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Choreography Styles Essay


Dance is a type of art that generally involves movement of the body, often rhythmic and to music. It is performed in many cultures as a form of emotional expression, social interaction, or exercise, in a spiritual or performance setting, and is sometimes used to express ideas or tell a story. Dance may also be regarded as a form of nonverbal communication between humans or other animals, as in bee dances and behaviour patterns such as a mating dances. Definitions of what constitutes dance can depend on social and cultural norms andaesthetic, artistic and moral sensibilities. Definitions may range from functional movement (such as folk dance) to virtuoso techniques such as ballet. Martial arts kataare often compared to dances, and sports such as gymnastics, figure skating andsynchronized swimming are generally thought to incorporate dance.

In some cases, themotion of ordinarily inanimate objects may be described as dance (the leaves danced in the wind). There are many styles and genres of dance. African dance is interpretative. Ballet,ballroom and tango are classical dance styles. Square dance and electric slide are forms of step dance, and breakdancing is a type of street dance. Dance can beparticipatory, social, or performed for an audience. It can also be ceremonial,competitive or erotic. Dance movements may be without significance in themselves, as in ballet or European folk dance, or have a gestural vocabulary or symbolic meaning as in some Asian dances. Choreography is the art of creating dances. The person who creates (i.e., choreographs) a dance is known as the choreographer.


Ballet is a type of performance dance that originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century and later developed into a concert dance form in France and Russia. It has since become a widespread, highly technical form of dance with its own vocabulary. It has been globally influential and has defined the foundational techniques used in many other dance genres. Ballet may also refer to a ballet dance work, which consists of thechoreography and music for a ballet production. A well-known example of this is The Nutcracker, a two-act ballet that was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a music score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Stylistic variations have emerged and evolved since the Italian Renaissance. Early variations are primarily associated with geographic origin.

Examples of this are Russian ballet, French ballet, and Italian ballet. Later variations include contemporary ballet and neoclassical ballet. Perhaps the most widely known and performed ballet style is late Romantic ballet (or Ballet Blanc), which is a classical style that focuses on female dancers and features pointe work, flowing and precise acrobatic movements, and often presents the female dancers in traditional, short white French tutus. Ballet dance works (ballets) are choreographed and performed by trained artists, and often performed with classical music accompaniment.

Early ballets preceded the invention of theproscenium stage and were performed in large chambers with the audience seated on tiers or galleries on three sides of the dance floor. Modern ballets may include mime and acting, and are usually set to music (typically orchestral but occasionally vocal). Ballet requires years of training to learn and master, and much practice to retain proficiency. It has been taught in ballet schools around the world, which have historically used their own cultures to evolve the art. Ballet is the foundation of many types of dance.


The word ballet comes from the French and was borrowed into English around 1630. The French word in turn has its origin in Italianballetto, a diminutive of ballo (dance) which comes from Latin ballo, ballare, meaning “to dance”,[1][2] which in turn comes from theGreek “βαλλίζω” (ballizo), “to dance, to jump about”.[3][4]


The history of ballet began in the Italian Renaissance courts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It quickly spread to the French court of Catherine de’ Medici where it was further developed. The creation of classical ballet as it is known today occurred under Louis XIV, who in his youth was an avid dancer and performed in ballets by Pierre Beauchamp and Jean-Baptiste Lully. In 1661 Louis founded the Académie Royale de Danse (Royal Dance Academy) which was charged with establishing standards for the art of dance and the certification of dance instructors. In 1672, following his retirement from the stage, Louis XIV made Lully the director of the Académie Royale de Musique (Paris Opera) in which the first professional ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet, arose.[5]

This origin is reflected in the predominance of French in the vocabulary of ballet. Despite the great reforms of Jean-Georges Noverre in the eighteenth century, ballet went into decline in France after 1830, though it was continued in Denmark, Italy, and Russia. It was reintroduced to western Europe on the eve of the First World War by a Russian company, the Ballets Russes ofSergei Diaghilev, who ultimately influenced ballet around the world. Diaghilev’s company became a destination for many of the Russian-trained dancers fleeing the famine and unrest that followed the Bolshevik revolution. These dancers brought back to their place of origin many of the choreographic and stylistic innovations that had been flourishing under the czars. In the 20th century, ballet had a strong influence on broader concert dance.

