While lyrical dance focuses on the flow of movement, contemporary dance is more jazz-based, focusing on big movements and breaking the traditional limitations of classical dance.
This article will give some brief information on the most famous contemporary dancers who have great contributions to the world’s history of dance and dance education.
These dancer artists on our list are listed following the order of their birth year.
- 10 Famous Contemporary Dancers With Significant Works To The World
- 1. Martha Graham – Most famous contemporary dancer of the 20th century
- 2. Charles Weidman
- 3. Eric Hawkins
- 4. Katherine Dunham
- 5. Elizabeth Dalman – Famous Australian contemporary dancer
- 6. Francesca Harper
- 7. Kyle Abraham
- 8. Robert Garland
- 9. Amy Hall Garner – Famous contemporary dancer today
- 10. Al Bernard Garcia – Famous contemporary dancer in the Philippines
- Closing Words
10 Famous Contemporary Dancers With Significant Works To The World
1. Martha Graham – Most famous contemporary dancer of the 20th century
- May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991
Martha Graham was the most famous contemporary dancer and choreographer of the 20th century. She was called the mother of modern dance, thanks to her valuable contribution to American dance. She was the creator of the Graham technique, which focuses on expressing human emotions via body movements.
Martha’s dancing style is a combination of contraction, alternation releasing, and the coordination between breathing and body movement while maintaining a relationship with the floor.
During 70 years of extensive dancing career, she received many precious awards and recognitions, including
- Being the first female dancer to dance at the White House;
- Being a cultural ambassador;
- Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction – the top civilian award of the U.S;
- Receiving the Key to the City of Paris;
- Receiving Japan’s Imperial Order of the Precious Crown.
Besides being an artist, she is also a dancing teacher.
Her dancing academy – Martha Graham academy, which was founded in 1926, is the oldest dancing school in the USA. This school is the house of many famous dancers and choreographers, like Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham.
2. Charles Weidman
- July 22, 1901 – July 15, 1975
Charles Weidman, whose homeland is Lincoln, Nebraska, was the pioneer of modern dance. As the co-founder of the Humphrey-Weidman Company, he spent most of his life working with Doris Humphrey to contribute to the world’s contemporary dance.
Charles’s working life started in the Roaring Twenties (or the most flourishing period in arts, fashion, and music), and went through the Great Depression, the New Deal, and World War II.
The dance style of Charles was based on gravity and the dancer’s body balance. In this style, the dancing artist has to go against the natural gravity with a lot of floor contact, jumping, and falling. This style breaks free of the classical ballet nature, and it boldly embodies the American culture.
Charles worked in various genres, including comedic, religious, serious, and tributary. He was awarded the Heritage Award in 1970. In 1987, this dancer (and teacher as well) was memorized in the Hall of Fame of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, the National Museum of Dance.
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3. Eric Hawkins
- April 23, 1909 – November 23, 1994
Eric Hawkins was a famous male contemporary dancer and choreographer that was born in Trinidad, Colorado.
He studied Greek civilization at Harvard before starting his education in classical dance at the School of American Ballet (Austria). From classical dance, Eric Hawkins started his career path in contemporary dance with the first choreography “Snow Piece”.
Eric joined the Graham Company and spent years working as a male lead in various of Martha’s works, including the Appalachian Spring (1944). After leaving the Graham Company, Eric continued his dancing career in a very different direction.
First, he used ritual and mysticism to celebrate animals, humans, and natural phenomena with inspiration from Native American dance rituals folklore, Japanese esthetics & Zen, as well as various schools of theater, dance, and philosophical thoughts from East Asian and ancient Greek.
Second, he applied some principles in anatomy and kinesiology in the body’s movement to reach the ‘think-feel’ awareness in sensory.
Throughout his contemporary dancing career, Eric received various awards for his talent, including the Scripps award at the American Dance Festival in 1988 and the National Medal of Art awarded by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
4. Katherine Dunham
- June 22, 1909 – May 21, 2006
Katherine Dunham was a ballet dancer, a choreographer, an anthropologist, and a social activist. She was the matriarch and the mother of afro-American dance and also the founder of the Katherine Dunham School of Dance and Theatre (New York), many students of which are afro-Americans.
Katherine showed her early interest in African culture by studying African local dance, diaspora, and ethnography. After that, she studied ballet and developed the Dunham Technique in the mid-20th century.
Her technique was the combination of dance elements of Africa and the Caribbean – or to dance in perpetual motion.
Katherine began her dancing career in the Little Theater Company of Harper Avenue and was soon well-known in Latin America, Europe, and America. She was called “dancer Katherine the great” in the Washington Post.
In the New York Times, this famous contemporary dancer was highly praised as “a major pioneer in Black theatrical dance” (by Anna Kisselgoff, a dance critic). Arthur Todd, a black writer, described her as “one of our national treasures”.
5. Elizabeth Dalman – Famous Australian contemporary dancer
- 1934 – present
Elizabeth Dalman (or Elizabeth Cameron Dalman) is among the most well-known Australian contemporary dancers. She was born in South Adelaide, Australia. The dancing style of this female Australian dancer is affected by Eleo Pomare – an American choreographer.
