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Contemporary Dance for Beginners: Dance Tips & Tricks

Training Tips

Contemporary Dance for Beginners: Dance Tips & Tricks

Charise Roberts
April 30, 2020
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You’ve got a playlist packed with songs that fill you with feeling...

You’ve watched a million Contemporary dance performances on YouTube...

You’ve dreamed about expressing yourself to music and telling stories through movement...

But, you don’t know how to start learning Contemporary dance as a total beginner.

Don’t worry – we’re here to help!

Follow this guide to kickstart your Contemporary dance journey with all the right knowledge. 

What is Contemporary Dance?

Contemporary dance is all about self-expression, storytelling, and freedom. 

It pulls from traditional dance styles like Ballet & Jazz, but breaks away from the strict techniques and movements that make those styles so recognizable. 

When watching a Contemporary routine (or phrase), you’ll catch many of the moves executed in more traditional styles, in addition to acrobatics, martial arts, movements pulled from yoga, and plenty of experimental movements that reflect the feelings of the dancer. 


Why Learn Contemporary Dance?

Wondering if Contemporary dance is for you? 

If you’re looking for a style that allows you to connect with yourself physically and artistically, you’ve come to the right place!

As you adopt the mindset of a Contemporary dancer, you’ll learn how to communicate your emotions by moving every inch of your body with nuance and intention.

You’ll also improve your ability to create clean lines and aesthetically pleasing shapes as you dance.

And if you’re more familiar with other styles like Hip Hop, Popping, or House, adding Contemporary to your repertoire will strengthen your musicality skills.

You’ll learn how to think outside of the box, create pictures you’ve never tried before, and engage muscles you never knew you had.

All that sound good to you?

Start learning Contemporary dance at home with STEEZY’s “Intro to Contemporary” program for beginners!

How to Prepare for a Contemporary Class

1. What to wear

Since Contemporary dance requires a wide range of motion, wear clothes that won’t restrict your movement.

Loose tops, pants, or shorts that are breezy enough to sweat in will work best.


You can dance in bare feet to feel fully connected to the floor, but wear socks if you intend to dance on rougher carpeted surfaces or do a lot of gliding around on the floor.

2. How to prep your dance space

If you’re taking a Contemporary dance class at home, clear 6ft by 6ft of space to dance in and get rid of any sharp edges nearby.

This will allow you to jump, turn, and move without bumping a shin on that pesky coffee table or tripping over an awkward rug.

3. How to prep your body

In order to move with both fluidity and power, Contemporary dancers need to develop a strong core and stable lower body.

In addition to taking your regular dance classes, find 10-15 minutes each day to strengthen your back, abs, and legs.

Holding planks, doing crunches, and balancing on one foot for as long as you can (bonus if you stand on the balls of your feet), will help you get stronger!

You can also spend 10-15 minutes doing gentle yoga routines and stretching exercises to increase your flexibility and range of motion. 

Lastly, on class days, don’t forget to warm your body up before dancing!

If your instructor does not include a warmup in their class, take 5-10 minutes to do light cardio and stretching beforehand.

What to Look for in a Beginner Contemporary Dance Class

Your first Contemporary classes should thoroughly cover basic techniques, encourage exploration, and help you start building your artistic foundation.

Look for classes that not only teach common moves like Chassés and Ball Changes, but also explain different ways to execute those moves to create different visual effects.

The same move can evoke a totally different emotion when it’s executed crazy quickly versus painfullyyyy sloowwwwlyyyy. (More on that later!)


If possible, chat with your potential instructors before signing up for their class, and ask about how they teach.

Skilled Contemporary instructors will help you explore how your body moves specifically, and push you to move in unexpected ways.

Expect the class to feel more interactive than a typical dance class where you’re quietly copying the instructor. 

You might be asked a lot of questions to help you think through your intentions, and spend some time freestyling or improvising.

This is why we included an open-ended exercise on each day of STEEZY’s “Intro to Contemporary” program – the class experience should be immersive and personal, just like your actual dancing.