For example, in the United States, choreographer George Balanchine developed what is now known as neoclassical ballet. Subsequent developments include contemporary ballet and post-structural ballet, seen in the work of William Forsythe in Germany. Also in the twentieth century, ballet took a turn dividing it[clarification needed] from classical ballet to the introduction of modern dance, leading to modernist movements[clarification needed] in both the United States and Germany.[6]

Classical ballet

Classical ballet is based on traditional ballet technique and vocabulary. There are different styles of classical ballet that are related to their areas of origin, such as French ballet, Italian ballet and Russian ballet. Several of the classical ballet styles are associated with specific training methods, which are typically named after their creators. For example, the Cecchetti method is named after its creator, Italian dancer Enrico Cecchetti.

Neoclassical ballet
Main article: Neoclassical ballet

Neoclassical ballet is a ballet style that conforms to classical ballet technique and vocabulary, but deviates from classical ballet through such differences as unusually fast dance tempos and its addition of non-traditional technical feats. Spacing in neoclassical ballet is usually more modern or complex[clarify] than in classical ballet. Although organization[further explanation needed] in neoclassical ballet is more varied, the focus on structure[clarify] is a defining characteristic of neoclassical ballet. Tim Scholl, author of From Petipa to Balanchine, considers George Balanchine’s Apollo in 1928 to be the first neoclassical ballet.

Apollo represented a return to form in response to Sergei Diaghilev’s abstract ballets.[clarification needed] Balanchine worked with modern dance choreographer Martha Graham, expanding his exposure to modern techniques and ideas, and he brought modern dancers into his company (New York City Ballet) such as Paul Taylor, who in 1959 performed in Balanchine’sEpisodes. During this time period[when?], Glen Tetley began to experimentally combine ballet and modern techniques.

Contemporary ballet
Main article: Contemporary ballet

Contemporary ballet is a form of dance influenced by both classical ballet and modern dance. It employs the fundamental technique and body control (using abdominal strength) principles of classical ballet but permits a greater range of movement than classical ballet and may not adhere to the strict body lines or turnout that permeate classical ballet technique. Many of its concepts come from the ideas and innovations of 20th century modern dance, including floor work and turn-in of the legs. This ballet style is often performed barefoot. George Balanchine is often considered to have been the first pioneer of contemporary ballet through the development of neoclassical ballet. One dancer who danced briefly for Balanchine was Mikhail Baryshnikov, an exemplar of Kirov Ballet training. Following Baryshnikov’s appointment as artistic director of American Ballet Theatre in 1980, he worked with various modern choreographers, most notably Twyla Tharp.

Tharp choreographed Push Comes To Shove for ABT and Baryshnikov in 1976; in 1986 she created In The Upper Room for her own company. Both these pieces were considered innovative for their use of distinctly modern movements melded with the use of pointe shoes and classically trained dancers—for their use of contemporary ballet. Twyla Tharp also worked with the Joffrey Ballet company, founded in 1957 by Robert Joffrey. She choreographed Deuce Coupe for them in 1973, using pop music and a blend of modern and ballet techniques. The Joffrey Ballet continued to perform numerous contemporary pieces, many choreographed by co-founder Gerald Arpino.

Today there are many contemporary ballet companies and choreographers. These include Alonzo King and his company, Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet; Complexions Contemporary Ballet, under the direction of Dwight Rhoden; Nacho Duato’s Compañia Nacional de Danza;William Forsythe, who has worked extensively with the Frankfurt Ballet and today runs The Forsythe Company; and Jiří Kylián, currently the artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater. Traditionally “classical” companies, such as the Kirov Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet, also regularly perform contemporary works.


