There are many established dance styles that have been popular around the world for centuries and often they adhere to rigid rules about musical accompaniment as well as movement and choreography. Contemporary styles are different however, in that it does not adhere to any one set of established rules and structure, its focus is on expression and movement, regardless of the origin.
Drawing aspects from various forms and music for its creation, contemporary dancing utilizes both the strong foot work of ballet along with many upper body movements and various bits from just about any culture, such as African and Chinese styles. It also tends to stray away from the classically accepted methods of choreographing that involve predictable rhythm and a climax- anticlimax structure.
Merce Cunningham was one of the first to develop a different approach to ideas concerning choreography. His peers noticed that he was no longer structuring his routines in a linear manner, possibly surprising and alarming some audiences. Comparing his work to that of abstract paintings, he explained that every gesture, movement and level of lighting could be considered a form of expression, the meaning of which can only be supplied by the audience. In 1953 he formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and since then has created more than 150 works under that title, many of which have been performed by ballet and modern performance companies.
The choices of routines, music, sounds and even dress are all subject to artistic evaluation. It is the role of the choreographer to select and construct routines and styles that best demonstrate the talent and skill on display as well as promoting the key idea or concept portrayed by the performance as a whole. In contemporary styles, it is the choreography that most sets it apart from more common forms of classical and modern performances. It is the choreographer that can decide to include the eastern sitar in a ballet performance creating an experience never seen by the world before and this is the basis of contemporary dance.
All in all, contemporary dance has contributed much to the world of performing arts and its acceptance into the world of theater has opened the door for many styles and artists who never had an avenue for expressing their talents. We live in an ever changing world and while it is important to pay respects to the classics, we must be careful not to deny ourselves of the new experiences that could exist in the world.