Date of Publication


Degree Type

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Stevie Oakes, Assistant Professor, MFA, Department of Dance


This project will explore my understanding of western contemporary dance as a spectrum connecting concert and commercial dance. Using my personal experience within several educational environments including competition studios, a modern-based collegiate department, and a European university, I characterize concert and commercial dance through key descriptors. This outline will serve as the basis for comprehending how the two opposing styles are deeply intertwined in any contemporary practice today. I conclude by recognizing the eclecticism of training and suggest an active choice to broaden it by using the spectrum as an artistic referencing method as we move forward in the field of contemporary dance.

Commonly being understood to exist on a vertical hierarchy, concert dance was seen as high art while commercial dance was regarded as lower art. Recently, however, a “…horizontal spectrum…” has been suggested, where concert and commercial dance are given equal value within the field.1 This balanced lens will be the platform for this discussion. I’ll be offering my understanding of both concert and commercial dance and the contrasting elements they encompass, but with no value judgement. As I begin by describing these seemingly polar sides that are necessary to understand contemporary dance, it is not my intention to rigidly categorize concert and commercial dance, but rather to provide a compatible tool to more clearly understand the artistic choices you make.

In discussing the awareness of complementary opposites, I draw from the ideas of Sun Tzu, who philosophized the necessary presence of opposing forces. Highly influenced by yin-yang, Tzu explains that polarized forces are conversely “two necessary sides of the same system.”2 Serving as a clear inroad for understanding the horizontal spectrum, contemporary dance would not exist if the seemingly polar forces of commercial and concert weren’t in opposition. Together, they cultivate the intricate system of contemporary dance.

Additionally, Tzu claims that instead of a brute opposition between these forces, opposites “create and feed the other in an endless” conversation.3 These sides are not just complements to each other, but completions. Contemporary dance could not exist without concert or without commercial practices, otherwise western dance would be a straightforward artform with little complexity throughout the various subgenres it encompasses.

This project is merely the beginning of an ongoing investigation that will likely never conclude; an analysis of a practice that is never finished as indeed the field of dance continues to shift. My understanding of contemporary dance will surely develop and evolve as my practice deepens in time, however this current product is representing a screenshot of a never-ending process, fated to flux.

1 Nicole Kaplan. “Mapping: The Relationships Between Concert and Commercial Dance” (2013). Dance Master’s Theses.

2 "Complementary Opposites: The Levers of Competition," Sun Tzu's Art of War Strategy, 1, accessed March 27, 2017,

3 "Complementary Opposites: The Levers of Competition," 1.

Included in

Dance Commons