Contemporary Dance Tips for Beginners

1. Build body awareness

Before you can start learning to dance with emotional intensity and grace, you have to understand how your body moves and build up the connection between your brain and muscles.

In addition to improving your flexibility, you can use stretch exercises to get in tune with your body. 

For example, try slowly lowering your chest down to the floor and back up, moving one vertebrae at a time, to explore what it feels like to activate each back muscle.

For a more creative exercise, follow along with this body awareness video, where you’ll explore moving points on your body along an imaginary grid.

As you do these exercises, focus on only moving one body part at a time, while keeping the rest of your body completely still –– this will make it easier to build muscle memory!

2. Understand eye contact & chin lines

Contemporary dancers don’t just tell stories with their bodies –– they make full use of their faces too!

The direction in which you focus your eyes and chin as you dance will add emotional context to each move.

Look at the images below, and ask yourself, “what does this expression tell me?”

Notice how her expression goes from arrogant to flirtatious, with just subtle changes in her chin angle and eyes?

Practice different angles in the mirror yourself, and make use of those expressions when you dance.

3. Explore different movement qualities

There are several different schools of thought when it comes to defining how Contemporary dancers can move.

In STEEZY Studio’s “Intro to Contemporary” program, we use Laban effort qualities, because they’re straightforward and easy for beginners to understand.

Here’s a quick rundown of the Laban effort qualities:

Flow: Whether you move with a sense of freedom or resistance.

Time: Whether you move suddenly or slowly.

Weight: Whether your movements look heavy or light.

Space: Whether you move directly or indirectly from one place to another.

Mastering each quality of movement will expand your toolbelt as a Contemporary dancer.

4. Practice safe movements

You know how certain movements look/feel super complicated at first? (Lookin’ at you fancy floorwork)

You can avoid injuries and discomfort by carefully watching the pathways your instructor takes to get from one position to the next.

When moving to the floor, use your hands to help the rest of your body arrive.

When rolling on the ground, use the softest (🍑) parts of your body as your main point of contact, rather than your joints.

When jumping, land on the balls of your feet rather than flat-footed, so your body can absorb the shock of hitting the ground.

At any time, if something feels painful to execute, ask your instructor for safety tips or find an alternative move altogether.

5. Familiarize yourself with Ballet, Jazz, and other foundations

Since Contemporary draws from other styles, it won’t hurt to check out beginner Ballet classes or beginner Jazz dance classes as a supplement to your Contemporary training.

By learning basic moves from other styles, you’ll also understand more about how the Contemporary versions of those moves can differ.

A few essential moves that carry from style to style?

Ball Changes

Pivot Turns

Chassés

Pas de Bourrées

3. Journal & improvise to hone your craft

When you perform a dance, it helps to recall a powerful memory that fits the choreography.

So, take the time to journal regularly, and put your own powerful experiences to paper, making them easier to recall.

If you’ve never journaled before, try looking at an emotions wheel, selecting a feeling, and writing about a time you experienced it yourself.

As you write, don’t spare any details. Think of what you wore, how the room/space smelled, how your body felt… everything.

All of that color and context will help you later!

You can also try putting on a song that gets you in your feels, and imagining a fantasy situation that fits the music.

Then, improvise a dance where you’re the main character in that fantasy.

“Improv is a great way to explore how your body moves outside of structure, break habits, and discover new things.” – Karen Chuang, STEEZY Contemporary Instructor

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We hope this article helped you feel comfortable and confident as you start your Contemporary dance journey!

Remember, your body already has an existing vocabulary of movements whether you’re trained in dance or not.

You know what it feels like to hug, punch, curl into a ball, reach for the top cabinet, collapse on the floor…

And Contemporary dance is just an exaggeration of those familiar movements set to music! 

Everything you need already exists within you. Now, all you have to do is start.

Ready to get moving?

Sign up for a free trial of STEEZY Studio and begin our “Intro to Contemporary” program for FREE.

Here’s what you’ll learn: