Lyrical dancing is a relatively recent form of dance coming from a fusion of jazz dance and ballet. Aside from having a beautiful and expressive choreographic vocabulary, it's also one of the most pleasurable forms to dance.
The Development of Lyrical Dancing
Unlike other forms, it is somewhat difficult to pinpoint the origins of lyrical dancing. The performative mode came out of the entertainment world, where dancers in popular music and also stage performances (such as Cirque du Soleil) began integrating their jazz dance vocabulary with the classical training of ballet.
Lyrical dancing is most known - and sometimes reviled - for conveying emotion and following very closely the mood of the musical accompaniment. For many modern and post-modern dancers and choreographers this is a shortcoming, since the dance is considered to be adequate by itself, without needing the support of emotional expression or musical accompaniment.
However, in terms of pleasing the audience, lyrical dance provides a much more accessible mode of artistic communication. Audiences can easily understand and connect to the dancer, the choreography, and the music, which is why choreographers such as Mia Michaels (who started with Cirque du Soleil and went on to become a TV favorite on the show So You Think You Can Dance) have found such popularity for their work.
More Opportunities for More Dancers
Although lyrical dancing draws upon the technique of ballet, modern and jazz, it is not as rigorously demanding as any of them. Since it focuses on the expressiveness of the dancer, there is less concentration on precision and more on individual style. This enables more people to explore lyrical dance - people with different body types, different experience, different ages. Many dance teachers have found that lyrical dancing can be a great introduction for very young children to begin their dance training because moving so clearly to the music instills a sense of enjoyment, which then carries over into the more strenuous drills and exercises of ballet. At the same time, older dancers (who are no longer able to quite jeté like they used) find they can still draw on their technique and combine it with maturity of expression to create and perform fantastic pieces of lyrical dancing.
The Qualities of Lyrical Dance
One of the most prevalent qualities of lyrical dance is the continuation of movement. The choreography is usually designed to have the movements flow very naturally and smoothly into each other, with little or no stopping or moments of stillness. While sharp movements such as contractions or spiking with limbs can be integrated for emphasis at certain parts of the dance, usually the movements are flowing, "carving" and "arcing", with many curving pathways created and merging into each other.
The word "lyrical" itself has nothing to do with words to a song - rather, it draws upon the dictionary definition, which includes phrases such as "having a poetic, expressive quality…highly rhapsodic or enthusiastic". Lyric dance conveys strong emotions, most often love, or the loss of love, though other emotions such as excitement and joy are also used. Depression and anger are not as often portrayed, though, as with any art form, there are exceptions to the rule. However, it's far more likely that a dance conveying negative emotions would be dealing with something like longing, unrequited love, or jealousy.
Lyrical dance also tends to cover a large amount of space; the dancers travel across the stage in high, soaring leaps or graceful turns and walks. Since the dance follows the music very closely, most lyrical pieces are done to music that is slow and rhythmic, with easily identifiable climaxes. This is part of why this form of dance is so popular with contemporary music performers.
Choreographers and dancers such as Mark Meismer and Suzi Taylor continue to expand the boundaries of the form by bringing in new kinds of choreography, such as hip hop, tango, or salsa. Regardless of the influences, the basis of emotive content and smooth movement remain the essential parts of lyric dance.