Musical influences and contributions

by frank-stuart

People have always danced, and every culture throughout the ages has had its own forms of dance. Originally, dance may have formed part of a religious rite, or tribal ceremony – storytelling in the corroborees of Australia’s indigenous people, or the hunting stories of America’s indigenous Indians, for example. Over time, particular styles of dance have become linked with music styles and different cultural groups. Many of today’s contemporary dance styles have evolved hand-in-hand with popular music movements, sometimes linked with political movements.

Historical precursors to today’s popular music

Until the 20th century, popular music tended to be an offshoot of its classical counterparts. For instance, the operettas of the 19th century – precursor to today’s music theatre – were just lighter styles of opera, with spoken dialogue linking musical elements. It wasn’t until the 20th century that a new stream of music making emerged; a style of music created and driven by the people, rather than composers and institutions.

Blues music grew out of gospel music. Small clubs started up, often tucked away in out of the way locations, and a whole generation of singers launched a new kind of music that told stories of their everyday preoccupations. Blues gave rise to rock and roll, jazz, and swing; styles which led to the protest songs of the 60s, which relaxed into what became known as ‘pop’ music from the 70s onward.

Within contemporary popular music, there are now so many genres and sub-genres that it can become very confusing. Even good old rock and roll still exists, although it might be something of a stretch to hear the relationship between the music of Buddy Holly and U2.

Emerging popular dance styles

Popular dance styles developed alongside the music, with some gaining genre status of their own. Some, like swing in the 30s, gained notoriety when it was banned in pre-war Germany. It was seen by the regime as subversive and ‘dangerous’, threatening, it was believed, a more serious society that was more desirable than America’s perceived flippant, consumerist culture.

Rock and roll spawned the jive, which led to the ‘no contact’ dances of the 60s, such as the Twist and the Swim. Early dance movies like Grease, Saturday Night Fever, and Fame re-energised a dancing public. Set dances like The Madison became something that everyone had to know.

Today’s hip-hop, which can be performed solo or in a troupe, is a dance style linked to rap music. Both come from American street culture, and carry a certain amount of anarchic protest within song lyrics and the style of dance.

While it is possibly one of the most popular styles of contemporary dance, it hasn’t developed in isolation. It can be traced back through the history of protest music and corresponding dance movements that have been created by often-disenfranchised groups who have something to say, and choose to do so through music and dance.

Learning more

Understanding the history and cultural origins of contemporary dance styles and the music that let to them can enhance your experience of dance. You can learn more when you study either a Bachelor of Dance Education or a Bachelor of Applied Dance at ACPE.

Visit the ACPE website for more information >


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