Ballet is one of the world’s most popular dance genres.
Ballet dancers are renowned for their grace, flexibility and athleticism.
Ballet isn’t often seen as a ‘cultural’ dance – but it began as a European court dance, which looked drastically different from the art form we know and love today. This widespread dance genre originated in Italy during the Renaissance and was introduced to the French court by Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II. However, the popularity of ballet didn’t really flourish until a century later, when King Louis XIV of France standardized the art form.
Nowadays, many companies are trending towards a more modern ballet, which mixes modern and contemporary dance with ballet technique. And ballet superstars have included modern dance in their solo programme repertoire, as in Sergei Polunin’s Mixed Bill and Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance shows. However, classical ballet techniques are still practiced around the world: Cecchetti in Italy, Vaganova in Russia, Bournonville in France, Royal Academy of Dance (or RAD) in England and Balanchine in the USA. All of these styles rely on the same basic ballet technique, but the aesthetic and approach differs from one school to the next.
World-famous ballet companies include the Paris Opera Ballet (France), the The Royal Ballet (UK), Bolshoi Ballet (Russia) and Mariinsky Ballet (Russia), American Ballet Theatre (USA) and New York City Ballet (USA), Dutch National Ballet (Netherlands), Teatro La Scala (Italy), Australian National Ballet (Australia) and National Ballet of Cuba (Cuba). And the hilarious cross-dressing Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (USA) is another enduring favourite for dance die-hards and newbies alike.
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Today, modern and contemporary dance draw from many other dance genres. However, modern dance was created as a new form of physical expression – as distinct from ballet.
Modern dance pioneers include Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis. However, Martha Graham is known as the mother of modern dance because she codified a new dance vocabulary in New York City. Trademarks of Graham modern technique include contractions and spiraling. Martha Graham’s dance contemporaries include Merce Cunningham, Lester Horton and José Limón.
Post-modern dance followed modern dance as a sort of rebellion. Oftentimes, choreographers included pedestrian movements such as walking and sitting into their dances.
Modern dance continues to evolve, but rather than calling it post-post-modern dance, the dance style is still called modern dance. You may hear ‘contemporary dance’ (as it’s categorized on the ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ shows) or ‘lyrical dance’ in the commercial dance industry.
Contemporary dance can take inspiration from any number of other dance genres or movement forms, such as martial art.
World-famous modern dance companies include Nederlands Dans Theater (Netherlands), Cloud Gate Dance Theater (Taiwan), Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch (Germany), Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (USA), Rambert (UK) and TAO Dance Theatre (China).
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Hip-hop is a popular commercial dance style that originated in the streets of New York City. It’s sometimes called urban dance or street dance. However, this powerful form of expression has also been used to create hip-hop theatre pieces.
Breakdancing is an incredibly athletic hip-hop dance style. It can be broken down into top rocks and power moves.
Freestyle dance can be further broken down into more specific dance styles or techniques, such as popping, locking, waving, robotics, vogueing, tutting, krump and house dance. Many hip-hop artists will combine a range of these dance technique into their choreography.
Hip-hop theatre is essentially a mix between street dance and modern or contemporary dance.
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Ballroom dance is typically a dance style shared between one male, who acts as the ‘lead’, and one female, who acts as the ‘follow’. Ballroom dance tends to be very formal and performed in competitions, whereas other partner social dances are more casual.
Ballroom dance is sometimes referred to as dance sport, and ballroom dance styles can be divided into two categories: smooth dances and Latin dances.
Helpful hint: If you are watching professional ballroom dance and unsure of whether the style is smooth or Latin, look at the ladies’ shoes. If you see strappy high heels, the couples are performing Latin dances. If the front of the shoes are closed, the pairs are dancing a smooth style.
Smooth dances include the foxtrot, waltz and Viennese waltz.
Latin dance include the rumba, samba and chacha (or chachacha).
Other social partner dances include salsa, merengue, bachata, kizomba and zouk.
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Folk dance traditions can be found around the world. Every dance began as a folk dance, but some have evolved into global dance styles. Traditional folk dance forms tend to be less widespread and have been passed down for generations in specific communities.
You may not even think of some dance forms as ‘folk dance’, but every dance started somewhere. For instance, jazz and tap dance are both types of folk dance from the USA. Native American tribes also have their own dance traditions. During a Native American hoop dance, the performer uses a series of hoops as props to resemble and mimic a variety of animals.
Just south in Central and South America, many of the traditional folk dances (such as Argentine tango) are covered in our ballroom and social dance section. However, Mexico has its own folkloric dances, such as the Jarabe Tapatío and Danza del Venado.
Irish dancing is sometimes performed in Irish soft shoes called ‘gillies’ (or ‘ghillies’), but it can also be performed in hard shoes. Common music forms are reels and jigs. On the same island, you’ll also find Scottish dancing and English Morris dancing. Mainland Europe is home to many more folk dances with folklore ensembles that preserve these pieces of intangible cultural heritage. (The Lindo Folklore Ensemble in Dubrovnik is one such organization.)
India has a few famous dance forms. Ancient Indian dance traditions include Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi, while Bhangra and Bollywood are more current popular Indian dance forms.
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Dance can be blended with other performance arts to create unique performances. For instance, dance can play a large role in musical theatre shows and operas. Dance can also be found paired with circus or in dynamic physical theatre shows.
Like some dance shows incorporate a range of dance styles, some performances weave different arts together. Although dance may not be the main focus of these shows, it is still an important and complementary component. For instance, we had a blast learning the Charleston during Immersive LDN’s Great Gatsby production.
Dance can be featured in operas, musicals, cabarets, circus acts and revues – as in the Royal Opera House’s Carmen by Barrie Kosky or Fashion Freak Show by famed French designer Paul Gaultier.
In screendance, the live dance choreography is filtered through a videographer’s vision. Omari Carter, director of The Motion Dance Collective screendance production company, explains that the dancers’ movement is further enhanced by the filming and editing processes.
Meanwhile, physical theatre takes the corporal element of dance. However, these types of performances differ from traditional dance shows by incorporating lots of dialogue and concrete actions that follow a plot.
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