Jazz dance

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Jazz Dance
Modern jazz dancers.

Jazz dancing, and its steps and style, originated from the dancing of African Americans that were brought to America as slaves.[1][2] Originally, the term jazz dance encompassed any dance done to jazz music, including both tap dance and jitterbug.

Over time, a clearly defined jazz genre emerged, changing from a street dance to a theatrical dance performed on stage by professionals. Some scholars and dancers, especially Swing and Lindy Hop dancers, still regard the term jazz dance. It is a genre which has produced specific styles from famous choreographers such as Bob Fosse, Jack Cole, and Katherine Dunham. Jazz dance can refer to these specific styles or allude to theatrical or character dance. However, the style continues to adapt and is commonly seen on dance competition stages being performed in a very sassy manner with a lot of attitude. Some people think Jazz dance produced modern jazz, but really, Modern dance came more as a response against Ballet. Two main branches of Modern dance were pioneered through Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan.


The term was first used to describe dances done to the new-fangled jazz music of the early 20th century, but its origin lies in the dances brought from Africa by slaves shipped to America. At that time, it referred to any dance done to jazz music, which included both tap dance and jitterbug. A defining feature was its "free conversation-like style of improvisation."[3]

From the very beginning of the 1920s, ballet was connected to both, jazz music and dancing, when the term ‘jazz ballet’ was spreading around the world. That was practically the beginning of new “non-jazz” jazz dance. That was followed by Modern dance-based attempts to define “modern jazz dance” without a real connection to authentic jazz dance forms. These attempts were named collectively “modern jazz dance” by the end of the 1950s.[4] "Modern jazz dance" was defined by the end of the 1960s. [5][6]

During this time, choreographers from other genres experimented with the style.,[5] including George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Jack Cole, Hanya Holm, Helen Tamiris, Michael Kidd, Jerome Robbins, and Bob Fosse.[5] All of these choreographers influenced jazz by requiring highly trained dancers and introducing steps from ballet and contemporary dance.[7][5] In the 1950s, jazz dance was profoundly influenced by Caribbean and Latin American influences, introduced by Katherine Dunham.[8]


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

(This section refers to elements of Modern Jazz Dance. The elements of other jazz styles can be found in detail on their own entries (Tap Dance, Jitterbug, Swing (dance), Lindy Hop)

Isolations are a quality of movement that were introduced to jazz dance by Katherine Dunham.[9] Isolations are the movements in one part of the body specifically, while the other parts remain still.

A low center of gravity, high energy level, isolations, and style are all characteristics used to identify 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]

Jazz dance is now competed and performed through North America and many other countries across the world. There are many different stylistic preferences seen in jazz dances, such as a slow or fast pace, approach, and even music. Jazz dancing can very well be performed to any style of music.

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.[10] 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.[11]
  • Katherine Dunham, an anthropologist, choreographer, and pioneer in Black theatrical dance. She introduced isolations jazz dance.[8][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.
  • Patsy Swayze, choreographer and dance instructor, combining Jazz and Ballet. Swayze founded the Houston Jazz Ballet Company and served as the ballet's director.[12]
  • Gus Giordano, an influential jazz dancer and choreographer based in Chicago, 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.
  • Molly Molloy influential for instructing UK artists such as Arlene Philips and many members of Hot Gossip Jazz dance technique and choreography.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Borade, Gaynor. "You'll Be amazed to know the long and varied history of Jazz Dance". Buzzle. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  2. ^ Barnes, Clive. "Attitudes." Dance Magazine. Aug. 2004: 98. Web.
  3. ^ Carter, Curtis. "Improvisation in Dance." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 58, no. 2, 181-90. Accessed April 24, 2015. jstor.org.
  4. ^ Harri Heinilä, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality – The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943, pages 57-61 and 407.
  5. ^ a b c d Boross, Bob (Aug 1999). "All That's Jazz". Dance Magazine: 54. 
  6. ^ Hayes, Hannah. "Educators Make a Case for Keeping the History Alive in the Studio." Dance Teacher. Sep. 2009: 58. Web.
  7. ^ Barnes, Clive (Aug 2000). "Who's Jazzy Now?". Dance Magazine: 90. 
  8. ^ 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/
  9. ^ a b c d e f White, Ariel. "Jazz Movers and Shakers." Dance Spirit. Sep. 2008: 101. Web.
  10. ^ "Jack Cole: Jazz (documentary)". Dance Films Association. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  11. ^ "Jack Cole." Dance Heritage. Dance Heritage Coalition, n.d. Web. 1 May 2012. http://www.danceheritage.org/cole.html
  12. ^ Nelson, Valerie J. (15 September 2009). "Patrick Swayze dies at 57; star of the blockbuster films 'Dirty Dancing' and 'Ghost'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 


  • Eliane Seguin, Histoire de la danse jazz, 2003, Editions CHIRON, ISBN 978-2-7027-0782-1, 281 pp
  • Jennifer Dunning, Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance, 1998, Da Capo Press, ISBN 978-0-306-80825-8, 468 pp
  • A. Peter Bailey, Revelations: The Autobiography of Alvin Ailey, 1995, Carol Pub. Group, ISBN 978-0-8065-1861-9, 183 pp
  • Margot L. Torbert, Teaching Dance Jazz, Margot Torbert, 2000, ISBN 978-0-9764071-0-2
  • Robert Cohan, The Dance Workshop, Gaia Books Ltd, 1989, ISBN 978-0-04-790010-5
  • Crease, Robert. Divine Frivolity: Hollywood Representations of the Lindy Hop, 1937-1942. In Representing Jazz. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.
  • Carter, Curtis. Improvisation in Dance. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 58, no. 2, 181-90. Accessed April 24, 2015. jstor.org.
  • A New Orleans Jazz History, 1895-1927. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, Louisiana, April 5, 2015
  • Reid, Molly. New Orleans a Haven for Swing Dance Beginners, Professionals. The Times-Picayune, January 21, 2010