– Article written by Valeria Lo Iacono
For anyone who has ever practised these two dance genres or has some involvement with them, the answer may be obvious and the question may also sound pointless as contemporary dance and jazz dance are clearly completely different. However, for the non initiated it can be tricky to distinguish, especially since these two dance genres sometimes influence each other and new forms of fusion are continuously created and performed. Before starting to practise both contemporary and jazz dance, I for one did not have a clear idea of the differences and at first I would have not known how to explain if there were any differences.
After practising these two types of dance and being more involved in them, I can say that there are definitely differences which are both in the traditions and origins of these dance forms and in the movements, the way these two genres are embodied and they way it feels to dance them. Below I will highlight the main differences from the kinaesthetic point of view and the historical perspective, keeping in mind that these two genres sometimes overlap and fusion can always happen.
Generally speaking, gravity is used and felt differently in jazz and contemporary dance. In contemporary dance gravity is used to the dancer’s advantage and while you dance you almost have the feeling of playing with gravity. There is a feeling of giving in to gravity one moment and bouncing off upwards against gravity the next (personally, this is a quality of contemporary dance I really like). The dancer uses gravity to push him/herself up again and floor work is usually a prominent feature of contemporary dance. All the levels in space are used, from the floor all the way up to wherever the body can reach and the contrast between these different levels is always prominent. Another feature of contemporary dance with respect to gravity, is that the dancer is often on the verge of losing the centre of gravity and balance, to then swiftly regain it.
Gravity is also used a lot in contact improvisation, a technique invented in the 1970s in America by Steve Paxton, which is now part of contemporary dance tradition, whether it is improvised or choreographed. In contact improvisation, dancers use each other’s bodies to lean and push against, creating a dynamic flow through the interactions of their bodies and the use of gravity.
In Jazz dance on the other hand, floor work is a lot less common. The centre of gravity can be uplifted at times and lower at others, giving a slinkier feeling to the movements, but you rarely give in to gravity.
Flow and isolations
In contemporary dance movements are often fluid and lyrical and flow into each other. Of course there are exceptions and different styles and techniques of contemporary dance have different preferences. However, generally speaking, the dance is often fluid and this may be a result of the way in which it plays with gravity, as explained above.