The Many Contexts of Contemporary

An Interview with Lucy Vurusic Riner

RE|dance group is a Chicago-based dance collective dedicated to the presentation of dance theatre works that examine the many facets of personal, intimate human relationships. Executive director and co-founder Lucy Vurusic Riner shares her thoughts on what “contemporary” means in the dance context. This interview is part of a series on contemporary dance and its extended implications.


Photo by Shelby Kroeger


How would you define contemporary dance to someone without a background in dance?

I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about the term “contemporary dance.” My own ideas of what it means have evolved over the past decade. When I talk to someone about contemporary dance, I refer to it as an abstract style that speaks to the current trends in dance today. Contemporary dance can encompass many different variations on traditional styles, but it’s ultimately how dancers and choreographers take what they know of dance, and the perceptions they have of what is trending today, and make it into their own.

How does a student train for a contemporary dance career?

I think a student training in dance today needs to be at least proficient in all forms. The dance world is a very competitive place, and dancers who are more versatile and have an understanding of many dance forms and how they influence what is happening in dance today are typically more successful. They certainly get more opportunities. Yes, if your preference is contemporary dance then you should focus on taking different contemporary forms and meeting teachers and choreographers in the field. But spreading your net even wider will help you meet more people who can connect you to a wider scope of dance opportunities.


Photo by Taso Papadakis

When did contemporary dance emerge? Do you consider it a growth out of modern and/or post-modern dance?

I personally consider it a growth out of modern and post-modern dance but I also think it emerged as another way to describe lyrical dance as well. “So You Think You Can Dance” put the word “contemporary” into people’s brains and then it flooded over to other shows that feature it as well (like “Dancing with the Stars”). I think the term and style emerged as a way to hook the larger public into wanting to watch dance. I also think that because many contemporary dances we see on television tell some sort of story to music that is easily relatable, it helps that people who don’t have any experience in watching dance can enjoy it.

How do you think your work contributes to the contemporary dance arena?

I think all the work RE|dance group does falls into the contemporary category because we are making dances in response to and within a contemporary world. Our dances are about humans and how we experience the world we live in now. But our work also fuses many dance styles like modern, ballet and jazz. I think this is also how many dance artists define contemporary: as the marriage of many different dance forms. Lastly, we see ourselves as a dance theater company. We make work that weaves text, sculpture and other art mediums into what we create. Each of these elements lends itself to being defined as contemporary because they are happening now.

What does the future of contemporary dance look like? In what direction do you see it evolving?

I think contemporary dance will continue to evolve until at some point yet another way of seeing and defining dance will emerge. Personally, I see all dance as movement, form or expression. Yes, certain styles appeal to some more than others, but contemporary dance umbrellas a lot of different ways that people create and interpret dance. Over the last decade, choreographers like Mia Michaels have coined the term “contemporary” and helped it morph into its own genre. But for me, contemporary dance is simply movement expression that is being created in a current time and place. That means it will always remain contemporary…no matter what we decide to call it next.


Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis


Lucy Vurusic Riner is the executive director and co-founder of RE|dance group. A native Chicagoan, she has been dancing, choreographing and teaching in the Midwest for over 20 years. Lucy received her BS in dance and dance education from Illinois State University, her master’s in education from National Louis University, and has been a member of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, RTG Dance Company and Matthew Hollis’ “The Power of Cheer.” She has also been part of the community cast of White Oak Dance Project and David Dorfman Dance. Lucy has taught modern, hip hop and jazz at numerous studios and high schools in the Chicagoland area.