Contemporary Dance for Beginners: What Do You Need to Know?

contemporary danceContemporary dance. You’ve probably seen it on famous dance television shows like So You Think You Can Dance or Dancing with the Stars, but do you actually know what contemporary dance is? With roots in several different styles of dance, like ballet, hip hop, and modern dance, contemporary dance emerged in the mid-1900s and quickly became one of the most popular dance styles in the Western world.  If you are interested in any kind of dance, studying contemporary dance for beginners is a great way to master the control over your body you need to improve.

What is Contemporary Dance?

Brought to the forefront of popular culture by dance pioneer Merce Cunningham, contemporary dance changed much of what people thought about dance before it existed. Cunningham did not believe in the importance of the straight line or straightforward narrative in dance, as was so important in ballet and classical styles. Instead, Cunningham’s dance stressed unpredictability, expression, and freedom, while simultaneously maintaining a strong focus on technique.

One important and unique aspect of contemporary dance is that it rejects the importance of the legs that many traditional dance styles stress. Instead, contemporary dance focuses on movement of the torso, which enables much more fluid, languid movement, rather than sharp and pointed movements.

Taking Contemporary Dance Classes

In order to learn contemporary dance for beginners, signing up for an easy class or private lessons is a great first step. Make sure your teacher is equipped to teach beginners – contemporary dance is a progressive art, and advanced classes sometimes require torso moves and other techniques that you need to learn first.  (Need help finding classes and teachers near you? Browse available teachers by zip code on

Studying Ballet

In addition to studying contemporary dance itself, aspiring dancers should also study ballet. The poise, balance, and control required for successful ballet performances make it easier to master contemporary dance. Practice the first five ballet positions at home or with your teacher.

Focus on Choreography

In contemporary dance, choreography is king. A choreographer, who is essentially the “director” of a dance piece, creates and often teaches a dance before it is performed. More so than any other style of dance, the contemporary choreographer controls the creative vision and message of the dance. This also includes the steps in the dance, whether the dance has a narrative or not, and what the general aesthetic of the dance will be.

In order to succeed at contemporary dance, you’ll need to learn how to work with a choreographer. It’s helpful to practice choreographing dances to your favorite music so that you can see the thought process that goes into choreography. You should also be open to new ideas and to accepting the choreographer’s decisions about the dance.

If you’re interested in learning contemporary dance for beginners, the most effective strategy is to work with a dance instructor who can teach you the basics of the style, as well as work with you on the proper technique. Learning from a contemporary dance instructor will ensure that you can execute dance moves correctly.

Finally, be ready to learn. Contemporary dance is not only an excellent way to express yourself artistically and to get to know other dancers and choreographers, but also a great way to get exercise and have fun!


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 Photo by Ed Schipul 

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9 replies
    • Suzy S.
      Suzy S. says:

      Hi there! A dance teacher can help you get started! You can browse through our teachers here: /performing-arts/dance-lessons

  1. Jade Brunet
    Jade Brunet says:

    I was looking to know more about the benefit of dance classes. It is good to know that there are beginner classes for everyone and so nobody is excluded from this art. It would be good to gain skill and endurance through progressive practice. Something to consider would be to stretch even outside of class to improve on flexibility.

  2. Brian Woakes
    Brian Woakes says:

    I am a dance enthusiast. I haven’t seen such a wonderful article regarding contemporary dance form till now. Kudos to you!

  3. Akira Suzuki
    Akira Suzuki says:

    I would love to join contemporary dance but I have no idea of about paying for lessons since my parents don´t know about me wanting to take dance.


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