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Mastering the Art of Contemporary Dance: A Guide to the Basics

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As the world of dance continues to evolve with contemporary styles, many have become perplexed by the beauty and complexity of this art form. Contemporary dance embodies a fusion of various techniques and styles, which can be intimidating for beginners. However, with the right guidance and understanding, anyone can grasp the basic techniques and moves of contemporary dance. In this article, we will break down the fundamental aspects of contemporary dance, including alignment, release, contractions, and floor-work. Additionally, we will highlight some of the most common and essential moves in contemporary dance, such as pivot turns, leaps and jumps, extensions and lines, and partner work. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned dancer, let’s delve into the world of contemporary dance and discover the techniques and moves that make it so captivating.


As we delve deeper into the world of contemporary dance, it is important to understand the fundamental techniques that underlie this dance form. Contemporary dance is known for its fluidity, expressiveness and versatility, and its techniques are focused on achieving those qualities. In this section, we will explore the basic techniques of contemporary dance, including alignment, release, contractions, and floor-work. Understanding and mastering these techniques is essential for any dancer looking to excel in contemporary dance. So let’s get started! And for those interested in further exploring the world of contemporary dance, be sure to check out our piece on the history and evolution of contemporary dance.

1. Alignment

Alignment is one of the fundamental techniques in contemporary dance. Proper alignment enhances the body’s ability to perform movements with ease and grace. Alignment includes three important aspects, namely, proper posture, weight distribution, and balance.

Proper posture is an essential element that affects the overall alignment of the body. The spine should be lengthened, and the shoulders should be relaxed to achieve proper posture. The ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles should align vertically when standing straight.

Weight distribution refers to the way the body’s weight is distributed between the feet when standing. The weight should be evenly distributed on both feet, with the feet hip-width apart. This enables the dancer to maintain balance, stability and control when performing movements.

Balance is the ability to maintain the body’s equilibrium while standing still or in motion. In contemporary dance, balance is key to executing movements with grace and fluidity. Dancers must learn to center their weight, maintaining their balance in one spot before moving onto the next step.

All three aspects of alignment are interconnected and necessary for effective dancing. When one aspect is compromised, it could affect the entire body’s performance, leading to injuries or difficulty executing movements.

It is crucial to maintain proper alignment when dancing to prevent discomfort or injury. Maintaining proper posture, weight distribution, and balance enables the dancer to execute movements with ease and efficiency. As dancers progress, they learn to control and manipulate their alignment to create new and innovative movements.

  • Proper posture
  • Weight distribution
  • Balance

While learning contemporary dance, it is crucial to focus on three main aspects of technique, which include proper posture, weight distribution, and balance.

Proper posture refers to the correct alignment of the body while dancing. It involves keeping the head, neck, and spine in a straight line, with the shoulders relaxed and the chest slightly lifted. The core muscles should be engaged, and the hips and pelvis should be level. This will help with stability and prevent strain or injury.

Weight distribution is also essential. Dancers need to understand how to shift their weight to different parts of the body to create different movements and shapes. They should be mindful of where their weight is centered and how to distribute it evenly throughout their body. This will help with balance and control.

Balance is critical in contemporary dance. Dancers must learn how to find balance while shifting their weight or moving their limbs. They should practice exercises that help them improve their balance, such as standing on one leg or holding a position while moving their arms or legs. This will allow them to create fluid and graceful movements.

Contemporary dance is a dance form that values individuality, creativity, and self-expression. Learning the correct techniques will help dancers get started and develop a strong foundation for exploring their own movement style.

2. Release

The Release technique is a fundamental aspect of contemporary dance that involves letting go of tension and allowing the body to move freely. This technique can be broken down into three main elements: tension and relaxation, breathing, and flow.

Tension and relaxation: Practicing tension and relaxation helps dancers become more aware of their body and the way they hold tension. Dancers will often work through different parts of their body, tensing them up and then releasing the tension, and feeling the difference in how it affects their movements.

