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A wide variety of dance forms exist in Canada and around the world. Here is an introduction to over 40 traditional and contemporary dance forms that you may encounter on stages near you and throughout ArtsAlive.ca. You'll find 24 major dance styles and additional information on variations within certain forms. Most of these are theatrical dance forms whose primary purpose is artistic presentation before an audience. Some forms play a wider social role but are nonetheless adapted for theatrical performance.
To learn more about these and other forms of dance, explore ArtsAlive.ca, visit your local library and - best of all - get out and see live dance!
Aerial dance refers to a theatrical production performed by dancers who are suspended in the air with the aid of apparatus such as ropes, lengths of cloth known as silks, straps or a trapeze. The difference between this form and a circus act is that in aerial dance artistic focus takes precedence over the virtuosity of the manoeuvers.
Aeriosa Dance is often found in unexpected vertical environments like the rooftops of city buildings.
African dance comprises many traditional and modern dances, with great variation in style and form across the continent. In Africa, dance is closely related to music, mime, storytelling, costume and ritual. African children, who traditionally learn to drum and dance as early as they learn to walk, participate in public ceremonies alongside the adults. Often, a "call and response" dialogue occurs between dancer, drummer and spectators, which makes all parties integral to the event.
Afro-Caribbean dance has African roots fused with the multicultural influences of Caribbean dance, which come from African, Chinese, Spanish, South Asian and indigenous Caribbean peoples. Afro-Caribbean dance is typically joyful and free-spirited, and is often performed to Caribbean, Jamaican, highlife, jazz or soul music. Beginning in the 1930s, African-American Katherine Dunham created modern dance with major Afro-Caribbean influences.
Patrick Parson of Ballet Creole creates contemporary Afro-Caribbean dance.
Azerbaijani dance has its roots in the diverse cultures of its region. Geographically connected to Russia, Armenia and Iran, Azerbaijan has a rich tradition of folk dances for men and women. These emphasize expression, mood and sometimes animal themes, and are generally performed to music with percussive and wind instruments. [Website icon] Sashar Dance Company performs Azerbaijani dance.
Ballet is a theatrical dance form with a codified technique. Developed from court productions of the Renaissance, ballet was renewed under Louis XIV, who in 1661 established France's Académie Royale de Danse, where Pierre Beauchamps developed the five positions of the feet.
Significant developments in the early 19th century included pointe work (balance on the extreme tip of the toe) and the emergence of the prima ballerina, exemplified by Marie Taglioni and Fanny Elssler. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Russia became the centre of ballet production and performance through the work of innovators such as Serge Diaghilev, Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Marius Petipa and Michel Fokine. Since then, ballet has appeared on stages and in dance schools around the world.
Ballet in Canada got a huge boost when schools sent performance groups to the six Canadian Ballet Festivals that took place between 1948 and 1954. The country's first professional ballet company, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, was founded in 1939. The National Ballet of Canada was founded in 1951, followed in 1955 by Les Ballets Chiriaeff, which in 1957 became Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, later renamed Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal.
Ballet has become diversified since its beginnings in the 1600s. A few of the many styles that have developed follow:
See also Classical Ballet and Romantic Ballet.
Belly dance, also known as raqs sharqi , is traditionally a solo form for women. Rooted in pre-Islamic times, this Middle Eastern dance form was taught within the family and performed during celebrations. In 10th- and 11th-century Islamic courts and 18th-century Ottoman courts, belly dance took on a more refined classical style. Characterized by sinuous, rhythmic hip movements and undulating arms, belly dancing has been popular in cabarets from the 19th century. Since the 1970s there has been an international revival of interest in the traditional forms among both professional and amateur dancers.
Arabesque Dance Company performs Middle Eastern dance including belly dance.
Brazilian folk dance is found in many different styles in each region of the country, and is often influenced by African dance and cultural traditions. The lively Brazilian samba,and its importance to the annual Carnival, is recognized around the world. Dance in Brazil is closely connected to spirituality and is guided by such religions as Batuque, more commonly called Candomblé. See also Capoeira.
