One of America's biggest contributions to the arts, besides jazz, is modern dance. Back in the 20th century, a group of dancers rebelled against the rigidity of ballet and the non-seriousness of vaudeville.
They wanted to be viewed as serious artistes rather than mere entertainers. Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn are considered to be the first generation of pioneers of modern dance in America.
Duncan, a revolutionist, is considered the founding mother of modern dance. She discarded the corset, ballet slippers and tutus used in conventional ballet attire, adopting instead tunics that freed the body and revealed its movement.
She referred to dance as an art with a moral purpose. Using classical music scores in her interpretation, she kept the movement vocabulary simple yet expressive. It was liberating.
What America initially referred to as modern dance is now known as contemporary dance and the terms are used interchangeably.
While Fuller used gas lighting to enhance the effects of her silk costumes, St Denis and Shawn combined eastern spiritualism and imagery, along with European travel, in their works.
Their movements were inspired by Eastern cultures and mythologies, including those from India and Egypt. Both eventually opened Denishawn, as a school and company, nurtured leaders of the next wave of modern dancers, including Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman.
Graham needs no introduction and is synonymous with creating the contract and release technique, which is still being used by every modern dance school in the world.