Contemporary dance is an expressive form of dance that incorporates ballet, jazz, and sometimes hip hop.  It was formed to break away from the rigid posture and moves of classical ballet.  While the base of contemporary dance is ballet, it is much more free-moving and stylized.

Contemporary dancer.
Elements of Contemporary:
  • Abstract – Emphasizes movement and emotion
  • Unpredictable – Often uses contrasting rythms, movements, and directions
  • Breath – many dancers use breathing as the center of their dancing and emphasize it
  • Floor work – many contemporary dancers are grounded and incorporate floor work
  • Non-traditional movement – Unlike ballet, there are no standard moves in contemporary, which allows dancers to experiment with their movement
Dance Odysseys at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival

There is a great amount of variety in contemporary dance.  Sometimes it is faster with sharper movements, and other times it’s slower with more fluidity.  A form of contemporary dance is lyrical, which emphasizes the emotion and story behind the dance.

Here is an example of a contemporary class (taught by Kelly Cruise).

Dancers wear an assortment of different clothing to rehearsal or class, and typically the dress code is less strict than ballet.  Women can wear leotards, sports bras, spandex, leggings, crop tops, skirts, and tights are usually optional.  Men can wear their traditional shirt and tights, or some wear shorts, spandex, sweatpants, or leggings.  Dancers also normally have the option to wear short or long sleeve shirts, or tank tops.  Dress code and attire varies from studio to studio, but attire is typically less uniform for contemporary class.

An example of the attire one would wear to contemporary class.

For contemporary class, it’s typically optional to wear your hair in a bun, but many also wear their hair in a ponytail, braided, or down.  Since contemporary is more free and less constricting than ballet, some prefer to wear their hair down to help let loose while dancing.

Dancers are still able to wear ballet shoes, or pointe shoes for women.  Many contemporary dancers also wear jazz shoes, turner shoes, or go barefoot.  Turner shoes, also known as half shoes, are similar to leather jazz shoes, except they only cover the toes with an elastic strap that goes around the heel.  Socks have also become a trend to wear for contemporary.  Again, it depends on the studio, but these are the different options for a contemporary dancer to wear.

Turner shoes.

Similar to attire for class and rehearsal, contemporary costumes are full of diversity.  They can either be a leotard or a two piece, with briefs, shorts, or leggings for the bottoms.  Some also have short skirts, or long, flowing ones.  Some costumes are very simple, and others are extravagant with hundreds of rhinestones or appliques.  The costume greatly depends on the story and mood of the dance, and needs to correspond with the music.  Mens contemporary costumes are often times very simple.  Some wear the traditional black tights and white shirt, but there are variations of contemporary costumes for men.  Often times they wear pants, tights, or shorts, and any type of shirt or jacket.  Sometimes, they also go shirtless when performing.

Contemporary costume: two-piece with mesh.

There’s countless options for music when it comes to contemporary.  It can remain classical with just instrumental music, or have lyrics and singing.  Sometimes dancers also dance to voiceovers, or silence with a person speaking to convey a message.  It can be fast or slow, and have variety in the rhythm and tempo.

Tate McRae’s performance titled “Stillness” in the contemporary division of Youth America Grand Prix 2017 in Houston, TX.

Travis Wall performing a contemporary piece with the “All-Stars” on So You Think You Can Dance.