2nd Generation Modern Dance History

by Nicole Smith



The second generation or as called by some, third generation of dance began after World War II in 1945 when spirits were high, and dance was evolving. Many prominent dancers started to break away from their initial leader, Martha Graham, to form companies of their own. Throughout all of history, dance has never been as high profile as some of the other arts such as drama or music. Much was the same in the times of 1945. Dance has always been appreciated and/or recognized by very high-class figures. Some even performed, such as Louis VII as the Sun King.

Modern dance is focused of portraying emotion, and emotions were flowing fast in the time after the war. Many political events such as the bombing of Hiroshima, the death of President Roosevelt, and the final ending of the war gave people something to think about and feel for. And who is better at expression than a dancer? Martha Graham is recognized as one of the pioneers of modern dance. Many very successful second generation dancers were once a part of her company.

A few particular dancers that emerged during this time were Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Erik Hawkins, Alwin Nikolais, and Twyla Tharp among others. Their works fused techniques from social dance of the time, ballet, and the already established modern dance. Merce Cunningham revolutionized dance by using Graham's technique that used traditional ballet, and incorporating the his own flair. Cunningham located the source of movement in the spine therefore changing the entire feel of dance.

Along with the lightness and grooviness of the sixties came a lighter type of choreography. Tharp, Nikolais, and Taylor all put humor into their pieces. Odd juxtapositions, or contrasts, or parodies of their own or others works made their pieces more humorous.

The seventies were a turbulent time for people from all walks of life. With all the political upheaval due to the Vietnam War, all the protests, rallies, and drafts in addition to draft card burning, along came an entire different type of modern dance. Dancers such as Trisha Brown, Meredith Monk, and Yvonne Rainer lead this revolution that turned the dance world upside down. This structure of dance was at the extreme limit of what is considered dance, it shocked its viewers and critics were knocked out of their shoes. These dancers used every day activities, manipulation of objects and mixed media presentation. Slowly, the mainstream came to accept this new concept, but Tharp was by far the most recognized.

It is obvious that all aspects of life effect dance, it is very plainly seen in this time period. As long as there is something to feel and something to react to, dance will always be changing and evolving. That is what makes dance so creative and inventive, and that is why not everyone can excel at dance. But those who can have put a spin on society by taking an idea and running with it, taking it to its furthest extent. What we have to show for their accomplishments is a rare glimpse at true beauty.