Modern dance in the United States  

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Loie Fuller poster for the Folies Bergère in the late 19th century. (poster by PAL (Jean de Paléologue), printed by Paul Dupont)
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Loie Fuller poster for the Folies Bergère in the late 19th century.
(poster by PAL (Jean de Paléologue), printed by Paul Dupont)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
modern dance, African American dance

Closely related to the development of American music in the early 20th century was the emergence of a new, and distinctively American, art form -- modern dance. Among the early innovators was Isadora Duncan (1878-1927), who stressed pure, unstructured movement in lieu of the positions of classical ballet.

The main line of development, however, runs from the dance company of Ruth St. Denis (1878-1968) and her husband-partner, Ted Shawn (1891-1972). Her pupil Doris Humphrey (1895-1958) looked outward for inspiration, to society and human conflict. Another pupil of St. Denis, Martha Graham (1893-1991), whose New York-based company became perhaps the best known in modern dance, sought to express an inward-based passion. Many of Graham's most popular works were produced in collaboration with leading American composers -- "Appalachian Spring" with Aaron Copland, for example.

Later choreographers searched for new methods of dance composition. Merce Cunningham (1919- 2009) introduced chance procedures and composition by field. Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) incorporated African dance elements and black music into his works. Recently such choreographers as Mark Morris (1956- ) and Liz Lerman (1947-) have defied the convention that dancers must be thin and young. Their belief, put into action in their hiring practices and performances, is that graceful, exciting movement is not restricted by age or body type.

African American modern dance

African American contributions to modern dance were substantial, they included pure modern dance works or blended modern dance with African American vernacular dance, African dance and Caribbean influences.

  • Katherine Dunham - African-American dancer, and anthropologist, originally a ballet dancer she founded her first company Ballet Negre in 1936 and later the Katherine Dunham Dance Company based in Chicago, Illinois. Dunham opened a school in New York (1945) where she taught Katherine Dunham Technique, a blend of African and Caribbean movement (flexible torso and spine, articulated pelvis and isolation of the limbs and polyrhythmic movement) integrated with techniques of ballet and modern dance.
  • Pearl Primus - a dancer, choreographer and anthropologist Primus drew on African and Caribbean dances to create strong dramatic works characterized by large leaps in the air. Primus often based her dances on the work of black writers and on racial and African-American issues. Primus created works based on Langston Hughes The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1944), and Lewis Allan's Strange Fruit (1945). Her dance company developed into the Pearl Primus Dance Language Institute which teaches her method of blending African-American, Caribbean, and African influences with modern dance and ballet techniques.
  • Alvin Ailey- a student of Lester Horton (and later Martha Graham) Ailey spent several years working in both concert and theatre dance. in 1930 Ailey and a group of young African-American dancers perform as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York. Ailey drew upon his blood memories of Texas, the blues, spirituals and gospel as inspiration, his most popular and critically acclaimed work is Revelations (1960).

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Modern dance in the United States" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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