Pioneers of modern dance

Students investigate the origins of modern dance, including where it came from and who was leading the development of these styles.

Students will develop knowledge and understanding of the variety of pioneers: Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, William Forsythe and Graeme Murphy. Students will explore the PowerPoint presentation, youtube clips and practical workshops within the style being studied. Students will explore the development of each of these styles throughout time while gaining knowledge of the importance and significance of the pioneers.


  • 4.3.1 describes dance performances through the elements of dance.
  • 4.3.2 identifies that dance works of art express ideas.
  • 5.3.1 describes and analyse dance as the communication of ideas within a context.
  • 5.3.2 identifies and analyses the link between their performances and compositions and dance works of art.
  • 5.3.3 applies understandings and experiences drawn from their own work and dance works of art.


10 weeks.

Driving question

  • How has modern dance developed over time?
  • Where did it originate?


Students will explore the pioneers of modern dance, through appreciation and practical tasks based on the developing modern styles of dance. The connection of theory to practical work will further engage students, creating more in-depth understanding of the pioneers.

  • Work, employment and enterprise
  • Difference and diversity
  • Gender
  • Literacy.

Process Diary

Students are to:

  • document the process through practical classes in a process diary. This should be a journal, exploring reflections of each practical lesson or section investigating a differing musical. This can be their class workbooks, a dance process diary, or an online blog through sites such as Class Notebook or Google classroom.
  • Investigate musical theatre through a literacy lens, embedding discussions, summarising and TEEEC paragraphing in written form. These processes used follow literacy structures, language forms and features, as seen in the DoE text type support document.


All activities require students to demonstrate their learning and are all formative assessment activities.

Students will submit a summative assessment research task (DOCX 55 MB) at the end of the unit, exploring one chosen pioneer of modern dance. The pioneer can be any of their choosing. Students will be required to answer set questions in their task, enhancing their ICT skills. Students may wish to present an essay, PowerPoint presentation or speech. A non-linear approach to assessments allows all students to achieve while meeting the same learning outcomes.

Teaching and learning activities

Students are to work both individually and as a group through discussion-based activities throughout this unit, investigating the pioneers of modern dance in written and practical forms.

Suggested student learning activities include:

  • discussion and summarising strategies around modern dance
  • TEEEC structuring to form sophisticated paragraphing, working with the TEEEC scaffold provided (PDF 4.3 MB); and
  • research and investigate the pioneers of modern dance through questions and activities below.

Students will:

Students will:

  • explore the first pioneer of modern dance, Loie Fuller. Watch a clip on her choreographic style and describe what you recognise about the movement quality;
  • discussion on historical context: what would life have been like in the 1890's? Watch a clip and discuss how society would have reacted to her choreographic form:
  • summarise information from the Pioneers of Modern Dance PowerPoint presentation (PPTX 25.47 MB), learning summarising techniques. Choose 10 of the most important words on the slide, and then use these words to create your own sentences.

Students will:

Students will:

Students will:

  • watch the attached clips and write a TEEEC paragraph on Graham's technique and the aim of her choreography;
  • summarising activity on Graham's historical context and movement quality
  • create a TEEEC paragraph: Who is Martha Graham and why was her technique so influential?

Students will:

Students will:

Students will:

  • watch this clip titled You and I. Write down your observations. Suggested driving questions could be:
    • describe the dance style
    • does it include solo or partner work?
    • is it aesthetically pleasing?
    • what meaning can you draw from the work?

Students will:

When structuring the lessons work through the above sections across the entire unit.

Explore one pioneer each week throughout the term, coupling them with practical lessons exploring the studied style.

Attempt to engage in practical work around each style of modern dance.

Students are encouraged to present their research task, either an essay, speech or PowerPoint presentation/Prezi presentation to the class.

Students are to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the pioneers of modern dance, and its progression from the 1800s to the 21st century
  • explore performance opportunities embodying the differing styles of modern dance throughout time
  • submit a research task based on their chosen pioneer of modern dance.



Students could:

  • investigate another pioneer in any style of dance, that we as a class, have not explored
  • watch a work from their chosen pioneer and write a review outlining, summarising and analysing it for a set audience.

Life skills


  • LS 3.1

Students could:

  • experience a range of dance styles through film and class performance
  • perform a style of modern dance from the 1800s using a cloth to mimic Loie Fuller's original style
  • perform this routine to their class.


Feedback is formative for the duration of the unit.

This sequence and accompanying worksheets are available as word documents below:


Please note:

Syllabus outcomes and content descriptors from Dance 7–10 Syllabus (2003) © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2017.

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