In Canada, Newton Moraes Dance Theatre performs a fusion of Brazilian and contemporary dance.
Break dance, or breakin', is an athletic solo form of dance that originated in the street in the United States. The foundation vocabulary of break dance includes top/up rock, breakdowns, footwork and freezes, as well as acrobatic spins and power moves. Body popping, which involves a series of sharp, fast actions that travel through the body alternating with moments of freeze, creates a robotic effect.
Being a successful b-boy or b-girl, as break dancers are known, requires the ability to freestyle (improvise) using the foundation vocabulary while creating individual style. Battles (competitions) are an important part of b-boy/b-girl culture. They can either take the form of one-on-one competitions, where dancers face their opponents head on, or as crew (group) battles, where a whole team works together, mixing solo improvisation and group choreographies. Preserving the unadulterated or raw spontaneity and quality of improvisation is a challenge when bringing street dance to a formal stage.
See also Hip Hop.
Butoh describes a revolutionary and contemporary performing art form that developed in Japan during the 1950s and 1960s in the aftermath of World War II. Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno are the main originators of this form. Motivated by a rejection of western dance and Japanese classical forms, early butoh artists were searching for a more primal expression. Butoh dancers are often semi-nude, with white body paint and shaved heads, and typically favour extremely slow movement. Sankai Juku is a second-generation butoh troupe from Japan that tours internationally.
In Vancouver, Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi of Kokoro Dance present dance works inspired by butoh.
Capoeira is a stylized martial art dance from Brazil, characterized by acrobatic fighting maneuvers and athletic dance steps. It is designated as a national sport in Brazil, where it is taught in schools and performed as a contest between combatants. Once only performed by men, now women also dance capoeira. Capoeira has exerted considerable influence on some modern dance choreographers.
Chinese dance can be divided into two major styles: minjian wudao (folk dance) and gudian wudao (classical dance). In folk dances, the inclusion of theatrical elements such as mime and drama often depict a short plot. Today's classical dance is an attempt to reconstruct the dance of the past based on the present day's understanding and knowledge of that vocabulary.
A third style of Chinese dance is minzu wuju (national dance drama), which usually features new choreography combining both Chinese and western dance vocabularies, and may reflect either historical or contemporary events. The Magic Lantern and The Butterfly Lovers are two examples of minzu wuju.
Contact improvisation involves improvised movement based on the relationship between two moving bodies and the effects of gravity, momentum, friction and inertia. Steve Paxton is the originator of this system, which has had a significant influence on many choreographers. In Canada, Vancouver's Peter Bingham, Toronto's Allen and Karen Kaeja, Ottawa's Peter Ryan and Montréal's Andrew de Lotbinière Harwood are experts in contact improvisation.
Contemporary dance is a term that in Canada is often used interchangeably with modern dance. For some people, however, it specifically means dance that developed from the roots of modern dance, but that is no longer aligned with the modernist art movement of the 1930s.
First Nations people of North America enjoy a rich dance tradition. The dances, almost always closely tied to the songs or music that accompany them, vary greatly by tribe, geographic location and the purpose for which they are performed. A few are described below.
Flamenco dance originally developed from the cante or songs of Andalucia, Spain that expressed the blessings and hardships of everyday life. Flamenco dance is characterized by highly nuanced, percussive footwork, a straight spine with at times an arch in the upper back, and arms held in long curves that frame the body. It conveys strength and, simultaneously, tenderness, urgency, pride and resilience. In the 20th century, flamenco became popular in theatrical settings but it was originally danced on the streets, in cafés and in people's homes for special occasions like weddings or birthdays, as it still is today.
Hip hop dance originated on the streets of New York City among young Hispanic and African-American men during the late 1960s as part of the hip hop culture of rap, scratch music and graffiti art. Break dance is the most common style of this constantly evolving dance form. A newer development that came out of Los Angeles is the freestyle, high energy and confrontational krumping, in which the dancers sometimes use physical contact and weight sharing. Hip hop dance and music, which became internationally popular in the late 1970s, are now often incorporated into theatrical dance.
