Contemporary Dance 2.0

from Raphael Moussa Hillebrand


What does the term contemporary dance mean to us today?

Contemporary dance is often seen as a direct descendant of postmodern dance. When this term emerged, it promised that all styles would find a place in it. But this promise has not yet been fully realized. Until today there are exclusions in contemporary dance that we are increasingly aware of.

Therefore, in my opinion, it is time to say goodbye to the old understanding of contemporary dance and to redefine the term: It is time for contemporary dance 2.0.


If we look back at the development of dance, these exclusions become clearly visible. The postmodern dance revolution has its historical roots in New York in the 70s, particularly in the Judson Church movement. Although it saw itself as movement, in reality there were no significant points of intersection with the marginalized dance styles that emerged in the same city at the same time, such as breaking and voguing. It was hard to imagine back then that a b-girl or a voguer would participate in a jam at Judson Church or that a dancer from Judson Church would join a hip-hop cypher. Hip-hop and voguing arose out of the need to assert oneself in a racist and heteronormative system. Their dance became a survival strategy. Life in a racist patriarchy
put them under so much pressure that this pressure became their artistic theme. While postmodern dancers often have the freedom and privilege to choose their subject and pursue artistic research.

My experience

When I was studying contemporary choreography, our professor asked what we wanted to want to focus on in our semester project. I had to look up this word. The definition is to arbitrarily commit to something. I didn’t know this capering. When we were breaking, our shows also had themes, but it was primarily about creating a character that was as strong and impressive as possible so that people would recognize my existence. So I thought the freedom to caper, belongs to contemporary dance artists. My own thought reflects the very exclusion I am talking about: breaking is also a contemporary art form, but is excluded from contemporaneity in language and spirit.

Although exclusion from the present is an impossibility. We must recognize that alongside Contemporary Dance 1.0 there were and are movements that share the contemporaneity. It has taken 20 to 30 years for contemporary dance 1.0, vouging, breakin‘ and many other dance styles came into an actual exchange with each other, and today appear more and more often on the same stages and in the same discourses.

Social development

Since 2020 at the latest through the George Floyd movement and before that through #MeToo, society has become so aware of existing exclusions and injustices that contemporary dance 1.0, as it has been practiced so far, can no longer exist. Dance by white people for white people, in which marginalized bodies can be part of the narrative, but in which the existing and practiced
power imbalance is not questioned, is no longer in keeping with the times. It is no longer enough, only perceive discrimination where there is malicious intent, but not in the system itself. It’s time to bring the power-critical approach, that we now have in our society, in contemporary dance as well and to dissolve systematic discrimination.

We need to create equality. And equality does not just mean an understanding of equality, but the establishment of genuine participation (equity). This means that other dances need an extra platform in order to be on an equal footing.

Contemporary dance is creolization

Equality and simultaneity. This is also what my colleague Johannes Odenthal speaks of in his text on the subject of “What is contemporary dance”. I would like to thank him for the complexity of his reflections and for pointing out a contradiction: On the one hand, Odenthal names dance modernism as the root of contemporary dance. On the other hand he recognizes the exclusionary hegemonic power structure in this thinking, which understands modernity as linearity, and pleads for an “archipelic” way of thinking according to Edouard Glissant, in which different dance forms can work together simultaneously and on an equal footing.

Odenthal writes at the beginning: “[…] dance modernism is also the historical foundation of the foundation of the contemporary dance scene.” But at the end he appeals: “[…] That is why I plead for a concept of simultaneity in the sense of Edouard
Glissant, for an “archipelic” way of thinking and acting beyond exclusive positions […]”

I think that a simultaneity of different dance forms beyond exclusive positions and hierarchies can only exist if we stop defining dance modernism as the essential foundation of contemporary dance. I doubt that contemporary Peking opera rests on the foundation of Western modernism or that a headspin has developed from expressive dance (wink). There are many different dance traditions in this world that influence each other and can no longer be clearly separated today. Glissant’s “archipelic” thinking is a step towards this understanding. It assumes that people’s identities are actually relational identites that develop like rhizomes. Like roots, they dig themselves into the earth and at the same time branches on all sides towards other roots. Rhizomes do not have a fixed foundation, they are in a constant state of change, just as identites are not fixed but are constantly redefined in exchange with others. A process, called creolization.

Contemporary dance is creolization, the simultaneity of different contemporary forms of movement that exist free of hierarchy alongside, with and through each other and are one in their essence: Dance. The foundation for this dance is the entire global dance history. That is why we need a definition of dance in which it is clear that every form of musical movement is dance. We need a definition that reflects its own position within a system of oppression and takes responsibility, to be critical of power and to oppose the unjust systems from which it emerges.
A definition that dismantles the Western idea of superiority and recognizes that ethical and moral superiority lies on the other side of the Mediterranean. Contemporary dance 2.0 must be about this. A Balance between Western and non-Western worldviews, between cultural appropriation and cultural inclusion, between giving and taking.

In her text “On Dancing in the Now”, Sasha Amaya, whom I greatly appreciate as an artist and thinker, poses the question: “What do we mean when we say contemporary dance?” Among experts, this seems to be a complicated question. For the general public, the term is probably much easier to understand. She told me how her denBst asked her what she does for a living. She replied that she does contemporary dance. The dentist replied which contemporary style she meant. He showed his openness to relate contemporary dance to the here and now and not to a particular tradition. Perhaps we need to bring this openness back into the professional discourse.

Definition of Contemporary Dance 2.0

I propose to define contemporary dance 2.0 as follows: All dance forms that present and do not primarily serve to fulfill archival functions are considered contemporary. This includes dance styles that do not originate from the Western tradition, such as Laban American dances, Afro-diasporic or urban dances and club dances, as well as those that we often deny a political dimension.

The term Contemporary Dance 2.0 is not primarily intended to mark a specific aesthetic, but rather a temporal localization and a social positioning. It should promote an inclusive perspective and make it impossible to deny people or art forms their contemporaneity. Subgenres will continue to exist to designate styles. Contemporary dance 2.0 does not necessarily have to emerge from a Western academic tradition to be considered contemporary.

The entire global dance history forms the breeding ground, which is permeated by a rhizome. This rhizome forms the basis for plants. These plants are our bodies. And our bodies blossom in dance.