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Jazz Dance History Essay, Research Paper

Jazz Dance

“Jazz dance is a form of personal expression created and sustained though improvisation…it has certain defining characteristics, including improvisation, isolation, a centrifugal explosion of energy that radiates outward from the hips, and a propulsive rhythm that gives a swinging quality to the movement.”

-Bob Boross

Jazz is a crossbreed of north American cultures, a music and dance of the slaves of Africa, and old European Jigs and lits, Minstrel shows and presumably, Jazz music. Jazz is part of the genuine folk culture of North America and the only such national tradition. Today any professional dancer male or female can not make it without a Jazz background. The first Jazz dancer to dance to Jazz Music was said to be “Frisco”, who spotted Al Jolson and started mimicking him at the Lambs Cafe in Chicago. Marshall and Jean Stearns, in their book Jazz Dance – The Story of American Vernacular Dance, state that jazz dance is a “blend of African and European traditions in an American environment.” They feel that European movement contributed an elegance, and that African movement gave a rhythmic style. Lynne Fauley Emery also notes the importance of rhythm in African music and dance by using the metaphor of a drumbeat for the heartbeat of Africa. It would seem that, although European movement has given a shape to jazz dance, African rhythmic propulsion is the factor that has given jazz dance its character and appeal. Jazz dance is the embodiment of the American culture in that it blends many different cultures, lifestyles and techniques into one harmonious art form.

To trace the history of jazz dancing in America, it is therefore necessary to begin in Africa. Jean Sabatine, in her book Techniques and Styles of Jazz Dancing, states that ” the story of jazz dance begins with the importing of African culture to America through the American slave trade.” To keep slaves fit on the long journey over to America, slave traders would bring them to the deck and let them dance. The “shuffle” originated from the slaves sliding from side to side due to the restraints of the shackles on their legs. These dances were continued on at Plantations. They were used in religious services and social gatherings. Slap dances and drumbeats were used as a way of communication from one plantation to another. In the 19th century, white people eventually began to mimic the dances created by the slaves in minstrel shows. On the stage, ?minstrel? performers developed tap dancing from a combination of Irish jigging, English clog dancing, and African rhythmic stamping. Tap dance and such social dances as the cakewalk and shuffle became popular vaudeville acts and appeared in Broadway revues and musical comedies as these replaced vaudeville early in the 20th century. In addition, comedy, specialty, and character dances to jazz rhythms became standard stage routines. In the 20?s ?The Charleston? and other social dances began to emerge making jazz dance a mainstream element in the American culture. Jazz dance paralleled the birth and spread of jazz itself and was popularized in ballrooms by the big bands of the ?swing? era (1930s and ’40s). By the 1940s elements of jazz dance had appeared in modern dance and in motion picture choreography. Musicals such as ?42nd Street? created a greater demand for Jazz dancers. At this point there were set standards or technique classes where dancers could formally learn jazz technique. Jack Cole, also know as ?The Father of Jazz?, created jazz technique. He gave the art form structure. Now Jazz dance could be taught in dance studios. Dancer?s such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers helped to increase the popularity of Jazz dance through musicals. In the 50?s American Bandstand brought popular social dances such as ?the swing? and ?the twist? into the living rooms of America. Jerome Robins, the choreographer of ?West Side Story? and ?Guys and Dolls?, revolutionized jazz dance by showing the art behind the ?fun.? In the 60?s and 70?s disco emerged, bringing forth talented choreographers such as Bob Fosse. Dance competitions were also created at this point in time. Disco dance offs were popularized by movies such as ?Saturday Night Fever.? In the 80?s, the popularity of Jazzercise brought forth the physical aspect of Jazz dance. Music videos brought a new element into Jazz, which is know as Hip-Hop.

In the present day, Jazz dance has branched off into many different areas. This is one of the most appealing aspects of Jazz dance. Its possibilities are endless. Jazz dance has no limits as to what is excepted as the status quo. Jazz dance is continually growing and bringing new elements and styles from different cultures.

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