Breathing: Incorporating proper breathing into dance movements can help improve control over the body, as well as contribute to overall physical and mental well-being. It is vital to take slow, deep breaths throughout a routine, allowing oxygen to flow to the muscles and reduce tension.

Flow: The movement of a dancer’s body in contemporary dance should be fluid, smooth, and unhurried. This technique allows one movement to flow and blend seamlessly into the next, creating a mesmerizing performance for the audience.

The Release technique is a significant aspect of many contemporary dance styles and is used by dancers of all levels. It enables dancers to connect more fully with their emotions and inner selves, which helps them express themselves through their movements.

To learn more about the techniques and moves of contemporary dance, check out our tips for beginners or consider taking a class or workshop. Additionally, gaining knowledge about the history of contemporary dance and the contributions of famous choreographers can give dancers greater insight into the intricacies of the art form.

  • Tension and relaxation
  • Breathing
  • Flow

When it comes to the release technique in contemporary dance, there are three important aspects: tension and relaxation, breathing, and flow. Tension and relaxation are key to achieving the fluidity and freedom of movement that characterizes contemporary dance. Dancers are trained to isolate and control tension in specific areas of the body while relaxing others, creating a sense of contrast and dynamic motion.

The role of breathing in contemporary dance cannot be understated. Proper breathing helps dancers connect with their bodies and maintain a steady flow of movement. Shallow, irregular breathing can result in tension in the body and a lack of grace in movement. By focusing on deep, intentional breathing, dancers can improve their control and expressivity.

Finally, flow is the overarching goal of the release technique. Dancers aim to create seamless, organic movement that appears effortless and spontaneous. Achieving this level of fluidity requires a deep understanding of tension and relaxation as well as breath control.

To improve their skills in the release technique, dancers should focus on these three aspects in their training. They can also explore other related techniques such as improvisation, which encourages dancers to connect with their bodies and express themselves freely. You can learn more about improvisation in contemporary dance by clicking on this link. By prioritizing these elements and committing to regular practice, dancers can develop their abilities and deepen their appreciation for the unique art form of contemporary dance.

3. Contractions

Contemporary dance is a popular genre that incorporates a range of different techniques and movements. Contractions are one of the key techniques used in contemporary dance. These movements involve the contraction of the abdominal muscles, which produces a strong and dynamic movement.

There are several different types of contractions that are commonly used in contemporary dance, including the flat back contraction, the rolled contraction, and the release contraction. Each of these contractions creates a unique movement that can be used to convey different emotions and themes.

In addition to the different types of contractions, dancers also use isolations to create a more complex movement. This involves moving only one part of the body while keeping the rest of the body still. Isolations can be used to add depth and texture to a dance routine.

Another important aspect of contractions in contemporary dance is sharpness. This refers to the crisp and precise execution of the contraction movement. By emphasizing the sharpness of the movement, dancers can create a powerful and dramatic effect.

Contractions are an important technique used in contemporary dance that can help to create dynamic and captivating movements. If you are interested in learning more about contemporary dance techniques, consider taking a dance class or workshop. To learn more about the history and benefits of contemporary dance, check out our article on the history of contemporary dance and our article on the benefits of contemporary dance for the mind and body.

  • Types of contractions
  • Isolations
  • Sharpness

Types of Contractions

In contemporary dance, contractions refer to the tightening and releasing of muscles in the body. There are several types of contractions that a dancer must master:

1. Concentric contractions
Concentric contractions happen when the muscles shorten while generating force. This type of contraction is commonly used in jumps and lifts.

2. Eccentric contractions
Eccentric contractions happen when the muscles lengthen while generating force. This type of contraction is used to control movements while lowering down from a jump or lift.

3. Isometric contractions
Isometric contractions happen when the muscles generate force but there is no change in muscle length. This is often used to maintain stability and balance.


