Styles of Dance
“The Dance is an animate composition in Space. Dancing is movement made significant; Technique is used to express Spiritual Content in Intelligible Form” – taken from Endpapers of Martha Graham by Merle Armitage, 1937

Dance is an entertaining art form to watch for anyone who gets the opportunity. It can be a display of raw emotion, beautiful technique, precise movement and wondrous storytelling. But to an outsider, and even some who practice it, it can be tough to distinguish between the styles of dance. This can make it difficult to fully understand and enjoy exactly what a dancer or choreographer is trying to portray.
In this article we hope we can shed some light on what defines a few of the major styles of dance, their history and give you a chance to really appreciate what each particular styles of dance is about and where they have developed from.

Tap Dance

Tap dance is a style of dance with a long history and an instantly recognisable form. Tap dancing is characterised by the often syncopated, percussive sounds made by the dancers as they strike the ground with metal ‘taps’ fitted to the heels and toes of their shoes. The major styles of dance within tap include flamenco, jazz tap, classical tap, Broadway tap and post-modern tap It is believed that tap dance originated from the cultural blend of African, Irish, Scottish and English roots in urban centres of the USA where many different peoples were living closely together, learning from and adapting to the cultures of one another.
Whatever the true origin story of tap, it has continued to evolve as a style of dance over the years. Tap dance gained popularity over the late 19th and into the early 20th centuries. Performers needed to bring something unique to tap dancing in order to get noticed and to remain relevant. Some of these innovations included using comedy (using the body in strange and unconventional ways to fool the eye of the viewer), novelty (using props like jump ropes and staircases), flash (which involved the use of astonishing feats of acrobatics) and class (which presented a dancer in impeccable tuxedos or beautiful, eye-catching dresses).
Class, in addition to many of the other innovations, has remained a staple of tap dancing even to this day; tap dancers will dress in stunningly decorated and dazzlingly embellished outfits that capture the hearts of their viewers even before the dance has begun. It is even practiced among male dancers to embellish parts of their outfit (usually a vest, suspenders or the seams of their pants) with gemstones or rhinestones, although their outfits are generally more subdued than the females.
Including an embellished look that is unique to your routine and style is something that can be notoriously difficult to achieve without professional help; luckily, we at Zahira offer more than just gemstones and rhinestones, we also provide expert advice and embellishment services to match!
No article on tap dance would be complete without a mention of some of the greats to perform the style! Some of the most iconic names of tap include Fred Astaire, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Rita Hayworth and more recently, Savion Glover.

Jazz Dance

Like Tap dance, Jazz dance also has a long history, but it wasn’t until the 50’s that the modern iteration of Jazz as a style of dance started to emerge. Jazz dance really started to develop alongside the music genre of the same name that was being popularised by the big bands of the swing era through the 1930s and 40s. Jazz holds its roots primarily from African American culture and from the traditional Caribbean style of dance. Jazz dance is a fluid style of dance that evolves and adapts as to the era its being practiced in and alongside the popular music of the time.
Jazz dance has also branched out and fused with other styles of dance like hip hop and funk. Many popular performers like Beyonce, Madonna and Lady Gaga have each incorporated elements of Jazz dance into their performances and music videos! The influence of Jazz dance can also be vividly seen on the stage on Broadway. Musicals like Chicago and Cats feature modern Jazz dance heavily and more recently the musicals of Lion King and Wicked have incorporated elements of Jazz dance into their choreography.
A talented performer of Jazz dance has charisma, passion and a real feel for the music he or she is dancing to combined with a powerful execution in order to match the strong and usually regular bassline of the music. Some common identifying elements of Jazz dance include isolating the movement of parts of the body, syncopation (accenting an off-beat of the music), contractions of the torso and a strong feeling of sensuality to the performance.
Like many forms of modern dance, it is common for Jazz dance performers to wear a costume or outfit that matches their routine. Jazz costumes are frequently dazzlingly adorned with the highest quality rhinestones, sequins, gemstones pearls and other embellishments. While it can be tempting to cover yourself in bright and gleaming colours, it is usually beneficial to speak to a professional designer (like us) at Zahira Crystals in order to match the sparkle of your outfit to the sounds and feelings that you wish to create or match.

