An Essential Guide to Jazz Dance: It's So Much More Than Jazz Hands

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jazz dance

Outside a dance studio, people may know jazz dance from the term "jazz hands" and the motion accompanying it. What they might not know is what exactly isjazz dance? How do you do it?

Jazz is as experimental and jubilant as the music it comes from. The history of jazz dance is also as long and 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.

If you want to know more about it, read our guide to find out how to start dancing its moves.

History of Jazz Dance

Jazz dance was brought over to America through African slaves in the 17th century. Throughout slavery, 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.

Starting in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it started to focus more on expression in informal music improvisation than strict choreography and routines. New Orleans at this point in time was known 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 the development and exporting of moves like the Jitterbug, the Charleston, Swing, and the Lindy Hop and the musical genre we know today as Jazz.

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

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

Types of Jazz Dances

There are many dance steps that encompass jazz dance as a whole, but some of these steps may fit certain subgenres of jazz dance.

Classical Jazz

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

Swing Dancing

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

Other forms that came from this is East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, and the Linda Hop.

Contemporary Jazz

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

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

Latin jazz, as the name suggests, 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.

With proper instruction and a willingness to learn, you can begin dancing to all kinds of jazz dance songs!

Notable Jazz Dancers

There are many influential choreographers and dancers who 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 inputted inward knees, rounded shoulders, and full-body isolations into his dancers' movement. Today, he is known as a groundbreaking influence within jazz dance. His choreography influenced many musicals today like Chicago, Cats, Pippin, and Cabaret.

Gus Giordano

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

Jack Cole

You can see Cole's dance techniques all over the place, from TV 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.

Most jazz dances take their influence from the dancers above and have much to thank them for elevating this dance form.

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 usually closely fitted to the body but should allow the dancers to move easily. Baggy clothes, because of this, 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.

Jazz dance shoes for adults and children are typically required for any level of jazz dance class. You should check with your dance instructor if they do require them or another type of shoe.

Learn Jazz Dance at a Dance Studio Today!

We hope this article has helped you learn more about the wonderful world of jazz dance. For the curious child or adult wanting to learn, jazz dancing would be a great way to learn about a variety of styles that throw the rulebook of conventional dancing out the window and let the dancer's originality shine in their own ways.

Any fancy footwork, big leaps, and quick turns they do will keep them interested.

If you want to get started in jazz dancing, visit the rest of our website for the best jazz dancing clothes and jazz dance shoes. Contact us today

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