The cotillion is a type of patterned social dance that originated in France in the 18th century. It was originally made up of four couples in a square formation, the forerunner of thequadrille; in the United States the square dance, where the “figures” are called aloud by the caller, is a form of rural contredanse that also descended from the urban cotillion. Its name, from French cotillon, “petticoat”, reflected the flash of petticoats as the changing partners turned. The cotillion, of repeated “figures” interspersed with “changes” of different figures to different music,[1] was one of many contredanses where the gathered participants were able to introduce themselves and to flirt with other dancers through the exchange of partners within the formation network of the dance.

By the 19th century, the cotillion evolved to include more couples with many complex dance figures. In British usage, cotillion has disappeared, save in French or historical contexts.[2] Cotillions were introduced in London about 1766[3] by French dancing masters. They came to America in about 1772. There is a reference to a dance in the French manner, implying a ‘cotillon’, in John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera of 1728, where the low-life characters of London dance in imitation of the fashions of the wealthy.

[4] There is also a reference in Robert Burns’s 1790 poem, Tam o’ Shanter, where upon seeing a group of witches and warlocks dancing they are described to the reader as “Nae cotillion brent-new frae France”. A German cotillion, in contemporary accounts, was reintroduced to New York society at a costume ball with a Louis XV theme given by Mr William Colford Schermerhorn in the early winter of 1854.[5] The Philippine Debut incorporates a “Grand Cotillion Dance” which is usually a classic waltz.

Contra dance

Contra dance (also contradance, contra-dance and other variant spellings) refers to several partnered folk dance styles in which couples dance in two facing lines. Sometimes described as New England folk dance, contra dances can be found around the world, though they are especially popular in North America.


At the end of the 17th century, English country dances were taken up by French dancers; hybrid choreographies exist from this period using the steps from French court dance inEnglish dances. The French called these dances contra-dance or contredanse. As time progressed, English country dances were spread and reinterpreted throughout the Western world, and eventually the French form of the name came to be associated with the American folk dances, especially in New England (this Gallicized name change may have followed a contemporary misbelief that the form was originally French).[1][2] Contra dances were fashionable in the United States until the early to mid-19th century, when they were supplanted in popularity by square dances (such as the quadrille andlancers) and couple dances (such as the waltz and polka). By the late 19th century, square dances too had fallen out of favor, except in rural areas. When squares were revived (around 1925 to 1940, depending on the region), contra dances were generally not included. In the 1930s and 1940s, contra dances appear to have been done only in small towns in widely scattered parts of northeastern North America, such as Ohio, the Maritime provinces of Canada,[3] and particularly northern New England.

Ralph Page almost single-handedly maintained the New England tradition until it was revitalized in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly by Ted Sannella and Dudley Laufman. By then, early dance camps, retreats, and weekends had emerged, such as Pinewoods Camp, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which became primarily a music and dance camp in 1933,[4] and NEFFA, the New England Folk Festival, also in Massachusetts, which began in 1944.[5] These and others continue to be popular and some offer other dancing and activities besides contra dancing. In the 1970s, Sannella and other callers introduced movements from English Country Dance, such as heys and gypsies, to the contra dances.

[6] New dances, such as Shadrack’s Delight by Tony Parkes, featured symmetrical dancing by all couples. (Previously, the actives and inactives —see Progression below— had significantly different roles). Double progression dances, popularized by Herbie Gaudreau,[7] added to the aerobic nature of the dances, and one caller, Gene Hubert, wrote a quadruple progression dance, Contra Madness. Becket formation was introduced, with partners next to each other in the line instead of opposite. The Brattleboro Dawn Dance started in 1976, and continues to run semiannually.[8][9] In the early 1980s, Tod Whittemore started the first Saturday dance in the Peterborough Town House, which remains one of the more popular regional dances.[10]

As musicians and callers moved to other locations, they founded contra dances in Michigan, Washington, California, Texas, and elsewhere. Gender-free contra dancing started in the 1970s, with the Boston Lesbian and Gay Folk Dance as perhaps the first group regularly contra dancing without gender roles. In 1981, a group in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, called “Les be Gay and Dance” was started, in which contra dance was done without any reference to gender, avoiding calling moves with any reference to “ladies” or “gents.” In 1987, Chris Ricciotti started a gay dance group in Providence, RI, using the terms “ladies” and “gents” although dancers were not lining up according to gender.

