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The Origins of Contemporary Dance Technique: Understanding the Evolution of a Genre

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

Have you ever wondered what contemporary dance really is? Or do you take contemporary class, but you're still not sure where it all comes from? Then it's time to explore the different techniques that modern and contemporary dance has to offer. Contemporary dance is one of the styles we offer at Dragonfly Dance. It is a genre that can differ vastly between studios and teachers, so we thought it would be useful to provide some insight into the history and the techniques that influence today's classes.


Graham Technique


Created by Martha Graham, this technique is based on the idea of "contraction and release." This means that the dancer must engage their core muscles to create a sharp and sudden movement, then release the tension to create a smooth and flowing motion. Graham Technique also emphasizes the use of breath and the connection between emotion and movement. You might see a lot of spiraling and twisting in Graham Technique, as well as floor work and dramatic gestures.


An example of a Graham Technique class


Limon Technique


Founded by Jose Limon, this technique focuses on the use of gravity and weight in movement. The dancer must use their body weight to create dynamic and expressive movements, such as falling, rebounding, and suspension. Limon Technique also emphasizes the use of breath and the connection between music and movement. The movements are often fluid and flowing, with an emphasis on the use of the arms and back.



An example of a Limon Technique class


Cunningham Technique


Created by Merce Cunningham, this technique emphasizes the use of space and time in movement. The dancer must use their body to explore the different possibilities of movement in space, such as levels, directions, and shapes. Movements in Cunningham Technique are often asymmetrical and involved sudden changes in direction. You might see a lot of jumping and turning, as well as a focus on the articulation of the feet and legs and moving the spine in various directions - flexing, twisting, arching, and curving.


Example of a Cunningham class


Contact Improvisation


This technique was developed in the 1970s by Steve Paxton and others. It is based on the idea of physical touch and communication between dancers. The dancers must use their bodies to support each other, create lifts and falls, and explore the different possibilities of movement in contact. Contact Improvisation also emphasizes the use of improvisation and the connection between movement and communication. There are no set movements, as the name suggests. The technique emphasises listening and responding to your partner, and it can be a great way to build trust and connection with other dancers.


Example of Contact Improvisation


Release Technique


This technique was developed in the 1980s by Joan Skinner and others. It emphasizes the use of breath and the release of tension in movement. The dancer must use their body to explore the different possibilities of movement in space, such as levels, directions, and shapes. Release Technique also emphasizes the connection between emotion and movement, and the release of energy and tension in the body. Movements in Release Technique are often fluid and continuous, with a focus on using the breath to initiate and support movement. You might see a lot of floor work and spiraling in Release Technique, as well as an emphasis on the spine and pelvis.




Example of release technique class

Flying Low


This technique was developed by David Zambrano in the 1990s. It emphasizes the use of speed and flow in movement. The dancer must use their body to create fluid and continuous movements, such as spirals, slides, and rolls. Flying Low also emphasizes the use of the floor and the connection between momentum and movement. You might see a lot of jumping and rolling in Flying Low, as well as an emphasis on the use of the hands and feet to connect with the floor.


Example of Flying Low


German Expressionism


This style of dance emerged in the early 20th century in Germany. It is a style of dance that emphasises emotional expression and storytelling. Pina Bausch was one of the most influential choreographers of this style, known for her use of theatrical elements and personal narratives. Movements in German Expressionism are often exaggerated and theatrical, with an emphasis on gesture and facial expression. You might see a lot of partnering and use of props in German Expressionism, as well as a focus on exploring the psychology of the characters and themes.


Example of dance by Pina Bausch


Forsythe Technique


Forsythe Technique, developed by William Forsythe in the 1980s, is a contemporary ballet technique that emphasizes the use of lines and angles in movement. Movements in Forsythe Technique are often fluid and fast-paced, with a focus on exploring the full range of motion in the body. You might see a lot of off-balance movements and sudden changes in direction in Forsythe Technique. The dancer must use their body to create complex and intricate movements, such as twists, turns, and shifts.


Example of Forsythe technique

Gaga Technique


The Gaga Technique is a movement language developed by Ohad Naharin, the artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company in Israel. It focuses on body awareness, sensation, and improvisation. The technique aims to encourage dancers to connect with their bodies, increase their range of motion, and explore their physicality. It emphasizes the use of the entire body and encourages dancers to move beyond their usual movement patterns. Gaga is not a specific style of dance but rather a way of approaching movement. It is used by dancers of various styles, including contemporary, ballet, and hip hop, to enhance their performance abilities. Gaga classes involve guided improvisation, with a focus on listening to the body and the sensations it produces. The technique has gained popularity around the world and is considered a valuable tool for dancers to explore and expand their movement possibilities.


Example of Gaga


At Dragonfly Dance, we believe that every dancer has their own unique style and approach to movement. By exploring the different techniques of modern and contemporary dance, you can discover new ways to express yourself and connect with others. Come dance with us and discover the joy of movement!


 

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