What Is Lyrical Dance Style?

The Differences Compared to Jazz Dance and Ballet

Miss Georgia 2017 Alyssa Beasley - Lyrical Dance
Miss Georgia 2017 Alyssa Beasley - Lyrical Dance.

Donald Kravitz / Getty Images

Lyrical dance is a dance style that blends elements of ballet and jazz dance. Lyrical dance is generally a little more fluid than ballet and also somewhat faster -- although not as rapidly executed as jazz dance. Lyrical dance is also somewhat smoother and a bit faster than ballet, but not quite as fast as jazz.

Modern Ballet and Feeling

George Balanchine remains the most influential and widely observed of all 20th-century ballet choreographers. When asked by an interviewer what his dance movements expressed, he answered "nothing in particular." This statement, probably shocking to many, didn't imply that dance lacked emotion; it did suggest that his view of dance was that it was defined by "the logic of movement," rather than engendered by emotion or expressing it.

Interestingly, one of the dominant composers of the 20th century, Igor Stravinsky, made a similar statement, that "music expresses nothing." Unsurprisingly some of Balanchine's most memorable ballets are set to Stravinsky's music. 

Neither man meant that art should lack an emotional effect. They did insist, however, that the art didn't exist to encourage listeners' and viewers' emotional responses -- if that was a consequence, fine, but the art existed as a formal structure. What it best expressed was that structure. 

Lyrical Dance and Feeling

Both jazz dance and lyrical dance proceed from different premises. Jazz dance, although it often has a formal choreographic basis, is strongly emotional and improvisational. The way a jazz dancer reacts to the music or to the narrative in one performance will likely be different from her reaction in another, simply because her emotional response, which arises at the moment, will never be quite the same twice.

Lyrical dance is similarly oriented toward the dancer's emotional responses rather than to an underlying formal choreographic structure. While a choreographic structure often exists, it serves more as a general guide than as a prescription for specific dance moves that, once mastered, will be highly similar from one performance to the next.

Some Specifics About Lyrical Dance 

 A lyrical dancer uses movement to express strong emotions, such as love, joy, romantic yearning or anger.

Lyrical dancers often perform to music with lyrics. The lyrics of the chosen song serve as inspiration for the dancers' movements and expressions. Music used for lyrical dance is typically emotionally charged and expressive. The musical genres used in lyrical dance include pop, rock, blues, hip-hop, ethnic and world music and different forms of "downtown" contemporary music, such as minimalism. The music of minimalist composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich have often been used by lyrical dance companies. From the 1980s onward, different African musical genres, such as the music of Soweto, have also been popular. Powerful, expressive songs are often used in lyrical dance to give dancers a chance to express a range of strong emotions through their dancing.

Movements in lyrical dance are characterized by fluidity and grace, with the dancer flowing seamlessly from one move to another, holding finishing steps as long as possible. Leaps are exceptionally high and soaring, and turns are fluid and continuous.