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Lyrical Dance History

Lyrical dance uses emotive body language to communicate the lyrics of a song.
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Lyrical dance fuses ballet, jazz, and modern dance techniques to create a contemporary dance style, known for its expressiveness and musicality. A continually evolving art form, lyrical choreographers and dancers historically adapted existing dance steps and poses to suit new, modern music. Its entertaining, emotive qualities, along with its prominence in popular media, propelled lyrical dance to popularity in the 21st century.

Ballet Foundations

Lyrical dance technique can trace its roots directly to the Russian Vagonava method of classical ballet. Developed by Agrippina Vaganova in the first half of the 20th century, the Vaganova method focuses on back strength and the fluidity of the arms. When lyrical dance first appeared in its contemporary form in the 1970s and 1980s, it borrowed the flowing arms and powerful "port de bras" (meaning "carriage of the arms") from Vaganova's method to communicate the emotion or story of a piece of music.

Jazz and Modern Influences

U.S. jazz and modern dance contributed immensely to the stylistic elements of lyrical dance. In the mid-20th century, Martha Graham--one of the principal developers of modern dance--began experimenting with the abilities of bodies to convey great ranges of emotion through sharp, angular movements. Meanwhile, jazz dance leaped from social dance floors to the Broadway stage where it became just as important as dialog in telling a show's story. This artistic approach to dance helped shape lyrical dance in later decades.

Lyrical Dance Emerges

Lyrical dance emerged as a new art form after the cultural changes of the 1970s. Dancers wanted new ways to convey a wide range of human emotion through movement, rather than relying on the precision of classical ballet or the abstract quality of modern dance. Dancers choreographed dances to popular songs and began using the phrase "lyrical" to describe the practice of creating movements directly inspired by the lyrics of a piece of music.

Lyrical Dance as a Distinct Style

As lyrical dance gained popularity in the 1990s, dance teachers struggled with whether to include the new style in studio curricula, alongside jazz, modern and ballet. Some argued that lyrical should be taught only as a variation on ballet and jazz, rather than as a separate entity. Other teachers began teaching lyrical dance classes separately from ballet. By the early 2000s some of the world's most prominent dance studios such as the Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway offered classes in lyrical dance.

Fox's reality show "So You Think You Can Dance?," which premiered in 2005, regularly features lyrical dancers and choreographers such as Mia Michaels. The visually impressive leaps, turns and acrobatics featured on the show helped push lyrical dance to new levels of physical difficulty. Celine Dion also incorporated lyrical dance into her show, "A New Day," which ran in Las Vegas from 2003 to 2007. Its prevalence on stage and television has made lyrical dance a favorite with dance audiences worldwide.

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