Lyrical Dance

Beautiful and lesser known in the styles of dance, Lyrical dance includes elements of modern dance, Ballet and Jazz dance as well as acrobatic displays. This style of dance resembles a combination of these but is also an evolution from these styles. It is more fluid and faster than Ballet but not nearly as fast as Jazz dance while still retaining the movements, passion and sensuality of Jazz. Lyrical dance began as an offshoot of the Jazz dance style and was once called “lyrical jazz” until it evolved into its current form. Lyrical dance is quite unique in that it attempts to accentuate a storyline in a song while also creating an emotional connection between the moves of the dance and the lyrics of the song, rather than just the rhythm. It is because of this that lyrical dance is almost always performed to music with lyrics and that music is usually filled with strong emotions like love, despair, joy or anger. Lyrical dance has been performed to a wide range of music genres including hip hop, pop, blues and rock but is most frequently performed to slower, sweet-sounding and more melodic pieces. While lyrical dance is one of the more unique styles of dance, it borrows from and distorts the movements of other styles of dance in order to create the emotions and stories trying to be told or portrayed. This is why a gifted lyrical dance performer will have a solid grounding in the techniques of jazz, ballet and modern dance. Because of the nature of Lyrical dance in trying to powerfully display emotions for an audience, it is important that the body and hence the costume or outfit is also made to match the musical piece and the performance. This means that colour choice and embellishment (rhinestones, gemstone, sequins) placement and use can affect the overall mood that your dancer (or you as a dancer) are trying to impress upon an audience.

Contemporary dance

Contemporary dance is a style that is often misunderstood and described in many different ways. This is because it is essentially a catch-all term that is used by different people and communities in different ways to describe different things. For the purposes of this discussion, I will be using the term to refer to the style of dance that evolved from modern dance and began to be define its current form from the 1970s to now. Modern dance originally evolved from ballet but defined itself as a style all its own. A choreographer named Merce Cunningham (among others) challenged the ideas of formal dance and is often thought of as the father of contemporary dance. The torso was used with much more flexibility in modern dance than ballet, and the floor became a valid place for the whole body to perform movements, instead of just the feet. Modern dance also introduced a lower centre of gravity, with the torso bent and lower knee bends than is found in ballet. Around the start of the 70s, contemporary dance began to emerge and push the boundaries of dance even further. It incorporates elements of modern, lyrical, jazz, ballet and occasionally post-modern structure-less dance, but is distinguished from all of these styles of dance. Contemporary dancers will often train in physical disciplines outside of dance such as tai-chi, capoeira, martial arts, Pilates or yoga so that they can gain a wider range of flexibility, motion and skills. Contemporary dance attempts to push the boundaries, instil emotion and challenge accepted ideas with a performance. As dancers have begun to train in new skills and wider ranges of styles of dance the way this has been achieved has consistently changed over time and continues to evolve. Choreographers use technology, lighting, props and other techniques in order to create a uniqueness to their dancers’ performances. They will also take control of the costumes and how those costumes influence a dancer’s overall performance or the mood of a piece.

Ballet

Ballet is a hugely influential style of dance and has a history that is centuries old. It began as a traditional court dance in Italy, soon spreading through Western Europe more generally and eventually to Russia. One of the most prominent early supporters was the Catherine de Medici of the powerful Medici household of Italy. She was married to King Henry II of France and sponsored several ballet companies to perform for the court. Eventually, opera and ballet came together in France. Because of this, ballet became commonly associated with telling a story through movement, and when the art forms became separated once more ballet remained a style of dance that portrayed a story. Some of the greatest and most recognisable ballets were written in Russia after the style was popularised there in the 19th and into the 20th centuries. These include The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The Rite of Spring and Sleeping Beauty. But ballet is not confined to storytelling. There are also plotless ballets during which dancers attempt to use the movements of their body to interpret a piece of music, to provoke or display emotion, or to create an image. It is possible to characterise ballet into three overarching categories. Classical ballet (the type on display in the Russian stories mentioned above) generally features the iconic pointe work (placing all of a dancers weight on their toes with special ‘pointe’ shoes) with turned out legs, graceful movements, symmetry, and elaborate & stunningly designed and embellished costumes. Dancers will commonly sparkle with high quality gemstones, rhinestones and sequins, like ours Zahira Crystals, to enhance the grace and beauty of the performers. Neo-classical ballet developed almost in response to the original style of classical ballet and was introduced in the 20th century. It is generally at an increased pace to classical, is asymmetrical and unbalanced in form, and generally features distortions of the techniques used in classical ballet. The costumes and sets used in neo-classical ballet are generally much more simplistic, forcing the attention to the movements of the dancers. In contemporary ballet performances it is common to see further distortions of the techniques of classical ballet like turning in of the legs, a greater range of movement and performed lower to the ground. It is not uncommon for contemporary ballet to feature floorwork (performance of movement with the whole body on the floor instead of just the feet). Contemporary ballet will usually also feature pointe shoes, like in classical and neo-classical ballet but not always, sometimes it is performed in bare feet. The costumes and outfits worn in contemporary ballet vary significantly, sometimes dresses will be adorned with brilliant, shining and lustrous rhinestones and gemstones. Other times it is performed in the iconic tutu and still other performances are performed in simple leotard and sweatshirts. The way that a dancer or dancers will be costumed is reflective of the feeling of the piece being danced to or the story being evoked by the movements of the dancers.
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