Modernizing Dance

26 Jan

*Chapter 7 of Dancing: The Pleasure, Power, and Art of Movement by Gerald Jonas

The revolution of dance was not just about how the dancers move. It’s also about how the art form should be made and whom. Mostly in dance theaters, men were the ones who are on stage but women were the stars of ballet. Ballet was unique in one way but since society is male-dominant, change in the performers and how the art form should be catered to the people were still hard to resist. That brought the modernization of dance during the 19th century where it was endeavored by the public and women’s talents were not just watched but also idolized. Thus, ballerinas were well rewarded; they both had money and fame. They had no reasons to disengage themselves to the institutions that the society’s traditions had taught them. Women were now empowered to set up their own shop and proclaim their selves as artists. Ballerinas goal was self expression and that triggered the impetus in dance theater. There was freedom when it comes to expressing the dance.

Modernizing dance started when women created something that poets and artists took for granted: the intention to follow personal inspiration without catering to the taste of some private institution. This is what was known as Romanticism. A lot of  iconic women involved themselves in transforming dance from expensive entertainment into free self expression.

Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan’s courage to defy the classical aesthetics and form of dance ignited the impetus to modernize dance. Her profound gestural vocabulary summoned the freedom to the body. She let go of the constraints in classical ballet and developed her sense of self expression by wearing lose garments of clothing and dancing with bare feet on stage. These gestures have seemed an incarnation not just of Art and Beauty but of Freedom itself (p. 195). She saw herself as an instrument of dance and freedom combined.

Our ballet teacher told us many stories about this woman: how she contributed to the performing arts and how the soul really moves the dancer, not the dance. She was the epitome of what a dancer should be like: expressive, graceful and captivating.

Ruth St Denis

Ruth St. Denis’  inspiration was drawn from a cigarette brand poster where she directed to her spiritual belief and her love for beauty. Her dance reveals spiritual life and she made her body as an instrument  for spiritual awakening in dance. Besides her strong spiritual aura, she had the right blend of sensuality to appeal to a large audience, especially men. She was also known for having a very supple or flexible torso which she uses to create emphasis on her movements. She creates wonderful images and lines on stage which captivates her audiences.

Martha Graham

Martha Graham is the most popular among the pioneers of Modern Dance because of the technique that she created which are the “contract” and “release”. This technique focuses on postural control through breathing. I personally have experienced this because my modern ballet teacher uses Graham’s technique in class. The exercises which uses contraction and release are very challenging but when you apply them while dancing, they make the dancers strong and whole on stage. It takes a lot of years to perfect this technique and when you are able to execute them well, movement just comes naturally.

There are also choreographers who are a part of modernizing dance. Jose Limon is known for his intricate but free movements; Mikhail Fokine is very well known for his choreography for one of the most world-renowned ballet dancers, Anna Pavlova, The Dying Swan, Vaslav Nijinksi who created innovative ballets fro Diaghelev’s Ballet Russes, and George Balanchine who is most known for his own ballets which emphasizes the lines and strength of the dancers.

These people have contributed to the evolution of dance. And their masterpieces are still performed throughout ballet companies around the world. Truly, a milestone for the performing arts world.


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