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When I tell people I’m a modern dancer, usually they tell me that that is “cool” or “interesting,” and then ask me what modern dance is. I started to tackle that subject in my post, Dance History 101: Modern Dance, and will elaborate more about characteristics of modern dance techniques in the future.

For today, let’s focus on what modern dance isn’t.


When people hear the word “modern,” they don’t often think of the modernist art movement; instead, they think of the word’s synonym, “current.” And when people think about the dances that are currently popular, they think about hip-hop culture. Though hip-hop dancing is crazy cool (I’ll break down the subcategories in a future post), it’s not the same as modern dance.

Barefoot people onstage “being weird.” 

As a young dance student in the Chicago suburbs, modern dance was offered at my dance studio, but the dance form and its history were never explained to me. I had no idea that like ballet, modern dance has codified techniques, and that those techniques often become hybridized when they are embodied and taught in dance classes. That being said, my personal definition of modern dance was “Barefoot people onstage being weird.” While that can often be true of modern dance, it’s not exactly going to get me into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

A dance form that shuns music with lyrics

In actuality, modern dance is limitless when it comes to its auditory accompaniment. The above misconception is often fostered by collegiate dance communities, which try to push students out of their choreographic comfort zones. This task often involves teaching students to build movement without using music and challenging them to add audio tracks later. Dance composition teachers may be particularly averse to the use of popular music during these formative years, as songs with lyrics carry with them emotions and cultural references all their own.

What misconceptions about modern dance have you encountered?

Leave a comment to set the record straight!