Contemporary vs Lyrical Dance – Separating the Styles

Contemporary vs Lyrical Dance – Separating the Styles

Without a proper definition of each style, it’s easy to muddle up lyrical and contemporary dance and end up somewhere between the two.

Similar concepts and themes unite the two styles, so it's easy to see why they’re often confused.

Understanding the difference between both styles is key to helping dancers and choreographers create an identifiable routine without limiting improvisation and interpretation.

Let’s dive into what makes each dance unique. 

What Is Lyrical Dance?

Lyrical dance is an offshoot of jazz and was initially known as ‘lyrical jazz’ for that reason. This style combines the fluidity of jazz with the disciplined techniques of ballet, an interesting fusion.

One thing that is very specific to lyrical dance is the storytelling element and the emotional connection, which is linked to the song’s lyrics, not just the rhythm of the music.

The choreography is written to the sentiment of the song and is deliberately designed to connect to the audience.

What Is Contemporary Dance?

Contemporary dance grew out of jazz, ballet, and modern, so it’s a fusion but no more than other types of now well-recognised styles. All dances begin somewhere.

Although contemporary dance uses techniques from modern and ballet, it also allows a level of improvisation and interpretation.

One of the most famous contemporary dancers of the 20th century was Isadora Duncan, described as the mother of modern dance. She broke all the classical rules and was one of the biggest influences on this style.

Her approach emphasised naturalistic movement and Duncan studied Greek mythology and visual iconography, which informed her style and development as an artist. A connection with ancient rituals is evident in her performance ideology, and she was a pioneer in this regard.

Contemporary dance tends to be theme-based rather than revolving around a narrative or story. It’s a vehicle used to educate, explore and provoke, so the audience may be uncertain about where the performance is leading.

Is Contemporary Dance Difficult?

It’s easy to perceive contemporary dance as a medium that focuses on interpretation and improvisation, so essentially a freestyle, but it’s surprisingly technical. 

It requires coordination, strength, and speed so the right fitness levels and body conditioning are essential to avoid injuries which can seriously impact the lives of both amateur and professional dancers.

Contemporary dance is usually performed barefoot. Dancing barefoot helps with balance and accentuates long and beautiful lines, where the feet are just as expressive as the hands.

However, turning and gliding can be more difficult, and it’s also easier to injure your feet. A compromise is to wear foot undies which provide protection for the ball of the feet whilst also allowing seamless movement and turns. 

Foot undies are barely visible, so the dancer looks like they are dancing barefoot. Sometimes also called foot thongs, they are stretchable and breathable. 

Foot thongs solve abrasion when performing contemporary and lyrical routines and feature small suede pads on the soles.

What Are the Main Differences Between Lyrical and Contemporary Dance?

Point of Origin

Lyrical dance uses techniques from ballet and jazz, whereas contemporary fuses multiple different styles, including ballet, jazz, modern and lyrical. 

Technical Elements

Contemporary dance has a strong technical element. A lot of the movement centres on speed and strength, control and changes of direction – it’s about pushing the boundaries of interpretation and pursuing the technique.

Lyrical dancing focuses more on expression and visual storytelling, where the emotional connection with the audience is paramount.

Musical Connection

Lyrical dance relates the flow of movement to the song's lyrics, hence the name. Dancers use their faces and body language to connect to the words, so this medium is a strong storyteller designed to connect with the audience.

Contemporary is not so specifically linked to the music or song lyrics.


In contemporary dance, the movement is more powerful and hard-hitting, whereas, in lyrical dance, it flows smoothly, interpreting the music. There are also more leaps in this style than in contemporary, 

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Contemporary and lyrical dance styles are similar in some respects; they’re both a vehicle to convey emotions, themes, and concepts. However, the way they achieve this is quite different, although it may require a trained eye to spot the difference.

Separating the styles is part of a dancer’s development and is particularly important for competition categories where misinterpretation and misunderstanding could end up with a routine in the wrong class.

Shop Supadance for all your shoe requirements, plus advice and information on how to look after both your shoes and your feet. We also stock a range of accessories for all styles of dance, including products for shoe care and foot health.