Other gender-free dance groups started up in the area after that, and in 1989, at the gender-free dance group in Jamaica Plain, MA, a group of dancers led by Janet Dillon protested the use of these terms, and the armband system was devised: the traditionally male-role dancers would wear armbands and be called “armbands” or just “bands,” and the traditionally female-role dancers would be called “bare arms” or just “bares.”[11] The Lavender Country and Folk Dancers organization now serves as an umbrella organization for dances in Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, and California. Gender-free philosophy can be used almost anywhere conventional traditional dances are currently being held. It is useful for community dances where “keeping on the correct side” is difficult because of a large gender imbalance, for children’s dances and for groups who want to add a little variety and a creative learning experience to their traditional dance venue.

Contra dances are arranged in long paired lines of couples. A pair of lines is called a set. Sets are generally arranged so they run the length of the hall, with the top or head of the set being the end closest to the band and caller. Correspondingly, the bottom or foot of the set is the end farthest from the caller. Couples consist of two people, traditionally but not necessarily one male and one female, referred to as the gent, gentleman or man, and lady or woman. Couples interact primarily with an adjacent couple for each round of the dance. Each sub-group of two interacting couples is known to choreographers as aminor set and to dancers as a foursome or hands four. Couples in the same minor set are neighbors.

Minor sets originate at the head of the set, starting with the topmost dancers as the 1’s (the active couple or actives); the other couple are 2’s (or inactives). The 1’s are said to be above their neighboring 2’s; 2’s are below. If there is an uneven number of couples dancing, the bottom-most couple will wait out the first time through the dance. There are three common ways of arranging dancers in the minor sets: proper formation, improper formation, and Becket formation. There are many additional forms a contra dance may take. Five of them are: triple minor, triplet, indecent, four-face-four, and whole-set. (For diagrams and full descriptions, see Contra Dance Form main article.)


A fundamental aspect of contra dancing is that the same dance, one time through which lasts roughly 30 seconds, is repeated over and over – but each time you dance with new neighbors. This change is effected by progressing the 1’s down the set and progressing the 2’sup (also up the hall and down the hall; see Contra Dance Form main article for full characterizations of the progression in the eight dance forms mentioned above). A single dance runs around ten minutes, long enough to progress 15-20 times. If the sets are short to medium length the caller will often try to run the dance until each couple has danced with every other couple both as a 1 and a 2 and returned to where they started. With longer sets (more than ~40 people) this would require long enough sets that the caller will usually only run the dance all the way around on (rare) non equal-turn dances.

Main article: Contra dance choreography

Contra dance choreography specifies the dance formation, the figures, and the sequence of those figures in a dance. Notably, contra dance figures (with a few exceptions) do not have defined footwork; within the limits of the music and the comfort of their fellow dancers, individuals move according to their own taste. Most contra dances consist of a sequence of about six to 12 individual figures, prompted by the caller in time to the music as the figures are danced. As the sequence repeats, the caller may cut down his or her prompting, and eventually drop out, leaving the dancers to each other and the music. A figure is a pattern of movement that typically takes eight counts, although figures with four or 16 counts are also common. Each dance is a collection of figures assembled to allow the dancers to progress along the set (see “Progression,” above). A count (as used above) is one half of a musical measure, such as one quarter note in 2/4 time or three eighth notes in 6/8 time.

