Jazz is as innovative and elated as the music it comes from. The history of jazz dance is also interesting, taking influence from music and dance in all forms of American life. Because of this, it’s one of the most popular dance forms to learn.

History of Jazz Dance

Jazz dance was brought over to America through African slaves in the 17th century. These African dancers brought choreography from their traditions in sacred and ceremonial events. These dances served to preserve their sense of identity and personal history with the continent they came from.

Getting its start in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it focused more on informal music improvisation than strict choreography and routines. At this point, New Orleans was recognized for blues, spirituals, ragtime, and Tin Pan Alley music.

Because of this diversity of sounds, New Orleans and the American South became a bustling scene for developing and exporting moves like the Jitterbug, the Charleston, Swing, Lindy Hop, and the musical genre we know today as Jazz.

Jazz dancing continued to evolve with the integration of European classical ballet. From the mid-20th century and beyond, it evolved and became more influenced by Rock & Roll, Broadway, and film musicals.

Today, jazz dance is an umbrella term for multiple dance styles and is known as an exclusively American dancing tradition.

Types of Jazz Dance

Many dance steps encompass jazz dance as a whole, but some of these steps may fit certain jazz dance subgenres.

Classical Jazz

While strongly based on classical ballet techniques and choreography, classical jazz incorporates movement with clean, strong lines leading from the chest and hips. Classical jazz is jazz dance at its core. 

Swing Dancing

Developed during the Roaring Twenties and evolving through World War II, swing dancing was the hot new dance that anyone could learn. African American and jazz culture most influenced swing dancing. The basics of this dance style are that the dancer lifts, spins, and flips their partner. 

Other forms from this are East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, and the Lindy Hop.

Contemporary Jazz

Popularized by shows like So You Think You Can Dance, this form of jazz inspires the dancers to challenge the conventions and foundations of dancing through ordinary movement. If you want to show off your creative storylines and originality, this is the form to choose.

Commercial Jazz

Commerical jazz is more mainstream today, adding hip hop, jazz, and the latest dance moves to a typical routine. If you have any special moves or tricks you want to show off, doing commercial jazz is a great genre to do it.

Latin Jazz

As the name suggests, Latin jazz takes influence from Latin and Latin American dance forms originating in European and African forms. Here, you use Latin dancing while incorporating elements of jazz with your partner. Because of its Latin origins, this genre uses more hip and isolation movements.

Notable Jazz Dancers

Many influential choreographers and dancers have transformed jazz dancing, but here are just a few of them to start with.

Bob Fosse

Combining Fred Astaire and the risque comedy of vaudeville and burlesque dancing, Bob Fosse included inward knees, rounded shoulders, and full-body isolations into his dancers’ movement. Today, he is recognized as a groundbreaking influence within jazz dance. A winner of eight Tony awards, his choreography influenced many musicals today, such as Chicago, Cats, Pippin, and Cabaret.

Gus Giordano

Known as one of the founders of modern jazz dance, Gus Giordano is considered a master choreographer who used freestyle along with head and torso isolations in his techniques. Many jazz dance teachers employ his techniques in their dance studios today. He is also well known for pushing the acknowledgment of jazz dance as a worthwhile art form.

Jack Cole

Considered the father of theatrical jazz dance, you can see Cole’s dance techniques almost everywhere, from commercials and music videos to well-known films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. His theatrical jazz choreography included small groups moving with rapid directional changes, angled placement, and long knee slides.

Jazz Dance Shoes and Costumes

When dressing for a jazz dance class at a studio, there are clothes you need to wear that will both let you move and allow the instructor to see how your body flows.

Jazz dance costumes are usually fitted closely to the body but should allow the dancers to move easily. Because of this, baggy clothes are not allowed. While tights, form-fitting tank tops, and T-shirts and leotards are okay to wear, jazz or dance pants are encouraged. Any clothes you may wear must not have elements that are distracting or loose enough to tangle.

Check with your teacher before buying jazz shoes, as many class instructors have preferences.

Jazz Class Structure

If you are attending your first jazz class, get ready to move. A good jazz class explodes with energy. With music styles ranging from hip-hop to show tunes, the beat alone will get you moving. Most jazz teachers begin with a thorough warm-up, then lead the class in a series of stretching exercises and isolation movements. Jazz dancers also practice the art of suspension. Suspension involves moving through positions instead of stopping and balancing in them. Most jazz teachers will end the class with a short cool-down to help prevent sore muscles.

Learn Jazz Dance at a Dance Studio Today!

For the curious child or adult wanting to learn dance, jazz would be a great way to learn various styles that let the dancer’s originality shine in their own ways. With proper instruction and a willingness to learn, you can begin dancing to all kinds of jazz dance songs! Contact us today to learn about our available classes.