Elizabeth started learning dancing early at the age of 3 and continued pursuing her dancing studies in London, New York, and Germany. She graduated from Wollongong University with a Master of Creative Arts and a Ph.D. at the University of Western Sydney.
Elizabeth Dalman was the founder/artistic director of the Australian Dancer Theater. Nonetheless, she was also the founding director of the Mirramu Dance Company. Dalman also worked as a mentor/board member of the Australian Choreographic Centre.
6. Francesca Harper
- 1969 – Present
Francesca Harper is an American dancer and choreographer. She is widely known for her deep background in contemporary dance, ballet, and broadway dance. Currently, she is working on MFA in performance creation at Goddard College.
After her first performance at the White House as the Young Presidential Scholar in the Arts, Francesca started her first job at the Dance Theater of Harlem and soon became a Principal Dancer for William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt in 1994.
Since then, this female dancer also choreographed for other companies, namely the Dallas Block Dancer Theater, Tanz Graz, Hubbard Street II, etc.
In 2008, she founded a non-profit company after her name, Francesca Harper Project, and also took part in the choreography work for it.
Apart from dancing, Francesca Harper also appeared in the public in various roles. She worked as a ballet consultant for the featured film Black Swan (2010) and a performer for Zinnias – The Life of Clementine Hunter with Robert Wilson as director. She is the composer, writer, producer, and narrator for the film To Lillian (documentary, 2021).
As a teacher, she was a professor at the Juilliard School, Barnard College, NYU, and the Ailey/Fordham BFA program.
7. Kyle Abraham
- August 14, 1977 – Present
Kyle Abraham is an American choreographer and modern dancer based in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He is the artistic director and also the founder of the A.I.M in New York City.
Kyle started his journey as a dancer while studying at the Civic Light Opera Academy and the Pittsburg Creative & Performing Art School.
After finishing his BFA at SUNY Purchase and MFA at NYU Tish School of the Arts and a Doctorate of Fine Arts at Washington Jefferson College, he worked as a performance for several companies, including David Doftman Company, Bill T.Jone/Arnie Zane Dance Company, etc.
In 2006, Kyle founded the A.I.M (previously known as Abraham In Motion) with the purpose to embody Black history and culture via dance. The works of A.I.M describe the Black emotion, life, as well as the connection between music, dance, and visual arts.
Outside A.I.M, Kyle also works as a choreographer for other dance companies, including New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theather, and the Royal Ballet.
Besides, he also works for film, with “The Runaway” for the New York City Ballet in 2018 listed among “The Best Dance of 2018” by the New York Times.
8. Robert Garland
- Birth year: Unknown
Robert Garland is a talented contemporary dancer and choreographer of the 21st century.
Besides working as the principal dancer, Director of the Training Program, webmaster, and the first choreographer for the Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH), he also took part in choreographing for various organizations, such as the New York City Ballet, the Oakland Ballet, the Royal Ballet, etc. Up till now, he is the Director of the DTH School.
Robert started his dancing career at the age of 15 by joining the Philadelphia Dance Company. After finishing his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Julliard School in 1983, he worked at the Dancer Theater of Harlem as an apprentice and soon became the manager and the first resident choreographer for this organization.
Outside Harlem, Robert also worked as the first black choreographer for the Royal Ballet of London and various similar organizations. He also appeared in many MVs, commercial films, and short films (for example, the “Charmin Cha-Cha” commercial for Procter & Gamble).
9. Amy Hall Garner – Famous contemporary dancer today
- Birth year: Unknown
Amy Hall Garner was born in Huntsville, Alabama, New York. She is worldwide praised for her talent in modern dance, theatrical dance, and ballet. She was also a personal coach for Beyoncé.
After her graduation from The Juilliard School, she worked for various dance companies and schools, including Collage Dance Collective, Ailey II, The Juilliard School, The Ailey School, The University of the Arts, Barnard College, Columbia Ballet Collaborative, and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.
Garner was among the first dance artists to receive the Winning Works (previously known Choreography of Color Award) by Joffrey Ballet.
As an educator, Amy Garner taught at Joffrey Ballet School and the American Ballet Theater, along with many master classes and residencies in the United States.
Nowadays, she is teaching at the New Studio on Broadway at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU.
10. Al Bernard Garcia – Famous contemporary dancer in the Philippines
- Birth year: Unknown
Al Bernard Garcia is among the most famous contemporary dancers in the Philippines. Starting as a folklore dancer at the Leyte Dance Theater, Al Bernard pursuit his education in this firm by attending the Philippines High School for the Arts and the University of Philippines.
The first dance work of Al Bernard Garcia is his thesis “Sulog sa Kinabuhi” – a dance drama by the Subanen Tribe. This thesis was also the starting point for his interest in choreography. One of his featured performances is “Bagong Sayaw” (September 2017).
Al is among the contemporary dancers who apply creativity while remaining the tradition of his homeland – the Philippines. He wanted to introduce “The Traditional Filippino” as well as its ethnic culture and history to audiences worldwide.
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Each famous contemporary dance artist in this is not only a dancer or choreographer. He or she also works as an educator, a social activist, or an ambassador who bring extra values of history, culture, and ethnicity into his/her performances. In terms of modern dance, these artists have significant contributions to the world’s future of dance.
Who is your favorite? Please leave your comment to let us know.