PART ONE: Jazz Dance Information and Clips
Please do this page FIRST, and then do part 2 on the next page.
*Instructions, read the information below and watch the following clips, and then go to part 2 for instructions on the rest of the assignment. (ONLY READ THE INFORMATION AND THEN WATCH THE CLIPS ON THIS PAGE.)
Let’s start by answering a single question: WHAT IS JAZZ DANCE?
According to dictionary.com, jazz dance is “a form of dance that is matched to rhythms and techniques of jazz music, developed by American blacks in the early part of the 20th century.”
BUT, for those that are familiar with modern day jazz dance or studio jazz dance, you may be thinking that this definition doesn’t seem to match what you know at all. Sure, the jazz dance you are familiar with might match the rhythms of the music, BUT jazz dances are RARELY done to jazz music anymore, and, for the most part, they certainly don’t SEEM to look like the African-American dances and influences we learned about earlier… so how did we get from that definition to where we are now?
Let’s start to answer that question by reviewing the origins lesson from this unit and look at how the movement developed through the end of the 1800s and early 1900s.
As you may recall, we talked about how all the forms we’ve discussed in this unit can trace their roots back to the slaves, and jazz does actually fit into this idea perfectly. The beginnings of jazz can be traced back to movements of the African American vernacular dances of the late 1800s through the early to mid-1900s. So, what were these dances?
The African American vernacular dances were inspired and developed from the dance movements of the minstrelsy and Vaudeville, and were also inspired by, and developed from, the movements and ideas of the African dances/slave dances.
Additionally, these dances followed the rise and popularity of jazz music (which is actually where the name came from). To be more specific, after the height of the Vaudeville shows, dance as entertainment split into two directions- jazz (or the popular social dances) and burlesque.
So, what are some of these African American vernacular or social dances that we speak of?
These social dances that came up through the jazz experience include, but are not limited to: the Ballin’ the Jack, Charleston, Big Apple, Snake Hips, Cakewalk, Boogie Woogie, Blackbottom, Jitterbug, Shorty George, swing and Lindy Hop.
Additionally, it is important to note, that during this time, when the phrase “jazz dance” was used, it usually referred to tap dance because tap was done to jazz music.
So, let’s take a quick look at some of these different styles. We will view some clips that show us the Snake Hips, Charleston, the Shorty George (mixed with tap), Blackbottom and the Lindy Hop.
Part One: Jazz Dance information and clips Continued
Shorty George (the Shorty George part of this is the movement Astaire and Rogers do when they “shoot” their fingers toward the floor while simultaneously shift their hips side to side and push their knees forward)
Now, in the years between the 1930s-60s, jazz began to leave the social scene and transform into a theater based genre that required trained dancers. That change happened primarily through some influential choreographers we’ve studied- like Katherine Dunham and Gene Kelly- and also by those we’ll study in a bit- like Jack Cole, Luigi and Bob Fosse. But before we get into these choreographers, let’s briefly look at some of the physical characteristics of jazz.
The physical characteristics of jazz are actually pretty broad, and once we review them, it should be a little easier to understand both how jazz is the direct descendant of African and African-American vernacular and how the contemporary movement, even though it looks different than it used to, is still considered jazz.
First, and foremost, we have to look at the music. One of jazz music’s most major elements is improvisation, and, though it’s not always utilized as often as it used to be, improvisation is, or used to be utilized often in jazz dance. In fact, it was this improvisational nature that the dance borrowed from the music that gave the movement its name in the first place.
Additionally, when jazz dance and jazz music were truly “side by side”, jazz music was considered a form of popular music. Jazz dance, then, was done to the popular music of the day. This aspect continues to be true for jazz dance; the music it is “done to” is constantly changing, and often follows the popular musical trends and artists. 2nd, we look at characteristics of the movement. Jazz tends to be polyrhythmic (meaning multiple body parts move with different rhythms at the same time) and syncopated (hitting movements on the off-beats or the “silence” in between the beats we hear in music). These two things come from both the African movements and from jazz music.
Jazz also utilizes a lot of isolations (moving one part of the body independent from everything else); this addition is credited with Katherine Dunham, but we can trace this aspect back to African movement since the cultures and dances she studied in places like Haiti were also developed from people who were slaves shipped in from Africa.
Additionally, jazz tends to use a low sense of gravity and is done at a high energy level. Other than that, recognizable elements have been added into the vocabulary over the years based on popular choreographers in the genre (which we will get to in a bit).
And last, with the development of some of the techniques that started to rise in the 30s-50s, it became vital to train intensely and today most dancers train in ballet in order to be able to master some of the elements used in jazz.
PART 2: Assignment Instructions
For this assignment, you will watch each of the three clips, evaluate certain things about them, and answer the following questions in about 275 words or less.
For the first two clips, I want you to evaluate how these dances compare to jazz dance that are located on Part 1 called Jazz Dances. Do the dances on the clips look like jazz dances? How is it the same (if it is)? How is it different?
Do the competition dances still adhere to the ideas about jazz dance and the physical characteristics of jazz dance (think back to the jazz dance clips that you just watched for the definition of jazz, described the movements found in jazz and how jazz evolved once it left the social dance world and entered the theater dance world)? Why or why not?
And for the third clip I want you to determine where it might go? I’m going to guess that you won’t say jazz, but you also won’t say modern or ballet either; it’s also not folk dance, so what is it? How do we categorize it?