Jazz dance

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Modern jazz dancers.

Jazz dance is a classification shared by a broad range of dance styles. Before the 1950s, jazz dance referred to dance styles that originated from African American vernacular dance. In the 1950s, a new genre of jazz dance — modern jazz dance — emerged, with roots in Caribbean traditional dance. Every individual style of jazz dance has roots traceable to one of these two distinct origins. Jazz was a big hit in the early 50's and it is still a well loved style of dance all over the world.


The term "Jazz" was first applied to a style of dance and during World War I.[1] Jazz in a dance form, however, originates from the vernacular dances of Africans when they were brought to the Americas on slave ships.[2] This dance form developed alongside jazz music in New Orleans in the early 1900s.[3] Beginning in the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s, Jazz dance transformed from this vernacular form into a theatre-based performance form of dance that required trained dancers.[4][5] During this time, choreographers from the modern and ballet dance worlds experimented with the jazz dance style.[4] These included choreographers such as George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Jack Cole, Hanya Holm, Helen Tamiris, Michael Kidd, Jerome Robbins, and Bob Fosse.[4] All of these choreographers influenced jazz by requiring highly trained dancers to perform a specific set of movements, which differed greatly from the colloquial form of New Orleans in the 1900s.[3][4] Also during this time period (circa. 1950) jazz dance was profoundly influenced by Caribbean and other Latin American dance styles introduced by anthropologist and dancer Katherine Dunham.[6]


Students performing jazz dance at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City as part of Culture Week activities

Throughout its history, jazz dance has developed in parallel to popular music.[7] This pattern of development has resulted in a few elements of movement key to the dance style, the most important being that jazz is they physical embodiment of the popular music of a given time.[7] An example of this is that during a down time of jazz dancing from 1945–1954, when big bands and dance halls were declining, the vernacular of the dance followed less jazz music and leaned more toward rock and roll, creating moves like "The Monkey" and "The Jerk".[8]

Syncopated rhythm is a common characteristic in jazz music that was adapted to jazz dance in the early twentieth century and has remained a significant characteristic.[4]

Isolations are a quality of movement that were introduced to jazz dance by Katherine Dunham.[9]

Improvisation was an important element in early forms of jazz dance, as it is an important element of jazz music.[4][10]

A low center of gravity and high level of energy are other important identifying characteristics of jazz dance.[9] Other elements of jazz dance are less common and are the stylizations of their respective choreographers.[9] One such example are the inverted limbs and hunched-over posture of Bob Fosse.[9]

Notable directors, dancers, and choreographers[edit]

  • Michael Bennett, director, writer, choreographer, and dancer who was a tony award winner. A Chorus Line and Dream Girls are examples of some of his work.
  • Busby Berkley, movie choreographer in the 1930s and 1940s famous for geometric pattern and kaleidoscopic arrangements
  • Jack Cole, considered the father of jazz dance technique.[11] He was a key inspiration to Matt Mattox, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Gwen Verdon, and many other choreographers. He is credited with popularizing the theatrical form of jazz dance with his great number of choreographic works on television and Broadway.[12]
  • Katherine Dunham, an anthropologist, choreographer, and pioneer in Black theatrical dance. She introduced isolations jazz dance.[6][9]
  • Eugene Louis Facciuto (a.k.a. "Luigi"), an accomplished dancer who, after suffering a crippling automobile accident in the 1950s, created a new style of jazz dance based on the warm-up exercises he invented to circumvent his physical handicaps. The exercise routine he created for his own rehabilitation became the world's first complete technique for learning jazz dance.[citation needed]
  • Bob Fosse, a noted jazz choreographer who created a new form of jazz dance that was inspired by Fred Astaire and the burlesque and vaudeville styles.
  • Gus Giordano, an influential jazz dancer and choreographer, known for his clean, precise movement qualities.[9]
  • Michael Jackson, known as "The King of Pop"
  • Leon James, authentic Jazz dancers from the 1930s original member of "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers
  • Gene Kelly, award winning dance film icon. Known for continuing his career for over 60 years. Work can be found in Singin' in the Rain and On the Town.
  • Frankie Manning, Lindy Hop and authentic Jazz dancer and choreographer
  • Norma Miller, known worldwide as the "Queen of Swing" Lindy Hop and authentic Jazz dancer and choreographer
  • Al Minns, authentic Jazz dancers from the 1930s original member of "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers
  • 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.
  • Gwen Verdon, known for her roles in Damn Yankees, Chicago, and Sweet Charity.
  • David Winters known for his role as A-Rab in West Side Story and as an award-winning choreographer for movies and TV programs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Craine, Debra, and Judith Mackrell. Oxford Dictionary of Dance. 2nd Ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print. p 238
  2. ^ Barnes, Clive. “Attitudes.” Dance Magazine. Aug. 2004: 98. Web.
  3. ^ a b Barnes, Clive (Aug 2000). "Who's Jazzy Now?". Dance Magazine: 90. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Boross, Bob (Aug 1999). "All That's Jazz.". Dance Magazine: 54. 
  5. ^ Hayes, Hannah. “Educators Make a Case for Keeping the History Alive in the Studio.” Dance Teacher. Sep. 2009: 58. Web.
  6. ^ a b “Katherine Dunham’s Brilliant Legacy.” The Art of Dance. WordPress.com, 13 Dec 2009. Web. 1 May 2012 http://theartofdance.wordpress.com/2009/12/13/katherine-dunham%E2%80%99s-brilliant-legacy/
  7. ^ a b Caning, Laurie. “Jazz Capsule.” Dance Spirit. May–June 2002: 61. Web.
  8. ^ Stearns, Jean. "Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance". Da Capo Press. 1994. pg 1-2
  9. ^ a b c d e f White, Ariel. “Jazz Movers and Shakers.” Dance Spirit. Sep. 2008: 101. Web.
  10. ^ Darling, Matthew, Steven Gilbert, Bradley Hufft, and Craig VonBerg. Listen to the Music: Styles, Trends, and Influences in American Pop. 16th ed. Fresno: Kennel Copy Center, 2010. Print.
  11. ^ "Jack Cole: Jazz (documentary)". Dance Films Association. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  12. ^ “Jack Cole.” Dance Heritage. Dance Heritage Coalition, n.d. Web. 1 May 2012. http://www.danceheritage.org/cole.html