Understanding … Jazz

Next up in our series about dance is a little bit on Jazz

History of Jazz Dance

Most of the time when people talk jazz – you imagine Liza Minnelli, Fosse, “Cabaret,” or even polished, long lines, tricks and triple pirouettes in music videos. But Jazz is something that has evolved over time – as something creative, it changes with trends and times, social change impacts on the styles too. Jazz initially came from the type of music people listened too – which lead to a specific type of movement – think African Dance. The idea that the music inspired the movement.

While jazz dance has broken off into small niches through time, there are several figures under the umbrella of jazz dance that have shaped the movement and influence of popular choreographers that you see today.

Types of ‘jazz’: traditional jazz dance, to modern and further back to the Cakewalk, Black Bottom, Charleston, Jitterbug, Boogie Woogie, swing and the related Lindy Hop. These last few now considered as “swing dance”.

Main names in Jazz

Many figures made their mark in the 1950’s and these movements are still relevant today

  • Bob Fosse

Fosse’s movement was unique and was groundbreaking. The movement was detailed, specific and very distinguishable. Best known for his Broadway shows such as Chicago, Cabaret, Damn Yankees, and The Pajama Game. The phrase “jazz hands” directly references Fosse and his detailed hand movements and placement during his choreography.

Other well known choreographers: Katherine Dunham, George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Jack Cole, Hanya Holm, Helen Tamiris, Michael Kidd (choreographer of Guys and Dolls) and Jerome Robbins.

About a class

While this style of dance had its roots in expressing music through movement it is also a very technical style of dance, which has much to link to ballet or at least an understanding of ballet movement.

The idea being the better a jazz dancer technically understands the movements and technique, the better they will be at expressing themselves and improvising.

Jazz in the modern era

Today it is slightly different to the Fosse and Gene Kelly – but the influences are still there – think Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal and Beyonce’s Single ladies. Jazz extends into hip hop styles as well as its traditional styles too. Many key choreographers around today working with Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, on So You Think You Can Dance and others have grounding in Jazz.


About Leanne

Principal at React Dance Academy - providing dance and performing arts education for under 18's in Kenton, Newcastle. Studied with, and continuing our development with the IDTA

Posted on October 26, 2016, in Experience Dance and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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