In a recent article, What is Contemporary Dance?, written by Shaaron Boughen for The Conversation, contemporary dance was the topic of debate. Boughen attempted to define this genre of dance, commenting that it has become a catchall phrase for anything that cannot be defined by other dance genres. Of course contemporary dance is not anything that may remotely resemble, for instance, ballet, street or jazz. However, it can simply be seen as a genre that need not be defined. It is a state of movement art that continually evolves and comments on past dance traditions and different historical, political or social contexts.
In my experience new choreographers and artists are still battling with old school practitioners, such as Merce Cunningham, Jose Limon and Martha Graham in an attempt to establish their own artistry. This is in a current climate monopolised by the arts council and wealthy individuals who hold dance artists to ransom as a means of education or commercial value in a digital age. Whatever happened to art as a creative response to everyday life and experiences?
Contemporary choreographers and dancers are leaving institutions fighting two paths, the path of viewing dance as a career hoping for financial stability and, the perhaps less travelled road of just doing whatever it takes to support their artistic visions and creative freedom in making new work. I’m sure Vincent van Gogh did not paint with a set of criteria or a body of money to please.
Whenever I tell people that I studied contemporary dance they ask what it is.
‘Is it where you dance with no socks and is like what that guy did on So You Think You Can Dance?’
In my training ‘contemporary dance’ is whatever you want it to be. It could be called anything but in a world obsessed with labels there apparently needs to be boundaries. I have a BA (Hons) in Dance. The fact that it is just in ‘dance’ surely means that the boundaries of what may be learnt about this art form are removed. I was guided to make work that was new and fresh, learning from predecessors and being true to what I wanted to communicate.
So in answering ‘what is contemporary dance?’ I think the answer may not be found until that point in the future where people look back and compare what they are doing differently to what is being done today. It is also funny how this type of dance is called contemporary, yet I was taught at university that we are still living in a postmodern world, so is it not still postmodern dance?
Perhaps we should ignore what contemporary dance is and just support the multiplicities that contemporary dance can be.