Fall 2021 In Dance

to create the space for the Early Jazz experience to transpire within my classes. I decided to research the art form as deeply as I could, from read- ing books, to engaging in discussions with community members, to finding grainy videos from the early 1900s on YouTube. What I gathered is that Jazz is truly an experience and I can- not effectively teach it until I immerse students in the Jazz sensibility. I started with creating a Jazz-only playlist; all the music I play, from warm-up to across the floor to final combination, is Jazz-based, spanning decades and styles from Blues Jazz and Afro Jazz to Latin Jazz and Funk Jazz. Some of the artists on my play- list are legends like Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, and Nina Simone; others are independent and emerging artists I find on Spotify from countries all around the world. There’s a great list of artists in “Neo- Jazz,” which gives a fresh outlook on what Jazz music can offer. In terms of my pedagogy, I started using improvisation as a way to teach concepts in class, like play- fulness with your dynamics, incor- porating Jazz movement into your personal style, connecting with dif- ferent rhythms in the music while in motion, and helping dancers find an expressive movement style to build upon. I also began introducing differ- ent ways to connect and respond to the music, exploring polyrhythms by initiating movement patterns based on the track. Once the pandemic hit, I started incorporating groove-based movements into my warm-ups and choreography, like the Grapevine or the Prep, popular movements from the Funk era—and what a difference that made! I eventually started pick- ing my favorite Jazz dance legends to honor every month, discussing some of their history and impact on the dance field, and tailoring my curric- ulum to their specific technique or movement vocabulary. Reflecting on my journey with Jazz inspires me to share my story and

IF I WANT TO EDUCATE DANCERS ABOUT JAZZ, I need to create the space for the Early Jazz experience to transpire within my classes.

of the forms’ deeper meanings. I was mostly focused on mastering my tech- nique to perform the “tricks” that were celebrated at competitions and local performances. When I got to UC Irvine, I quickly discovered that I was just one of many students who were the top dancers at their home studios. We spent the first quarter comparing our split leaps, fouette turns, and illusions—a compe- tition jazz turn where the dancer dives their head to the floor while shoot- ing their leg to the sky—while danc- ing to Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and whomever else was playing on the radio. But during my second quar- ter, we got a new Jazz professor, Dr. Sheron Wray. Dr. Wray single-hand- edly shifted the vibe, curriculum, and essence of Jazz in our department. She came in with a very codified tech- nique (part of the Matt Mattox cur- riculum); played only Jazz music; cel- ebrated African-American vernacular dance movement vocabulary (move- ments I’d seen my mom doing at fam- ily house parties); and gave us struc- tured improvisation prompts in every single class. I felt like the few danc- ers of color and I collectively exhaled upon learning her style. After three years learning Jazz under Dr. Wray’s direction, I had completely changed my relationship to, knowledge of, and love for Jazz dance. When I graduated from college, I walked away with a love for Jazz music, its expressive range and “aes- thetic of cool,” a deeper appreciation

for improvisation, and a balance of playfulness, release, contrac- tion, dynamics, rhythm, theatrics, and stretch that inspires my prac- tice today. There’s a magic to the early roots of Jazz that I would love to see in more classes and perfor- mances throughout the Bay Area and beyond. When I look around the Bay Area dance scene, there’s a short list of studios that offer Jazz and if they do, it’s usually Contemporary based at prominent studios and Hip-Hop based in underground studios. Where can we find “Early Jazz,” Jazz taught with the early fundamentals of the dance form as a base? I look to Bay Area Dance leaders such as Antoine Hunter and Reginald Savage, who have preserved Jazz by creating dance companies centered around the form. I would love to see this list grow, cel- ebrating Early Jazz, from the music to the freestyle jam sessions, to the community filled with heart-warming vibes right here in the Bay Area. Jazz deserves to be just as popular as Bal- let, Modern, and Hip-Hop, especially since it incorporates all three styles seamlessly, which is what I try to highlight within my teaching practice. As a dance teacher, I have recently held myself accountable to how I curate and lead the intentions of my classes. I’ve been teaching Jazz ever since I left college, but around four years ago, I decided I no lon- ger wanted to teach Studio/Compe- tition Jazz based classes. If I want to educate dancers about Jazz, I need

encourage others to deepen their prac- tice by knowing and celebrating the roots. In the same way we uphold the legacy of Ballet and Modern, from stu- dios to universities, we must give Jazz the same appreciation by enriching stu- dents with its full history. If you come to my class, you will walk away with more than just tips for how to stick a double turn or hold a Lateral T; you

will walk away with a piece of Jazz history that will inspire and uplift the feel-good dance magic that keeps us all coming back for more. ASHLEY GAYLE graduated from UC Irvine with a B.F.A in Dance Performance and a minor in Business Management. She’s performed with PUSH Dance Company, Mix’d Ingrdnts, and Urban Jazz Dance Company, among many other companies. Ashley Gayle teaches youth and adults throughout the Bay Area; including

Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, UC Berkeley/ CalPerformances Ailey Camp, Cal State East Bay, K-12 schools throughout the Bay Area, to name a few. Her current endeavor is Co-Directing Visceral Roots Dance Company and presenting choreography rooted in telling stories inspired by social justice for minorities. She has presented work throughout the Bay Area for the past few years at many festivals and residences. She currently serves on the Board for SADC and teaches weekly Adult Jazz classes on Saturday mornings. Please visit www.ashleygayle.org to stay in touch!


in dance FALL 2021 50

FALL 2021 in dance 51




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In Dance | May 2014 | dancersgroup.org

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