed from any angle. He also released dance from traditional musical
constraints by using electronic music and other compositions of his musical director,
John Cage. In addition, he liberated his own choreography from structural limitations by
using techniques of chance, such as throws of the dice, to determine the order in which
sections of a work should occur.
In 1957 Paul Taylor, a Cunningham and Graham veteran, presented an evening of minimal
dance, which consisted of Taylor standing on the stage alone in street clothes and making
only tiny changes in posture to the accompaniment of the recorded voice of a telephone
operator announcing the time at 10-second intervals; outraged dance critics deliberately
ignored the performance. His company ultimately became one of the most important of the
postWorld War II troupes. Choreographer Alvin Ailey, who was influenced primarily by
Lester Horton, combined elements of modern, jazz, and African dance in his work. The
company he established 1958 has been internationally acclaimed and has brought
recognition to many African-American and Asian dancers.
The Combining of Forms
By the late 20th cent., distinctions among modern dance, ballet, and show
dancing were not as rigid as they once had been. Ballet technique and
choreography have remained more formal than those of modern dance, but their
themes and stage effects are often similar. Important modern dancers have been
invited to perform with and create dances for ballet companies
Dances that were released and popularized
during the 19th century
"Y.M.C.A." is a song by the American disco group Village People. It was released in 1978
as the only single from their third studio album Cruisin'(1978). The song reached Number
2 on the US charts in early 1979 and reached Number 1 in the UK around the same time,
becoming the group's biggest hit. It is one of fewer than 40 singles to have sold 10
million (or more) physical copies worldwide. The song remains popular and is played at
many sporting events in the U.S. and Europe, with crowds using the dance in which
the arms are used to spell out the four letters of the song's title as an opportunity to
stretch. Moreover, the song also remains particularly popular due to its status as a disco
classic.
Let's Twist Again" is a song written by Kal Mann and Dave Appell, and released as a
single by Chubby Checker. One of the biggest hit singles of 1961, it reached No.8 on the
U.S. Billboard pop chart (No.3 on Cash Box) in August of that year and subsequently
reached No.2 in the U.K. in February 1962. The song refers to the Twist dance craze and
Checker's 1960 single "The Twist", a two-time U.S. No.1 single (in September 1960 and
again in January 1962 on re-release).