What is a modern dance?

History, language, discoveries, heroes and choreography movements of the 20th century

Although the imagination of a dance is known to everyone, it is still difficult to give the accurate definition. Perhaps, the most common definition of a dance is - the movement of a person in space with music and rhythm. But, here various questions occur. Which movement? Moving to where? What if it is not the whole body moving, but only one finger? Try to move your finger.  Will it be a dance? What about a hand? What if you slightly move your shoulder,  including your body and hand? You might feel how difficult it is to delineate the border and say, where “simple movement” ends up and where “dance” appears. 

The second word in our definition is a person. Is it only a human who can dance? What about the autumn leaves that are circulating in the air. Is it a dance? 

And finally, is it necessary to have music in dance? It is known that many modern artists of a dance preferred only one rhythm. For example, Mary Wigan’s favorite musical instrument is a gong. Trying to make a dance footloose, independent art, they tried to be free from music, and stated, that they would dance “music of their own bodies”. A dancer from the Russian Empire, Alexander Saharov, which lived and worked in Munich at the beginning of the 20th century, participated in a group of artists “The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter )”, and even danced the pictures - abstract paintings by Wassily Kandinsky. 

So, we come back to the fact any formal definition of a dance is impossible to be given. However, we can try to answer the question “What is dance?” not directly, but based on the contexts it’s included. 

Definitely, dance is a part of the motor culture of humanity. Talking about a motor culture (moving culture), we can delineate the analogy with the visual culture, we are most acquainted with: those are visual figures, which we create, among those we live, - our man-made visual environment. 

The motor culture was much discussed and talked about by Alexey Gastev, one of the founders of so-called “the rationalization of labor” which was developed in the 1920-s. Gastev called the moving culture “a sum of moving habits in the people”, a set of “motor skills and knowledge”. Gastev was a qualified worker at the steel factory, and primarily he meant the culture of working movements. After the revolution, millions of soldiers and peasants came to a city. And Gastev believed that they had to learn the culture of movements, not only the laboring but also some household habits, which were new to them, the habits of city life. 

At that time, in the Soviet Union, they talked about the creation of “a new person”. Moreover, the habit of a new culture of the motor was the real way to create that new person. New branches of science have occurred: biomechanics, the physiology of movements, kinesiology. They all investigated the movement as a physical process: biomechanics - the structure and function of a moving apparatus; physiology - muscle coordination and regulation of movements from the side of a nerves system; kinesiology - practical discipline that applies biomechanics and physiology to the goals of therapy and movement improvements. All in all, it is important not to forget that we are partially indebted to a modern dance for improved health and increased longevity.

Author: Karina N.