Contemporary Dance vs. Jazz Dance

What's the Difference?

Contemporary dance and jazz dance are two distinct styles of dance that have their own unique characteristics. Contemporary dance is a more fluid and expressive form of dance that incorporates elements from various dance styles, including ballet, modern dance, and jazz. It focuses on exploring emotions and storytelling through movement, often using improvisation and partnering techniques. On the other hand, jazz dance is a more energetic and rhythmic style that originated from African American vernacular dance. It incorporates elements of ballet, modern dance, and African dance, and is characterized by its syncopated rhythms, isolations, and dynamic movements. While both styles require technical skill and creativity, contemporary dance leans towards a more introspective and experimental approach, while jazz dance is more lively and upbeat.


AttributeContemporary DanceJazz Dance
Origin20th centuryEarly 20th century
MusicWide range of music genresJazz music
TechniqueFluid and expressive movementsSyncopated and energetic movements
ImprovisationOften includes improvisationMay include improvisation
CostumesVaries depending on the choreographyOften includes flashy and colorful costumes
EmotionEmphasizes emotional expressionEmphasizes energy and showmanship
ChoreographyCan be abstract or narrativeOften includes structured choreography
InfluenceDraws from various dance stylesRooted in African and European dance styles

Further Detail


Dance is a beautiful art form that allows individuals to express themselves through movement. Within the realm of dance, there are various styles and genres that have evolved over time. Two popular styles that have gained significant recognition are contemporary dance and jazz dance. While both styles share some similarities, they also possess distinct attributes that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of contemporary dance and jazz dance, highlighting their unique qualities and discussing their impact on the dance world.

Contemporary Dance

Contemporary dance is a genre that emerged in the mid-20th century and has since become one of the most influential and widely practiced styles. It is known for its fluidity, versatility, and emphasis on self-expression. Contemporary dance incorporates elements from various dance forms, including ballet, modern dance, and jazz. It often focuses on exploring emotions, personal narratives, and abstract concepts through movement.

One of the key attributes of contemporary dance is its freedom of movement. Dancers are encouraged to explore their own unique style and push the boundaries of traditional techniques. This allows for a wide range of movements, from fluid and graceful to sharp and angular. Contemporary dance also places a strong emphasis on improvisation, giving dancers the freedom to create and express themselves in the moment.

Another characteristic of contemporary dance is its use of floor work. Dancers often transition seamlessly between standing and floor-based movements, utilizing the entire space to express their ideas. This adds an element of dynamism and physicality to the performance, as dancers move effortlessly between different levels and explore the relationship between their bodies and the floor.

Contemporary dance also embraces a wide range of music styles, from classical compositions to electronic beats. This versatility allows choreographers to create diverse and innovative pieces that cater to different moods and themes. The use of props and multimedia elements is also common in contemporary dance, further enhancing the visual and auditory experience for the audience.

Furthermore, contemporary dance often challenges traditional gender roles and stereotypes. It promotes inclusivity and diversity, welcoming dancers of all genders, body types, and backgrounds. This has led to the emergence of unique and groundbreaking choreographic works that address social issues and push the boundaries of societal norms.

Jazz Dance

Jazz dance, on the other hand, originated in the early 20th century and is deeply rooted in African American culture. It is characterized by its energetic and syncopated movements, improvisation, and strong connection to music. Jazz dance draws inspiration from various dance styles, including African, Caribbean, and European influences, as well as tap dance and musical theater.

One of the defining attributes of jazz dance is its emphasis on rhythm and musicality. Dancers often synchronize their movements with the beat of the music, incorporating syncopation, isolations, and intricate footwork. This creates a vibrant and dynamic performance that is both visually and audibly captivating.

Jazz dance also places a strong emphasis on individual style and self-expression. While it has a foundation of specific techniques, such as kicks, turns, and leaps, jazz dancers are encouraged to add their own personal flair and interpretation to the choreography. This allows for a diverse range of performances, from sassy and theatrical to smooth and lyrical.

Another characteristic of jazz dance is its versatility in terms of performance settings. It can be seen on Broadway stages, in music videos, and even in competitive dance routines. Jazz dance has a strong presence in the entertainment industry, with its infectious energy and showmanship captivating audiences worldwide.

Jazz dance also often incorporates storytelling and narrative elements. Choreographers use movement to convey emotions, tell stories, and evoke specific atmospheres. This adds depth and meaning to the performance, allowing dancers to connect with the audience on a more profound level.

Furthermore, jazz dance has played a significant role in breaking down racial barriers and promoting cultural exchange. It has been instrumental in showcasing the talents and contributions of African American dancers and choreographers, paving the way for greater diversity and representation in the dance world.


Contemporary dance and jazz dance are two distinct styles that have made a lasting impact on the dance world. While contemporary dance emphasizes freedom of movement, self-expression, and inclusivity, jazz dance focuses on rhythm, musicality, and individual style. Both styles offer unique opportunities for dancers to explore their creativity and connect with audiences through movement. Whether it's the fluidity and emotional depth of contemporary dance or the infectious energy and syncopation of jazz dance, these styles continue to inspire and captivate dancers and audiences alike.

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