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Dance has been a part and parcel of societies the world over. People have a natural tendency to move their bodies to toe-tapping and rhythmic music. They often imitate the others in the group so that all their motions match. Dance forms began in different cultures as part of their religious ceremonies and gradually developed from a form of entertainment to being a part of competitions and finally a method of being physically fit. People learn dance to have fun and to learn new techniques. Contemporary dance evolved in the middle of the 20th century and is an expressive dance that combines certain features of dance genres such as jazz, lyrical, modern, and classical ballet. There is an emphasis here on connecting the body and mind with the help of various fluid dance movements.
Contemporary dance is often done with bare feet. It emphasizes improvisation and versatility and is performed to different types of music. Ballet has structured movements that have to be strictly followed to enjoy its fluidity. Pioneers of contemporary dance broke out of the structured nature of ballet and created their own dance movements. They believed that dancers should be able to express themselves freely through their body movements. Merce Cunningham is generally considered the father of contemporary dance and Martha Graham that of modern dance.
Modern dance evolved about the end of the 19th century when famous ballet dancers such as Isadora Duncan felt the need to break out of formal techniques and move into dance forms that allowed dancers to express themselves physically and emotionally. There is a lot of emphasis on movements, breathing, and contraction and relaxation of muscles in this dance form. Although modern dance and contemporary dance have many similarities, they also have their own distinctive characteristics. Merce Cunningham, when he developed the contemporary dance style, completely broke away from all sorts of formal dance routines and introduced random movements that became a unique feature of each dance performance. He did not feel dance techniques had to express any emotions or stories. Modern dance is free style while contemporary dance is a collaborative style.
Contemporary dance as we see it now is an eclectic mix with choreographers drawing inspiration from different dance styles such as ballet, modern, postmodern, or structure-less dance forms. Some contemporary dancers create stories and characters in their dance creations while others just improvise and create new styles. It is danced to the style of music that the dancer wants and so it could be street dance music, ballet, jazz, martial arts, African, or Asian music. The key features here are floor work, contract-release, improvisation, unpredictable changes in direction, rhythm, and speed. Costumes vary as per the direction of the studio manager but generally they use leotards and t-shirts with jazz shoes or bare feet. Contemporary dance remains popular because it is something that can be done by anyone without formal training. You just have to enjoy dance and there is no emphasis on perfection here. Dance forms allows people to express themselves and to better understand themselves.