Contemporary vs. Modern Dance: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever wondered this? Aren’t they kind of the same thing? We asked our Facebook followers this question, as we received some insightful answers:

Jenny: Contemporary dance is recently-choreographed, boundary-breaking dance. Modern dance is dance that doesn’t follow the rules of classical ballet/jazz.

Lindsay: Modern dance is codified. There are specific modern dance techniques (i.e. Graham, Limon, Horton, etc.) that are unique to themselves but have many underlying similarities and themes. The pioneers of modern dance wanted to break away from traditional ballet and were mostly female (a radical change.) The modern dance movement was followed by the postmodern dance movement in the 50s and 60s which aimed to break away from the compositional constraints of modern. It included the use of chance and improvisation. Contemporary dance is a slightly more vague and broad term. It means different things to different people. Many dancers in the commercial/competition world refer to their contemporary jazz as contemporary. However, the concert world sees contemporary differently. It can be used to describe any dancing that is new, different, or untraditional. It can include elements of many kinds of dance including non-western dance forms.

Truth is, they are the same in many ways. Both forms of dance stemmed from modern dance pioneers during the turn of the 19th Century like Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham. Modern Dance is a specific style of dance that is free form and stems from the core, or torso, of the body and uses elements like contact-release, floor work, fall and recovery, and improvisation. Just like a Picasso is different than a Monet, modern dance is different than ballet. Contemporary Dance is a collaborative style that includes modern, jazz, ballet, and hip hop elements.

Hope that clears things up. Now get dancin’!


Martha Graham:



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