What Makes Ballet, Modern and Jazz Different From Each Other?

by Sara Clark
Modern ballet has its roots in 15th century court dances.

Modern ballet has its roots in 15th century court dances.

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Ballet, a formal, graceful dance style that uses conventional steps, is regarded as the foundation of all modern dance. Jazz and modern dance both have their roots in ballet, but are less formal and structured. These dances encourage dancers to perform their own freestyle steps and interpretations rather than repeating structured steps. All three dances are demanding and require poise and fluidity, and dancers of all three styles must be physically fit, strong and balanced.


Ballet dancing is an elegant, formal style of dancing that has its roots in 15th century Italian and French court dances. Aristocratic amateur dancers wore rich costumes and performed carefully choreographed movements for an audience of their peers. This formal dancing grew in popularity with the backing of its wealthy patrons, and gradually developed into modern ballet. Ballet requires great physical fitness, balance and control, involving such steps as dancing "en pointe," or on the tips of the toes. Ballet influences are seen in most modern styles of dance, including jazz and ballroom.


Jazz dance has its origins in African tribal culture. The steps involve a range of smooth, rhythmic body movement and percussive steps such as tap. In the 1950s, traditional jazz dance evolved into modern jazz, the form primarily taught today. This style is influenced by Caribbean reggae, and pupils practice the art of suspension, where one movement flows into another rather than locking the body into one position. Jazz dancers are encouraged to have a grounding in classical ballet to give them the poise and balance needed to complete jazz steps.


Modern dance is driven by the idea of expression through movement. The beginning of the movement in the 19th century was largely driven by two men, François Delsarte and Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, and their ideas were later developed in the U.S. Delsarte laid down the basic principles of expression through movement, and Jaques-Dalcroze developed a range of exercises, called eurhythmics, to help students master the movements they needed to express themselves.

Ballet, Modern and Jazz

Although modern dance and jazz dance both are rooted in ballet, they have evolved into very different styles. Modern dance grew out of a dissatisfaction with the highly formulaic moves of ballet, and performers of modern dance design their own free form steps. The dance emphasizes self-expression rather than technical perfection. Compared to the smooth, elegant moves of ballet, jazz dance is lively and energetic, with each dancer interpreting the moves differently. Dancers of all disciplines are generally trained in classical ballet, as it helps to build core strength and improve balance and posture.

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