Improvisation,often called improv, refers to m ovements that are created spontaneously by the dancer, either individually or with others, with or without specific direction from a choreographer. An improv jam is like a musical jam session in that dancers can flow in and out of participation while the collective improv dance continues. Also see Contact Improvisation.
The Move Collective organizes improv jams in Toronto and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Jazz dance was developed in the United States by African-Americans in the early part of the 20th century. It drew on African rhythms and techniques that isolated various parts of the body in movement. The name was first used during World War I, and by the 1920s jazz had been taken up by general society. Its presence in film, on television and on Broadway provided a large and enduring audience. One of the earliest instances of theatrical jazz dance was George Balanchine's ballet Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1936). Katherine Dunham and Bob Fosse were leading American jazz choreographers.
Calgary, Alberta's Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, founded in 1984, is an important promoter of jazz dance.
In Korea, modern dance developed in the 1920s. Since the 1980s, influenced by traditional Korean dance as well as by western ballet and modern dance, contemporary Korean dance has thrived.
Modern dance usually refers to 20th-century concert dance that developed in the United States and Europe. Rebelling against classical ballet, early modern dance pioneers began to practice "free dance", often in bare feet. In America, Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis developed their own styles of free dance, paving the way for American modern dance pioneers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and José Limón. In Europe, Rudolf von Laban, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze and François Delsarte developed theories of human movement and methods of instruction that led to the development of European modern and expressionist dance.
Today the term modern dance is sometimes used interchangeably with contemporary dance. However, for some people, modern dance refers only to dance that was aligned with the modernist art movement of the 1930s and all dance that developed afterwards, from these early roots, is contemporary dance. See also Contemporary Dance.
Canada's earliest modern dance company is Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers, founded by Rachel Browne in 1964. Four years later, Patricia Beatty, David Earle and Peter Randazzo founded Toronto Dance Theatre with the goal of nurturing modern dance in Canada. There are now hundreds of Canadian modern dance companies.
Unlike ballet choreographers, who usually work within an established vocabulary of steps, modern choreographers explore their own movement styles, creating steps as they go and passing them on to their dancers. Sometimes this results in the establishment of a specific style and technique. Below are techniques of several early modern dance choreographers:
South Asian dance, or Indian dance, can be organized into three categories: classical, folk and modern. Classical dance forms are among the best preserved and oldest practiced in the 21st century. The royal courts, the temples and the guru-to-pupil teaching traditions kept this art alive. In rural areas, folk dancing has remained as an expression of the daily work and rituals of village communities. Modern Indian dance, a product of the 20th century, is a creative mixture of the first two forms, with freely improvised movements and rhythms to express the new themes and impulses of contemporary India.
Today, classical dance has left the temples and royal courts and is presented regularly on stages in cities across India and around the world. Nine distinct schools of classical Indian dance that exist in the 21st century are described below:
Tanztheater (German, "dance theatre") is dance set in a dramatic situation, which may include dialogue. This style developed out of the earlier German form ausdruckstanz (expressive dance) originated by Mary Wigman. Today, tanztheater is synonymous with the work of choreographer Pina Bausch.
Tap dance was first seen in the United States in the late 19th century. The name comes from the tapping sound made when the small metal plates on the dancer's shoes touch a hard floor. This lively, rhythmic tapping makes the performer not just a dancer, but also a percussive musician. In its solo form, tap dance often includes an improvised section that might be compared to a solo taken by a jazz drummer. Individual tap dancers are recognized for having their own distinct voice or tapping style. William Orlowski is an accomplished Canadian tap dancer.
Ukrainian dance today, based on traditional Ukrainian folk dance, is typically rousing and virtuosic. Men competitively improvise high leaps and squatting kicks, while women dance lyrical, graceful steps.