Looking At Dance Postmodernism Cultural Studies Essay

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Postmodern dance started 1960s at Judson Memorial Church at America; the pioneers are Yvonne Rainer and other emerging choreographers at that time (Trisha Brown, Meredith Monk and Lucinda Childs). The idea of postmodern dance was to break away from the rigid and rules of modern dance. The idea for modern dance was to break away from the tradition of Ballet, but modern dance movements became constant and restricted. The word "postmodern" itself describes a movement in early 20th century which mixes different genre and elements to create what we call art. This movement pushes the boundaries and mix of ideas, medias, and forms.

I chose this particular art movement because I feel that during this period of time more artists start to be more experimental; they took more risks in pushing the boundaries. Postmodernism represents a movement that contradicts aspects of modernism it aims to break away from the classical and traditional forms, which postmodern involves a wide variety of disciplines. I would like to examine postmodern dance and music and how it affects our current dance style. Mainly, I will be talking more about of postmodern dance and music.

Robert Ellis Dunn who was a pioneer of modern dance was also the reason how postmodern developed because his work was the first dance performance at the Judson Church. Dunn was not only a choreographer but also a musician. Dunn was also the one who introduced dance structure in the element of choreographing. Dunn was very interested in structure and form, and he always emphasized his dancers to push the boundaries and that is how improvisation came about. Improvisation came from exploring movements with rules and like playing games used objects. "Dunn appreciated John Cage's non-judgmental approach to teaching, and analyzed structure, form, method, and materials over praise or criticism of a work. Dunn pushed students to experiment with phrasing, technique, musicality, and logic in order to develop a new style of dance. Movements were created out of improvisation, and many variables could change the movement. Timing was sometimes cued by the changing signal of a traffic light outside the studio window. Dunn's experiments with music, movement, and surrounding elements greatly influenced many post-modern dancers including Steve Paxton, father of contact improvisation. Later in life, Dunn became interested in video dance, which he felt exposed dance to those who do not seek it out and gave the choreographer the ability to draw attention to certain details of a piece. While Dunn had distinct ideas regarding composition, he did not wish to define or codify a style of movement, and insisted on his work always being seen as an evolving process rather than proven theory." (Wikipedia). The audience became more involved in dances. What I mean by involved is that the dancers were allowed to interact with the audience if they wish. They were free in a sense that the audience became apart of the performance.

3The idea of "improvisation" to me is being in the moment, it has a lot of thinking and constantly making decisions about the other body around us and about the space the dancer is in. Being aware of the surrounding and one another really work around what works and what does not. Contact improvisation is more of knowing how to move and reacting with another body and how to play with weight.

Improvisation can be a tool for choreographing especially when we get a mental block from thinking too much or having too many materials. Other than that improvisation on its own is actually a big thing, to understand improvisation takes along time to master for any first timer it can be very scary and we need to trust one another even if we don't even know the person or even when the other person is much bigger than us, or maybe even the opposite.

Postmodern music evolved just like other art forms during this time; it breaks away from the traditional forms. "Postmodern music is either a musical condition or a musical style. As a musical condition, postmodern music is music that exists in late capitalism, as part of the postmodern condition. In this sense, postmodern music is a language by which people can signify belonging to a musical culture. As a musical style, postmodern music contains characteristics of postmodern art"(Alton, Gorgia) Just like dance, postmodern music combines different characteristics of musical genre to start experimenting with new ways of making music. There were many pioneers of postmodern musicians like John Cage, Phillip Glass and Frank Zappa.

In one of Frank Zappa live interviews he made music using everyday objects like bicycle and so on. People thought he was crazy and were laughing at what he was doing, but because he wasn't afraid to be different he found new ways to make music, which changed the perspective on making music. Whereas, "John Cage began to explore electronic sound generation, at first through record turntables whose speed could be modulated; eventually, transferring his allegiance from Schoenberg to the chaotic tradition of Charles Ives and Edgard Varese, Cage thought of composing from sounds heard on the streets." (Kostelanetz) This is the earliest form music technology was accepted as an art form.


These two different art forms, dance and music developed at the same time and their intention was to break away from common styles or tradition. For example Merce Cunningham and John Cage first worked in New York ever since 1944; "because their works "broke the rules" and thus were different in more ways than the dance and music worlds could understand, both men, separately and together, were widely dismissed as "unserious" or "absurd"."(Kostelanetz). During that time experimental music wasn't common and the music created by Cage was not pleasant compared to songs by Bing Crosby and he used weird and unusual objects. Many people that weren't open to new ideas at that time could not accept the music that Cage produced. It was similar for dance works, created by Cunningham were either going against the music or the gestures and movements through space weren't considered as dance movements. The most important thing that I would like to point out is both dared to be different and to explore beyond possibilities. They created a sense of freedom and unlimited source of materials were used, by using different materials to make music and even to make movements by using objects. "Together and separately, Cage and Cunningham rank among the most influential artists of their time, affecting not only their own art but, more significantly perhaps, on others." (Koselanetz). With this being said, I agree with the statement if it was not for them people would still play it safe in creating art and we as artists wont have the freedom of creating. They are examples we can use to make our choices in making any kind of art. Because of Cage and Cunningham forty of collaboration together they developed a kind of mindset or an idea and it was able to progress because it was a unique and new way of making dance and music.


Postmodern art has created and changed people's perspective of art and how it affected our dance today. Because of this artistic movement improvisation and choreographing existed in our vocabulary. People no longer followed the traditional art forms or styles of performing. Now people has become more original and they are able to show their character in their own and individual way. Postmodernists are more pessimistic and do not see the world necessarily improving in the future.(Alton, Gorgia) People no longer just look for beauty or perfection, they found a way to look beyond that and even if it is distorted people began to appreciate art in an aesthetic point of view. I feel that nowadays people lack the initiative to experiment and be daring to take risks; by pushing boundaries and by not playing safe we could create something different. We won't know if it works or not if we dare not try.

Even though, postmodern dance lived for a very short time, but it was how dance evolved to what we call contemporary dance today. Dance return back to more structured choreography because of aesthetic purposes and if the choreographers intention is to express how they feel they were not able to do that with shocking elements that were in the postmodern dance, dance is suppose to effect the audience emotionally. Eventually a more structured choreography was more meaningful and more thoughts and decisions were made critically. Without these aspects of postmodernism the art forms wouldn't transform or develop to what we call "Contemporary Dance" that we have today.

Work Citation

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Banes, Sally. "Writing Dancing-in the age of Postmodernism".Place of Publication: Wesleyan University Press. Publisher: University Press of New England Hanover and London, 1994.

Bertens, Hans. "International Postmodernism: theory and literary practices". Place of Publication: Amsterdam, Netherlands, North America. Publisher: John Benjamins Publishing Co. 1997

Kostelanetz, Richard. "John Cage-(ex)plain(ed)." Place of Publication: Schimer Books. Publisher: An imprint of Simon and Schuster. New York: Macmillan 1996.

"Postmodern Dance". Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_dance.> 24 July 2010. 22 August 2010

"Robert Ellis Dunn. Wikipedia". <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Ellis_Dunn >30 June 2010. 3 October 2010.

"Robert Ellis Dunn, 67, In postmodern dance movements" <http://www.nytimes.com/1996/07/15/arts/robert-ellis-dunn-67-a-pioneer-in-postmodern-dance-movement.html.> Nytimes, Dunning, Jennifer. 1 November 2010.

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