Fall 2021 In Dance


W HENEVER SOMEONE ASKS ME to identify or define Jazz dance, I never have an easy answer. The Jazz dance tree is very dense: between Classic Jazz, Broadway Jazz, Contemporary Jazz, Urban Jazz, Jazz Funk, Afro-Jazz, Latin Jazz, Commercial Jazz, Street Jazz, and Lyrical Jazz, I can see why we’ve lost some of the history that inspired these sub-genres of Jazz. And while folks seem to recognize several char- acteristics of the style, they only scratch the surface of an African American dance form that serves as the foundation of popular styles like Funk, Disco, Hip- Hop, and Breakdance.


and the Pattin’ Juba that led to Tap and Ballroom spin-offs like the Swing and Charleston showcase the connec- tion and influence of Jazz music, its style, rhythm, and improvisation. The Savoy Ballroom in New York was a popular destination for Jazz musicians and dancers to show off their skills and keep up with the latest moves and sounds. The Lindy Hop, Jive, and Shimmy were dance styles that emerged from the Savoy’s dance community between the 1920s and 1940s. The musicians were inspired by Swing and Blues, call and response, improvisation, and poly- rhythms in their compositions, which you can see reflected in the dancing of that time. This connection between Jazz dance and Jazz music is something I wish to see more of in the dance spaces I’ve occupied since childhood. MY STORY WITH JAZZ started when my local dance studio, Adrienne’s Dance Studio, announced they would be offering a Jazz class for my age group. As an 8-year-old I was so excited to learn this new style that was always the most exciting to watch at our recitals: set to pop music and fea- turing strong lines, multiple pirou- ettes, high kicks, big leaps, sassy faces, and the fabulous “kick-ball-change jazz square.” I took Jazz all the way through high school, performing showstopping routines on competi- tion teams throughout my teens. At this point, Jazz was my favorite dance style, but I had no historical knowl- edge of its roots or basic information about its legacy. And I definitely didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate any

Because the dances of so many music videos and halftime shows are rooted in Jazz, it has become hard to see the vernacular, social dance roots of the form. I’ve been inspired to reconnect with the roots of Jazz and learn more about its diverse history by embed- ding it throughout my dance career as a professional artist and educator. Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver’s book, Jazz Dance: A His- tory of the Roots and Branches , sits on my bedside table, and I recently watched the documentary Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz directed by Khadifa Wong. These two sources confirmed the feeling I had leaving college, that Jazz is so much more than the commercialized version we see on mainstream media. There’s a rich history made up of a long list of trailblazers and dance legends that goes beyond Bob Fosse,

Jack Cole, Gus Giordano, and Luigi to include names like Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, Pepsi Bethel, and Frank Hatchett, among many others. Many dancers today can name the first four artists, and either have never heard of or associate some of the latter four with modern dance forms. I challenge dance educators, instructors, studio owners, and dancers themselves to dig deeper and spend time learning the history of their dance movement, including the early dance legends who provided the roots and platform for what we cele- brate in dance today. Jazz is rooted in African American culture with origins traced back to the end of slavery and the beginning years of “freedom” for the Black community. The rise of Jazz music inspired a social dance r/evolu- tion that makes up a lot of what we see in popular dance styles and trends today. Early dances like the Cakewalk


in dance FALL 2021 48

FALL 2021 in dance 49




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In Dance | May 2014 | dancersgroup.org

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