Street Dance Essay - Street Dance Essay

In the late 1950s and into the 1960s and 1970s, dance once again mirroredthe changing social climate. Groups and individuals began to question theincreasing formality and codification of modern dance. Just as teenagers rebelledin music and dress, young choreographers declared that theatrical presentationin dance detracted from the pure emotion, while others, who found that theestablished techniques limited access for the nontrained dancer, chose toexplore pedestrian movement such as simple walking, running, and falling. YvonneRanier summarized this movement in her manifesto that began with "No tospectacle, no to virtuosity. …" Happenings and dances avoided logicalinterpretation and embraced both the abstract and the absurd. Communelikegroups sprang up that reflected the social climate of the times: Ranier (GrandUnion), James Cunningham (Acme Dance Co.), Deborah Hay (The Farm), and MeredithMonk (The House). The lives and work of these artists were intertwined andexplored spontaneous novelty and the human being involved with discovery andsocial interaction. The line between life and art began to blur, and the eclectic viewpointsmirrored the increasing complexity of individuality in the changing politicaland social landscape. As the writing of James Joyce and the painting of Rauschenbergchallenged notions of life and art, such artists as Monk incorporated movement,singing, music, and multimedia elements into what became more and more difficultto define as a single art form. Such experimentation brought new importanceto improvisation (including the development of "contact improvisation," based on weight sharing with a partner) and offered a new perspectiveon the role of dance in U.S. society and culture, amid the disruption of socialvalues and the factioning of the political system.

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In 1915 St. Denis and Shawn established the Denishawn School in Los Angeles,developing a style of training and choreography that drew heavily on otherworld cultures for ideas, costumes, and movement motifs and creating exoticthemes while still emphasizing individual expression and vision. Shawn eventuallycreated the first U.S. dance company composed entirely of men, which gainedacclaim here and abroad for its strength and vitality. St. Denis and Shawntrained some of the most influential dancers and choreographers of the first generationof American modern dance, all of whom broke away to create their own personalapproaches.

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Loïe Fuller (1862–1928) brought both a new theatricality andan abstraction to dance, relying on images rather than storyline. SupposedlyFuller found a trunk of long flowing cloth in a garret in London and thuswas inspired to create her swirling, imagistic dances. She experimented withradium, recently discovered by the Curies; new lighting technology; and manipulationof yards of fabric to create solo dances in which she appeared to be engulfedin flames or a glowing butterfly. Maud Allen and others looked to theatrical textsto create movement scenarios based on plays and literature. Just as the UnitedStates was asserting itself on the world scene, these new solo artists emphasizedpersonal expression and individuality. Although Fuller and others often foundmore European support for their new dance, the ideas and the perspectiveswere decidedly American.

Review by Moira Richards. DANCING AT THE DEVIL’S PARTY: ESSAYS ON POETRY, POLITICS, AND THE EROTIC by Alicia Suskin Ostriker. University of Michigan Press
Breaking, also called b-boying/b-girling or breakdancing, is an athletic style of street dance

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Theatrical dance found its way to the colonies in the mid-1700s throughtouring European companies. In 1767 the John Street Theater opened in NewYork, which, along with Philadelphia, became a center of theatrical danceinto the nineteenth century. Unlike Europe, however, there were no formalacademies for training professional theatrical dancers in the colonies. Professionalstage dancers continued to be supplied from the European and Russian danceschools founded under royal patronage. John Durang is considered the first Americantheatrical dancer to win wide recognition. Known mostly for his version ofthe hornpipe, he was a member of the ballet company at the Bowery Theatrein New York around 1827.

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Social dance in the twentieth century was also breaking the rules. Sincethe early 1920s, new freedom in what body parts to move and how to move themhave mirrored changes in social values and attitudes toward the body. Musicwith a Latin, African, or Caribbean influence inspired the cross-fertilizationof dance in clubs and ballrooms with dances such as the Charleston, rumba,tango, samba, and cha-cha. The Harlem Renaissance brought the range of AfricanAmerican dances such as the lindy and jitterbug into the mainstream. The energetic partnerdances of the 1930s and 1940s sought to escape from the Great Depression andWorld War II. As these threats faded dances became more individualistic, withrock and roll and dances such as the twist of the 1960s and later freestyledances such as the frug and the jerk. Disco dancing of the 1970s and street-baseddances of the 1980s (breakdancing, punk, raves, hip-hop) merged to form thesocial dances of the 1990s, incorporating both a personal style and a stronginfluence from the African-based hip-hop style.

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With the threat and disruption of World War I, the arts reflected a radicalquestioning of values and a frantic search for new outlets for individualexpression and a more dynamic way of life. Just as Eugene O'Neill and ElmerRice did in theater and T. S. Eliot did in literature, dancers were searchingfor a new expression of contemporary society, which faced instability in theworld scene, constant social changes, and increased industrialization.