Jazz dance is an umbrella term that can refer to several related dance styles. All of them are connected via common roots, namely tap, ballet, jazz music, and African-American rhythms and dance.
Jazz dance originated from the African American vernacular dance of the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. An early popular "jazz dancer" was vaudeville star Joe Frisco in the 1910s. He danced in a loose-limbed style close to the ground while juggling his derby, hat and cigar.
Until the middle of 1950s, the term "jazz dance" often referred to tap dance, because tap dancing (set to jazz music) was the main performance dance of the era. During the later jazz age, popular forms of jazz dance were the Cakewalk, Black Bottom, Charleston, Jitterbug, Boogie Woogie, Swing dancing and the related Lindy Hop.
After the 1950, pioneers such as Katherine Dunham took the essence of Caribbean traditional dance and made it into a performing art. With the growing domination of other forms of entertainment music, jazz dance evolved on Broadway into a new, smooth style taught today and known as Modern Jazz, while tap dance continued to evolve on its own. The performance style was popularized by Bob Fosseâ€™s work, such as Chicago, Cabaret, Damn Yankees, and The Pajama Game.
Today, jazz dance is present in many different venues and different forms. Jazz dance thrives in dance schools and remains an essential part of musical theater choreography; it is sometimes interwoven with other dance styles as appropriate for the particular show. Jazz dancing can be seen in some music videos, and even a number of Las Vegas showgirls are jazz dancers. Jazz Dance can also be seen on the hit show, "So You Think You Can Dance", and is performed by dance companies around the world.
Technique is the foundation for all dance movement. A strong technical foundation enables a dancer to focus on the stylistic and performance aspects of dance. Technique is essential for jumps and turns, where correct posture is essential to properly execute such moves. Also, jazz dancers' strong and sharp movements are greatly aided by a good background in ballet technique.
Center control is important in jazz technique. The body's center is the focal point from which all movement emanates, thus making it possible to maintain balance while executing powerful movements.
Jazz classes require some form of moderate intensity stretching in order to warm up the muscles and help prevent injuries. Some techniques used in the warm up consist of elongating leg muscles and strengthening the core.
Notable Directors, Dancers, and Choreographers
- Katherine Dunham, considered the grandmaster of jazz dance technique. She was a key inspiration to most modern jazz dance legends.
- Jack Cole, considered the father of jazz dance technique. He was a key inspiration to Matt Mattox, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Gwen Verdon, and many other choreographers.
- Bob Fosse, a noted jazz choreographer who created a new form of jazz, inspired by Fred Astaire and the burlesque and vaudeville styles.
- Gus Giordano, a highly influential jazz dancer and choreographer.
- Eugene Louis Facciuto (aka Luigi), a dancer who in the 1950s created a warmup routine designed to prepare his body for dancing after being paralyzed in a car accident.Luigi is the Father and Innovator of Jazz Dance.
- Jerome Robbins, choreographer for a number of hit musicals, including Peter Pan, The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof, Gypsy, Funny Girl, and West Side Story. He also directed the last four. He also founded the ballet company Ballets USA.
- Gwen Verdon, known for her roles in Damn Yankees, Chicago, and Sweet Charity.
Dance Connection in Rochester, NY offers a variety of Jazz dance classes for students of all ages!