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WHAT
IS
Modern(?) Dancers frolic in The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch MODERN
DANCE?
Robert Greskovic wrote in his April 18, 2001 Wall Street Journal dance column,
Not long ago, Paul Taylor, who recently turned 70 and remains one of modern dance's most inspired choreographers, admitted that he really "had no idea what modern dance was anymore". Twyla Tharp, who is pushing 60 and served part of her early career dancing for Mr.Taylor, lately suggested that "it was all dance". By "it", she meant her vision of contemporary dance, defined without distinction between the more than 300-year-old tradition of ballet and the younger, approximately 100-year-old form conveniently called modern dance.
Modern dance means different things to different people; even dancers and choreographers can't quite come up with a good definition. Many ballet dancers and non-dancers have a vague impression of either poorly-trained woman gamboling about, gut-wrenching sturm und drang, or incomprehensible deliberately un-fulfilling movement.
It's all true, but there is so much more. That more is an on-going development of a delicious rich encompassing vernacular dance form that, at its best, celebrates the joy and revels in the truth of physical expression. Modern dance is often about experiment; it is about pushing the limits (or not); it is often strangely dressed and bare-footed; it is definitely about discovering new ways of using music and sound in relation to movement. Dance has always been a way of integrating oneself into the music, and modern dance allows the watcher to appreciate strange or difficult music that would normally be rejected outright. Modern dance is not always mute. More and more, lately, words show up spilling like roses from the dancers lips. Heather Ahern's wonderful dance, Bad and Paula Hunter's performance works use lots of words while still holding onto the edge of dance (in Paula's case, it's by her fingernails and she seems perfectly willing to let go).
Modern dance has created many techniques, but it is happy to use any technique it can get its hands on, often that technique is ballet. Except for toe-shoes, sometimes an audience can only tell modern dance from contemporary ballet , by what the dance company chooses to call itself. In large part, this is because modern dance invigorates ballet; something it has done since Michel Fokine and Anna Pavlova first laid eyes on Isadora Duncan. The people who cared for ballet as a living growing art, not just a stuffy old tradition, took what they saw and made ballet a better livelier place. And now that modern dance is no longer the scullery maid to ballet, it is not so unwilling to acknowledge its relationship to ballet as it has already acknowledged almost every other dance form.
Joseph Mazo said it the best, "Modern dance is not an exact term. It was invented as a name for serious-theatrical-dance-that-is-not-ballet...There is no one form of modern dance."* So what is modern dance? Do you need to ask if what you are watching transports you somewhere new? You sure do if you want to find it again, and how can you study something this vague? There are some modern dance lessons available in Rhode Island. You can see them on the riDance Modern page Otherwise, do as Twlya Tharp did, study, study, study all the different dance styles that you can find lessons for especially ballet, jazz, and african. Don't be afraid of things that are movement but don't call themselves dance. Martial arts, capoeira, yoga, cheer-leading, gymnastics, skating-really sports in general-all are movement put to work. Listen to and learn about music. If you are a child, work hard, don't dawdle, you don't have enough time; if you are an adult, that goes double for you. Find a teacher who offers styles of dance that excite you and work hard to learn as much as you can, then find another teacher, and another. From the very beginning try to create something new out of what you have learned in relation to how your body works. Watch how other people move. Learn from criticism you receive, but keep dancing. One day, you will wake and you will be a modern dancer and you will know what you are - even if you still do not know what modern dance is.
*Mazo,Joseph H., Prime Movers-The Making of Modern Dance in America, second edition, New Jersey Princeton Book Company 2000, page 14.
Scarlet Lynne King has written an excellent essay on modern dance, which is located on her website. Click here to visit her site. (15Jun01)
The three Graces-Voluptas,Castitas and Pulchritudo- dance in Allegory della Primavera by Botticelli

Deborah Nash at dn@riDance.com
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