Isolations refer to the ability to move a single body part independently from the rest of the body. This technique is often used to create sharp and precise movements, as well as fluid and seamless transitions between different movements.


Sharpness refers to the precise and sudden movements of the body. This technique is often used to create tension and contrast in contemporary dance choreography.

It is important to note that these techniques and moves should be explored and analyzed in the context of a larger contemporary dance piece. Various elements such as music, costumes, lighting, and cultural influences can also play a role in the overall performance. For more information on these aspects, please refer to famous choreographers’ contributions to contemporary dance, exploring cultural influences in contemporary dance, choosing music for contemporary dance, contemporary dance as self-expression, and the role of costumes and lighting in contemporary dance performance.

4. Floor-work

Floor-work is an essential part of contemporary dance, wherein dancers move fluidly and gracefully on the floor. It requires a lot of strength, control, and flexibility. Here are some basic floor-work techniques that dancers must master:

  • Crawling: Moving on hands and knees along the floor, using core strength and maintaining balance. This is often used to transition from one move to another.
  • Rolling: Rolling over the back, hips, shoulders, or head while keeping the body aligned and the movement controlled. This is an effective way to create fluidity and flow in a choreography.
  • Levitation: Using the floor as a base for propelling the body into the air, with controlled movements and landings. This involves lifting and pushing off the floor with either one or both legs, to create a sense of weightlessness.

Floor-work movements require a lot of strength and control from the dancer, often utilizing the entire body. It is also important to maintain proper alignment while performing these techniques to avoid injury and create a clean, visually appealing movement. Dancers must focus on building core strength and increasing flexibility to execute the movements gracefully.

Incorporating floor-work in a choreography can add depth and texture to a performance. With practice and discipline, a dancer can express themselves and convey emotions through controlled movements that are artistic, engaging and captivating to an audience.

  • Crawling
  • Rolling
  • Levitation

When it comes to contemporary dance, floor-work movements are an essential element of the style. These moves can add a unique quality to a routine, and being able to execute them well requires a lot of practice and dedication. Some of the most commonly used floor-work moves in contemporary dance include crawling, rolling, and levitation.

Crawling in contemporary dance can involve using different parts of the body to glide along the floor. Dancers might use their hands and knees, elbows and knees, or even use their entire body to crawl. The key to performing this move well is to keep your weight centered and use your strength to push and pull your body across the floor. You can also incorporate sweeping arm movements and foot positions to create more interesting and complex crawling patterns.

Rolling is another floor-work move that is commonly used in contemporary dance. It involves using the body to roll along the ground, either on the back or the stomach. Dancers might initiate the roll from a standing position or from a crouched position on the floor. To execute the move well, dancers need to use their core muscles to control the roll and make it smooth and fluid. They might also incorporate arm and leg movements to add style and grace to the move.

Levitation is a floor-work movement that involves using the body to lift off the ground and hover in the air momentarily. The move can be performed in a variety of ways, such as using one leg as a pivot point or using the arms to lift the body upwards. The key to performing this move well is to use your strength and control to lift and hold the body in the air for as long as possible.

Incorporating floor-work moves like crawling, rolling, and levitation into a contemporary dance routine can add a new level of complexity and interest to the performance. With practice and dedication, dancers can master these moves and create dynamic and captivating routines.


As contemporary dance continues to evolve, so do the moves and techniques that define it. In this section, we will explore some of the most common and essential moves in contemporary dance. From pivot turns to lifts and carries, each of these moves requires dedication, practice, and a willingness to push beyond one’s limits. So, let’s delve into the world of contemporary dance moves, and discover how they can be mastered and integrated into your own unique dance style.