A count may also be called a step, as contra dance is a walking form, and each count of a dance typically matches a single physical step in a figure. Typical contra dance choreography comprises four parts, each 16 counts (8 measures) long. The parts are called A1, A2, B1 and B2. This nomenclature stems from the music: Most contra dance tunes (as written) have two parts (A and B), each 8 measures long, and each fitting one part of the dance. The A and B parts are each played twice in a row, hence, A1, A2, B1, B2. While the same music is generally played in, for example, parts A1 and A2, distinct choreography is followed in those parts. Thus, a contra dance is typically 64counts, and goes with a 32 measure tune. Tunes of this form are called “square”; tunes that deviate from this form are called “crooked”. Sample contra dances:[18]

* Traditional – the actives do most of the movement
Chorus Jig (Proper duple minor)

A1 (16) Actives down the outside and back. [The inactives stand still or substitute a swing] A2 (16) Actives down the center, turn individually, come back, and cast off. [The inactives stand still for the first 3/4, take a step up the hall, and then participate in the cast] B1 (16) Actives turn contra corners. [The inactives participate in half the turns] B2 (16) Actives meet in the middle for a balance and swing, end swing facing up. [The inactives stand still] Note: inactives will often clog in place or otherwise participate in the dance, even though the figures do not call for them to move.

* Modern – the dance is symmetrical for actives and inactives Hay in the Barn by Chart Guthrie (Improper duple minor)

A1 (16) Neighbors balance and swing.
A2 (8) Ladies chain across, (8) Half hey, ladies pass right shoulders to start. B1 (16) Partners balance and swing.
B2 (8) Ladies chain across, (8) Half hey, ladies pass right shoulders to start. Many modern contra dances have these characteristics[19]:
* longways for as many as will
* first couples improper, or Becket formation
* flowing choreography
* no-one stationary for more than 16 beats (e.g. First Couple Balance & Swing, finish facing down to make Lines of Four) * containing at least one swing and normally both a partner swing and a neighbour swing * 95% of the moves from a set of well-know moves that the dancers know already * comprised mostly of moves that keep you connected to the other dancers * generally danced to 32 bar jigs or reels played at between 110 and 130 bpm * danced with a smooth walk with lots of spins and twirls An event which consists primarily (or solely) of dances in this style is sometimes referred to as a Modern Urban Contra Dance.


The most common contra dance repertoire is rooted in the Anglo-Celtic tradition as it developed in North America. Irish, Scottish,French Canadian, and Old-time tunes are common, and Klezmer tunes have also been used. The old-time repertoire includes very few of the jigs common in the others. Tunes used for a contra dance are nearly always “square” 64-beat tunes, in which one time through the tune is each of two 16-beat parts played twice (this is notated AABB). However, any 64-beat tune will do; for instance, three 8-beat parts could be played AABB AACC, or two 8-beat parts and one 16-beat part could be played AABB CC. Tunes not 64 beats long are called “crooked” and are almost never used for contra dancing, although a few crooked dances have been written as novelties. Until the 1970s it was traditional to play a single tune for the duration of a contra dance (about 5 to 10 minutes). Since then, contra dance musicians have typically played tunes in sets of two or three related (and sometimes contrasting) tunes, though single-tune dances are again becoming popular with some northeastern bands.

In the Celtic repertoires it is common to change keys with each tune. A set might start with a tune in G, switch to a tune in D, and end with a tune in Bm. Here, D is related to G as its dominant (5th), while D and Bm (dorian) share a key signature of two sharps. In the old-time tradition the musicians will either play the same tune for the whole dance, or switch to tunes in the same key. This is because the tunings of the banjo are key-specific. An old-time band might play a set of tunes in D, then use the time between dances to retune for a set of tunes in A. (Fiddlers also may take this opportunity to retune; tune- or key-specific fiddle tunings are uncommon in American Anglo-Celtic traditions other than old-time.) In the Celtic repertoires it is most common for bands to play sets of reels and sets of jigs.

However, since the underlying beat structure of jigs and reels is the same (two “counts” per bar) bands will occasionally mix jigs and reels in a set. In recent years, younger contra dancers have begun establishing “crossover contra” or “techno contra” – contra dancing to techno, hip-hop, and other modern forms of music. While challenging for DJs and callers, the fusion of contra patterns with moves from hip-hop, tango, and other forms of dance has made this form of contra dance a rising trend since 2008; it has become especially prevalent in Asheville, NC, but regular techno contra dance series are spreading up the East Coast to locales such as Charlottesville, VA, Washington, DC, Amherst, MA, and Greenfield, MA, with one-time or annual events cropping up in locations further West, including California and Washington state.

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