This is the construction of my CPD based on attendance at the Hannah Bird Cunningham Class within the Summer Intensive at Trinity Laban, London.

Cunningham exercises


Cunningham is a style within Contemporary dance, that draws on both classical ballet and modern dance.  Merce Cunningham is considered to be the first choreographer to “develop an independent attitude towards modern dance” and defy the ideas that were established by it.[4][5] This dance style contrasts postmodern dance which is was a direct and opposite response to modern dance.

Cunningham developed technique in his dancers but in contrast his dance choreography developed creatively in response to accompanying music by John Cage.  As in an abstract painting the choreography developed in response to the movement, sound or change of light. It is reported that what made routines unique was that often dancers had not heard the music they would dance to until the performance. What was communicated to the audience therefore mainly determined by the observer themselves. This teaching style relied on significant technical ability from the dancers.

Cunningham’s key choreographic ideas include:

  • Contemporary dance does refuse the classical ballet’s leg technique in favor of modern dance’s stress on the torso
  • Contemporary dance is not necessarily narrative form of art
  • Choreography that appears disordered, but nevertheless relies on technique
  • Unpredictable changes in rhythm, speed, and direction
  • Multiple and simultaneous actions
  • Suspension of perspective and symmetry in ballet scenic frame perspective such as front, center, and hierarchies
  • Creative freedom
  • “Independence between dance and music”
  • Dance to be danced, not analyzed
  • Innovative lighting, sets, and costumes in collaboration 


What did I learn?

Teaching style:

Slow and steady or fast and enthusiastic.


As a teacher when met with new students there is this dilemma. There are always students who look like they could and do enjoy a fast pace class with excitement and then those who like to dissect each movement. Hannah teaches with a slow and steady approach.

Initially you think, ahhh she as said this exercise on the right foot and on the left and in turnout and in second. Then you realise actually, I understand this soooo much better than I thought. I have corrected my alignment and I am actually breathing! So actually it seems a better approach.

Her style has influenced how I approach teaching. Rather than teaching a sequence and observing how students pic it up or looking for their alignment. I sometimes instead take time to go through each movement, where it initiates and how it reoccurs in other movement. I think this is more important than picking up choreography and performing with limited technique or with technique that cannot be applied again.

I recognised that Hannah did the exercise with the class in that she looked for the areas where she had most difficulty and relayed to her students mechanisms to overcome these problems.

Hannah obviously had set criteria she was to teach and prepared set sequences to suit the brief. She had two classes and had differentiated the level to suit the class named level as well as student ability. I also prepare in advance but edit more to suit the class as I go.

I felt she had an approachable attitude. This was fostered by sitting at the level of the students when taking the register and making a conscious effort to learn student names. She was excellent at recalling names and faces. I observed that she was confident in what she was teaching and never phased or worried either by setting the timing with the live musician or when she made an error.

I have a habit of standing in the second row in the middle. Why? This means I never have to be in front (a confidence thing) and can clearly see the teacher. What my vantage point means is there is never a time when I cannot see others. The down side of this expert positioning is that I stop learning the sequence for myself, my movements become stilted and I do not interpret the music. How does this relate to the Cunningham class? Hannah overcame the problem of me following others by  changing the front or moving us in the space. She also completed the same movements with a slower/faster pace to suit the students. I have adopted the front change with the same beneficial change in the dynamics of my classes. This method has also overcame the problem of front row divas.



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