1. Pivot turns

When it comes to contemporary dance, pivot turns are an important part of the vocabulary of movement. Pivot turns allow the dancer to quickly and effortlessly change directions, making it an essential technique for creating dynamic sequences. Below are some key elements to consider when learning and executing pivot turns:

Position Explanation
Parallel and turned-out positions Before executing a pivot turn, you must first determine if you want to start in parallel or turned-out position. Parallel is when the feet are side by side, pointing forward. Turned-out is when the feet rotate from the hip socket to point away from each other.
Spotting Spotting is a technique used to prevent dizziness when turning. It involves focusing your gaze on a specific point and quickly whipping your head around to catch the same point again. This technique helps the dancer maintain visual control and balance.
Weight transfer In order to execute a pivot turn, the dancer must shift their weight from one foot to the other. The pivot turn requires a quick weight transfer as the dancer twists and turns, so proper weight distribution is key to maintain balance.

By mastering the key elements of pivot turns, dancers are able to create seamless and dynamic movement sequences that keep the audience engaged. Remember to practice regularly, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you.

  • Parallel and turned-out positions
  • Spotting
  • Weight transfer

In contemporary dance, pivot turns are a popular and essential move that require proper technique to execute gracefully. One important aspect is understanding the two positions: parallel and turned-out. In parallel position, the feet are lined up next to each other, while in turned-out position, the heels are together but the toes point outward in opposite directions. It is important to maintain correct alignment and turnout throughout the turn to prevent injury and improve balance.

Another important technique for pivot turns is spotting. This involves keeping the head and eyes fixed on a specific spot while the body turns. This helps to reduce dizziness and maintain balance throughout multiple turns. As the body completes the turn and returns to face the starting position, the head and eyes are quickly whipped around to refocus on the fixed spot.

Lastly, weight transfer is necessary to execute pivot turns with ease and fluidity. The transfer of weight from one foot to the other helps to initiate the spin and maintain proper balance. It is important to remember to transfer the weight smoothly and evenly to avoid jerky movements that can throw off the turn.

By mastering these techniques, dancers can execute pivot turns with confidence and grace, adding dynamic movement to their choreography.

2. Leaps and jumps

Leaps and jumps are some of the most thrilling movements in contemporary dance, requiring strength, flexibility, and precision. Here are some essential techniques and moves to master in this category:

  • Grand jetĂ©: This move involves a powerful jump from one leg to the other, while throwing the body in the air with a split of the legs. The arms and head also play a significant role in creating a beautiful line during the leap.
  • SautĂ©: This jump requires a dancer to spring off both feet simultaneously, with pointed toes and straight legs. It can be performed in many different directions and heights, depending on choreography.
  • Tour jetĂ©: Also known as a “turning leap,” this move involves a 360-degree turn in the air, while the legs perform a split. This move requires a great deal of rotational momentum, as well as a strong pliĂ© and precise alignment.

It’s important to note that mastering these moves takes time and consistent practice. It’s also essential to warm up and stretch properly before attempting any leaps and jumps, as they put a significant amount of strain on the body. As always, consult a professional instructor for proper technique and form.

  • Grand jetĂ©
  • SautĂ©
  • Tour jetĂ©

When it comes to moves in contemporary dance, there are a variety of jumps and leaps that dancers can incorporate into their performances. Three such moves are the grand jeté, the sauté, and the tour jeté.

Move Description
Grand jeté This is a long, horizontal jump in which the dancer takes off from one leg, extends the other leg in the air, and lands on the opposite leg. It requires a lot of power, control, and flexibility.
Sauté This is a simple jump in which the dancer pushes off the floor with both feet and lands in the same position. It can be performed in a variety of styles, including small, quick jumps and big, soaring leaps.
Tour jetĂ© Also known as a “turning jump,” this move involves a 360-degree turn in the air while simultaneously performing a grand jetĂ©. It requires a lot of strength, balance, and coordination, and is often used as a show-stopping finale in dance performances.

Each of these moves requires different techniques and skills, but they can all be practiced and mastered through regular training and dedication. Incorporating these jumps and leaps into a dance routine can add excitement, fluidity, and energy to the performance, keeping the audience engaged and entertained.

