How to Distinguish Modern Dance From Ballet

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To the untrained eye, ballet and modern dance can often look quite similar. But with a bit of dance knowledge and some tips for spotting the differences, anyone will be able to distinguish ballet from modern dance and vice versa.

Things You'll Need

  • Just your eyes and ears
  • The first major difference between ballet and modern dance is the attire. Ballet dancers wear ballet slippers or pointe shoes. Modern dancers may or may not wear shoes. Many modern dancers dance barefoot, in jazz shoes or half sole shoes. Ballet dancers also typically wear tights whereas with modern dancers tights are optional. Lastly, in traditional ballets the hair is pulled back in a bun. Modern dancers tend to let their hair down and allow it to flow more naturally.

  • Watch how they use their bodies. Ballet dancers try to defy gravity. Modern dancers allow gravity to take control of them. What I mean by that is ballet dancers will resist gravity by trying to jump as high as they can and maintain an air of lightness. They are pulled up, their posture is impeccable and they favor straight, clean lines with their bodies. Modern dancers twist and contort their bodies, they flex their feet and hunch, whereas a ballerina would never do such a thing.

  • If it's a group routine look at their formations. Are there straight lines, and clear formations? Are there several people doing their own thing at the same time? If the lines are clear and the dancers move from one place to another in distinct patterns it is most likely ballet. Modern dancers tend to be more individualistic. They break out into separate movements that distinguish them. Ballet is more group oriented.

  • Music. What kind of music is it? Is it classical instrumental music? If so, your best bet is it's ballet. Modern dance can be choreographed to numerous types of music but the genre tends to favor emotional, longing ballad type songs. Popular music is common for modern pieces. Music with lyrics is extremely common for modern dances and not very common for ballet, so that could be an instant clue. Modern dancers tend to interpret music whereas ballet dancers tell a story and show off fabulous technique.

  • If, after considering all of the above factors you still cannot seem to distinguish the two, simply study the dancing itself. Ballet is extremely technical. There is a definite right and wrong. Modern is open to interpretation, suggestion and change. Ballet is straightforward. Modern blurs the lines between styles.

Tips & Warnings

  • Listen to the music.
  • Look at their attire and footwear.
  • Watch their body lines.
  • Don't be fooled by slicked back hair--it can still be modern.

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