What is Contemporary Dance? + Contemporary Playlist

DWS 13+ Production Team, rehearsal

DWS 13+ Production Team, rehearsal

Contemporary dance is a style of expressive dance that combines elements of several dance genres, including modern, jazz, lyrical, and classical ballet. It strives to connect the mind and the body through fluid dance movements. While ballet focuses on developing a floaty, airy feeling, contemporary dance is more about being grounded and using gravity. The strict, structured nature of ballet is absent: contemporary dance emphasizes versatility and improvisation. In fact, there are no established movement patterns. 

The question addressing the difference between "contemporary" and "modern" dance is one that has dancers, choreographers, and artistic directors talking these days. Is it a difference in training or technique? What about style? Perhaps modern and contemporary genres have taken on new meanings because the global village has created a melting pot of moves. Unconventional movements from choreographers not only break down conventions and challenge definitions, but also bring something wholly new to the dance world.

Contemporary movement is whatever is influencing art, architecture, and how you process, read, and develop movement at any given time. Patrick Corbin

For the sake of simplicity, this page will refer to contemporary as a style of modern dance. "Contemporary" is a very loosely used term here, since it can take on many different forms. Some contemporary dance conveys a story, others express the dancer's emotions or interpret music. Contemporary dances can even be choreographed observations on society and humans. It can include music with words, without words, background noise of everyday sounds, a speaking track, or even silence. Essentially, contemporary dance can be what you make it to be.

If you really want to dig into the history, though: before contemporary dance became a more solid part of the dance world (1970s onwards), there was postmodern dance (1960-70s), and before that there was modern dance (1920-60s). The European influences on American modern dance came from the German Expressionist dancers Mary Wigman and Hanya Holm. 


  • Bedinghaus, Treva. "What Is Contemporary Dance?" Dance.About. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://dance.about.com/od/typesofdance/f/What-Is-Contemporary-Dance.htm>.

  • Looseleaf, Victoria. "Modern vs. Contemporary." Dance Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://dancemagazine.com/inside-dm/modern_vs_contemporary/>.

  • Boughen, Shaaron. "Explainer: What Is Contemporary Dance?" The Conversation. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-contemporary-dance-25713>.

NEW! Weekly Dance Playlist: Contemporary

  1. Pieces (Hushed) — Andrew Belle

  2. Black Ships — Gem Club

  3. Paralyzed — NF

  4. Silhouette — Aquilo

  5. On The Nature Of Daylight — Max Richter

  6. Chord Left — Agnes Obel

  7. Fyrsta — Ólafur Arnalds