Research United States history at the turn of the 20th century through the 1920s. What other ideas were “modern” at that time? What other forms of rebellion and innovation were taking place? What does today’s music and dance say about the world we live in now?
Discuss the similarities and differences between modern dance and ballet. Divide the class into two groups to create presentations on these two forms of dance.
Some choreographers say they get ideas for dances from people-watching. Have students watch people move in a public setting, e.g., at the mall, on a playground, at a sporting event, in a store, at a party) and then create dance phrases based on the movements observed. They may alter the movements using the elements of dance.
Some modern dances reflect movements in nature. Have students create dance phrases based on nature, such as weather or animals.
Modern dance grew out of the American spirit of innovation in the early 20th century. Though modern dance is similar to ballet in some ways, much of its initial purpose was to break away from the restrictions of ballet and allow more freedom of movement and ideas.
In less than 100 years, modern dance evolved from an idea to an international art form. Many groundbreaking choreographers contributed to its development. Michel Fokine began the move toward a more realistic style as opposed to ballet. Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis are considered the founders of modern dance. Their revolutionary ideas reflected other ideas about the status of women in the early 20th century, and their dances were based on new techniques developed as vehicles for the expression of human passions and universal social themes. Other pioneers included Martha Graham, who developed her own technique of body movement called the Graham technique, and Alvin Ailey, who created a multi-racial dance company to perform dances around universal themes rooted in African-American heritage.
There is not one language or vocabulary of modern dance movement, but it is traditionally and most often performed in bare feet. Rather than focusing so much on the arms and legs, as in ballet, modern dance makes use of the whole torso, and dancers not only leap through the air but also roll on the floor. However, distinctions between modern dance and ballet are not as rigid as they once were, as both forms have borrowed from each other to create new artistic explorations.