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History of Modern Dance : Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan, Ruth St Denis/Ted Shawn and Loie Fuller

Year 11




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According to historians, modern dance has two main birthplaces: Europe (Germany specifically) and the United States of America. Although it evolves as a concert dance form, it has no direct roots in any ballet companies, schools or artists. Modern dance emerges as a consequence of its time, alone and outside any academic institution.

Dance Consortium

Isadora Duncan’s first European performance took place in London. By the time she died in a freak accident in 1927 (strangled by her scarf when it caught in the spokes of a car wheel), Isadora had become an international celebrity and her radical notion of a dance form that replaced academic strictures with intuitive inspiration was set to become a central theme of twentieth-century dance.

History of Modern Dance

Modern Dance was born in America during the turn of the 20th century when a number of choreographers and dancers rebelled against the two forms of dance that were prevalent at the time, ballet and vaudeville. They rejected what they interpreted as the rigid and imperialistic nature of ballet, and they wanted to be taken seriously as artists rather than be seen simply as entertainers.


In this program, such dance historians, modern dance instructors, and choreographers as Judith Lynne Hanna, Michelle Burkhart, Paul Emerson, Nancy Reynolds, and Dana Tai Soon Burgess trace the evolution of modern dance and postmodern dance. They discuss the influence of early modern dance pioneers, the experimentation in ballet, the foundations of modern dance, the second generation of modern dance, new directions for modern dance, and the growth of modern dance education. The featured experts also and consider the challenges facing contemporary modern dance. The DVD explores the influences of such founding modern dance pioneers as Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham and highlight factors that contributed to the growth and development of modern dance in the U.S.

A brief discussion of Contemporary Dance

The first of a series of videos that will educate viewers about who Isadora Duncan was and the dances she choreographed. The series will teach about Isadora Duncan's dance technique and demonstrate the themes about which she danced. Isadora Duncan's choreography as danced by Isadora will be used to demonstrate the technique and the inspiration behind Isadora Duncan's work. As it evolves, the series will elaborate on Isadora Duncan's legacy in the modern dances of today and the work that Isadora does to continue that legacy.

Early film short. Color tinted black & white

Emily gives another great history lesson of another modern dance pioneer.


Covers Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis & Ted Shaw to Martha Graham & Doris Humphrey.

History of Modern Dance

Move Through Dance

To understand ‘contemporary dance’, it’s helpful to know where it came from.  Originally starting as a reaction against the strict rules and regulations of ballet, contemporary dance began in the late 19th century with artists like Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis, and later Ted Shawn, Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey.  At the time, these emerging choreographers and the dances they created were known as ‘modern dance’.

Martha Graham

TIME magazine named Martha Graham “Dancer of the Century,” and People magazine named her among the female “Icons of the Century.” As a choreographer, she was as prolific as she was complex. Graham created 181 ballets and a dance technique that has been compared to ballet in its scope and magnitude. Her approach to dance and theater revolutionized the art form and her innovative physical vocabulary has irrevocably influenced dance worldwide.