Ballet originated in the 15th century, first in Italy and then in France. Over the centuries, ballet has influenced many other styles of dance and become a fine art form in its own right. There are three basic styles:

  • Classical: This form reached its peak in 19th-century France and Russia. It is often story-driven and orchestrated ("The Nutcracker" is a great example), with fantastical sets and costumes. The movement emphasizes pointe work (dancing on toes), graceful expressions, and symmetry among dancers.
  • Neoclassical: This is an evolution of classical ballet, which emerged in the early to mid-20th century. Movements are faster and more urgent, with less emphasis on symmetry, and simple sets and costumes. Plot is often nonexistent. Orchestras, bands, or soloists may accompany the dancers.
  • Contemporary: Like neoclassical, plot is cast aside in favor of pure movement and physical expression, which may not appear to be dancelike at all. Costumes and set designs are frequently simple or abstract. Music or sound work, if used, is often contemporary or experimental in nature.


Jazz is a lively dance style that relies heavily on originality and improvisation. This style often uses bold, dramatic body movements, including body isolations and contractions. Jazz dance has its roots in African traditions kept alive by slaves brought to the U.S. Over time, this evolved into a style of street dance that soon moved into the jazz clubs of the early 20th century.

During the big-band era of the 1930s and early '40s, swing dancing and the Lindy Hop became popular expressions of jazz dancing. In the mid- to late 20th century, choreographers like Katherine Dunham incorporated these improvisational, physical expressions into their own works.


Pom is similar to jazz, but much sharper motions showcasing dancers' uniformity and strength. This style uses pom-poms in each hand with many visual oscillations and cheer motions. 



Like jazz dancing, tap evolved from the African dance traditions preserved by slaves in the U.S. In this exciting dance form, dancers wear special shoes equipped with metal taps. Tap dancers use their feet like drums to create rhythmic patterns and timely beats. Music is rarely used.

After the Civil War, tap evolved into a popular form of entertainment on the Vaudeville circuit, and later a staple of early Hollywood musicals. Some of the most notable masters of tap include Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Gregory Hines, and Savion Glover.


Hip Hop

Another descendant of jazz dance, hip-hop emerged from the streets of New York in the 1970s in the city's African-American and Puerto Rican communities at the same time as rap and DJing. Breakdancing—with its popping, locking, and athletic floor movements—is perhaps the earliest form of hip-hop dance. Often, "crews" of teams of dancers would hold competitions to see which group had bragging rights as the best.

As rap music flourished and diversified, different styles of hip-hop dancing emerged. Krumping and clowning took the physical exuberance of breakdancing and added narrative and comic expression in the '90s. In the 2000s, jerkin' and juking became popular; both of these take the pop-lock movement of classic breakdancing and add wild fashions.


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