3. Extensions and lines

As dancers, we all strive for beautiful lines and graceful extensions. These moves require strength, control, and flexibility. Here are three essential moves every contemporary dancer should know:

1. Arabesque: Even those with no dance experience have likely seen the arabesque position before. It involves standing on one leg with the other leg extended behind the body, creating a long line from the foot to the head. This move requires not only strength in the standing leg but also flexibility in the hip flexors and hamstrings of the lifted leg.

2. Attitude: Similar to the arabesque, the attitude position involves lifting one leg behind the body. However, in this position, the lifted leg is bent at the knee, creating a diamond shape with the foot near the standing knee. This move requires not only strength and flexibility but also control to maintain the bent leg position.

3. Développé: The développé is similar to the attitude, but instead of bending the raised leg, it is slowly extended upward in a straight line. This move requires not only strength and flexibility but also control and balance to maintain a slow and controlled movement.

Remember, these moves take practice and patience to master. Be sure to properly warm up before attempting any of them and take breaks as needed to avoid injury. With dedication and hard work, you can achieve those beautiful lines and extensions that every dancer strives for.

  • Arabesque
  • Attitude
  • DĂ©veloppĂ©

Three essential moves in contemporary dance that showcase extensions and lines are the Arabesque, Attitude, and DĂ©veloppĂ©. Let’s break down each move, starting with the Arabesque.

Arabesque: This move involves balancing on one leg while extending the other leg behind the body. The arms may be in various positions, such as reaching overhead or extended to the sides. The goal of the move is to create a beautiful line from the toes to the fingertips. There are two types of Arabesque:

Type Description
Classical Arabesque Leg is extended fully behind the body, creating a diagonal line from the toes to the head.
Modern Arabesque Leg is extended slightly to the side, creating a more curved shape from the toes to the head.

Attitude: Similar to the Arabesque, the Attitude involves balancing on one leg and extending the other leg behind the body. However, in this move, the knee of the extended leg is bent at a 90-degree angle. The arms may be in various positions, such as reaching overhead or extended to the sides. This move creates a unique and elegant shape.

Développé: This move involves extending the leg from a bent position to a fully extended position. The leg is lifted off the ground and extends either to the front, side, or back of the body. The arms may be in various positions, such as reaching overhead or extended to the sides. This move requires control and strength in the supporting leg.

Mastering these moves requires practice and patience. By incorporating these moves into your contemporary dance training, you can create beautiful lines and extension in your choreography.

4. Partner work

Partner work is an integral part of contemporary dance, and it can be one of the most exciting aspects of performance. Lifts and carries are popular techniques used in partner work, and they require a great deal of strength, communication, and trust between partners. There are many different lifts and carries that can be performed, including the shoulder lift, the hip lift, and the candlestick lift. Each lift and carry requires a different level of skill and coordination, and it’s important to work with a partner who has similar abilities.

Counterbalance is another important technique used in partner work. This involves using the weight and balance of your partner to create a sense of movement and momentum. By leaning on and supporting each other, dancers can create incredible movements and shapes that would be impossible to achieve alone.

Finally, trust and communication are essential elements of partner work. Dancers must be able to communicate clearly with their partner, listening and responding to each other’s movements and cues. Trust is required for lifts and carries, and for any move that involves one dancer supporting the weight of the other. It’s important to establish a level of trust and respect with your partner before attempting any advanced partner work.

Here is a table summarizing some of the key points of partner work in contemporary dance:

Technique Description
Lifts and carries Techniques used to lift and carry a partner, requiring strength, coordination, and communication
Counterbalance Using your partner’s weight and balance to create movement and momentum
Trust and communication Essential for partner work, allowing dancers to listen and respond to each other’s movements and cues

Partner work can be a challenging but rewarding aspect of contemporary dance. By practicing regularly with a trusted partner and focusing on proper technique and communication, dancers can achieve incredible movements and create beautiful performances.

  • Lifts and carries
  • Counterbalance
  • Trust and communication

Partner work is an essential aspect of contemporary dance, which often involves lifts and carries using a combination of strength and balance techniques. Lifts and carries require both dancers to work collaboratively to create an illusion of effortless motion.

Counterbalance is another essential technique used in partner work, where both partners apply equal and opposite amounts of force against each other, resulting in a weightless feeling. This technique involves the manipulation of the partner’s weight and momentum by moving in synchronization.

Partner work in contemporary dance is only possible with established trust and communication between the dancers. Trust is the key factor that helps the dancers fully engage and rely on each other for weight support, complex lifts, and fluid movements. Effective communication through verbal and nonverbal cues, eye contact, and active listening is crucial in ensuring that both partners feel comfortable and safe during partner work.

Partner work in contemporary dance requires significant levels of strength, balance, counterbalance, trust, and communication, which can only be developed through regular practice and experience.


As we come to the end of this article, it is important to reflect on the wealth of knowledge we have gathered about the basic techniques and moves of contemporary dance. It is clear that this dance form is not just about physicality, but also about emotion, expression, and creativity. While mastering these techniques and moves requires dedication and hard work, the rewards are plentiful. So where do we go from here? Let us explore some key takeaways that can help us continue to grow and improve in our contemporary dance practice.

  • Practice regularly
  • Watch videos and performances
  • Join a class or workshop

Consistency and dedication are the key to mastering contemporary dance techniques and moves. Practicing regularly is essential to enhance and develop your skills, flexibility and strength. It is recommended to find a suitable space or studio to practice, wear comfortable clothing and focus on perfecting each movement with proper technique.

In addition to practicing, watching videos and performances can inspire and help you understand new choreography, movements and styles. Studying and observing professional dancers can also provide you with insights on correct form, timing, rhythm and musicality.

Regarding learning contemporary dance, joining a class or workshop introduces you to various styles and techniques that pave the way towards your growth as a dancer. Through classes, you can receive valuable feedback and guidance from instructors, learn new movements, and meet other dancers with similar goals.

The journey of learning contemporary dance requires discipline, perseverance and enthusiasm. By practicing regularly, watching videos and performances, and joining a class or workshop, you can continually improve your abilities and enhance your passion for dance.

Preguntas frecuentes

What is contemporary dance?

Contemporary dance is a genre of dance that emphasizes versatility and improvisation, combining elements of different dance styles such as ballet, jazz, modern, and lyrical.

Do I need dance experience to start contemporary dance?

No, anyone can start contemporary dance regardless of their experience level. It’s recommended to start with a beginner class to learn the basics.

What should I wear to a contemporary dance class?

Wear form-fitting clothes that allow for movement and show your body’s alignment. Ballet shoes or bare feet are usually recommended.

How can I improve my flexibility for contemporary dance?

Stretching regularly, taking yoga classes or Pilates, and warming up before dance practice can improve flexibility.

What is the purpose of release technique in contemporary dance?

Release technique promotes relaxation, freedom of movement, and natural expression by releasing tension in the body.

Do I need a partner for partner work in contemporary dance?

Not necessarily. Many partner work techniques can be practiced with a dance partner or a prop such as a chair or wall.

Can I choreograph my own contemporary dance routine?

Yes, choreographing your own routine is a common practice in contemporary dance. It’s a creative outlet that allows you to express yourself through movement.

How do I know which contemporary dance style is right for me?

The best way to find out is to try different styles by taking classes. Experiment to see which style feels most natural and enjoyable to you.

What is the difference between a leap and a jump in contemporary dance?

A leap is when one foot leaves the ground and the dancer lands on the other foot. A jump is when both feet leave the ground and the dancer lands on both feet.

How can I progress in contemporary dance?

Practice regularly, take classes with experienced instructors, watch performances for inspiration, and challenge yourself by learning new techniques and styles.


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