Modern dance is a form of dance which focuses on the serious expression of inner emotions, using a free-flowing, interpretive style, rather than following the rigid rules characteristic of many dance disciplines. When modern dance first developed at the turn of the 20th century, it was considered extremely radical and iconoclastic; over the years since, modern dance has become more closely mingled with other disciplines like jazz dance, ballet, and tap, and some dancers work in both modern and classical dance styles, drawing techniques from both.
The turn of the 20th century was a generally iconoclastic era, as life in Europe and the United States underwent some dramatic shifts. Industrialism was on the rise, many nations participated in the First World War, and society was rapidly changing. As the rules of life shifted underfoot, some dancers began to feel that the formal rules of classical ballet were too restricting, and they began to develop their own style of free-flowing dance, which came to be known as “modern” dance, to differentiate it from classical ballet.
In a modern dance performance, the dancer is often barefoot, or wearing soft shoes. He or she moves in a free, almost improvisational style, and it is common to see controlled falls and other interesting interplays of body weight and gravity. Unlike ballet, which reaches for the stars with leaps and high kicks, this style of dance often lingers near the ground, especially in a piece heavily influenced by psychology and intense emotional states.
Some famous figures in modern dance include Ruth St Denis, Martha Graham, and Isadora Duncan. Each of these women developed her own distinctive style, choreographing dances which were personal expressions, in addition to performances. Some of the dances choreographed by these women continue to be formed, along with new modern compositions and dances composed by other prominent performers in the field.
At the close of the 20th century, many dance forms began to intermingle, rather than remaining strictly separate. It is not uncommon for a modern dancer to have classical training, and dance sometimes appears in staged productions and films, when the artistic vision behind the piece calls for it. The flowing movements and dramatic appearance of modern dance also sometimes cross over to the ballet stage, bringing a note of seriousness to ballet performance.