Knowing the history of jazz dance has helped dancers from all over the world better understand and experience an art form they desire to excel at. Read on to take a peek at this dance form's unique history and development, from its roots to its popularity today.
Jazz dance is often credited as an American creation, however in actuality it originates from African American vernacular dance that came about during the late 1800s. The first official American "jazz dancer" was Joe Frisco around the year 1910, who performed in vaudeville, however its roots trace much further back than this, with many moves being created by the slaves as a much needed physical and emotional outlet. Slave traders often allowed them to dance during their journey over to America, as an attempt to keep them physically fit. Not only did it work, but it formed an impressive series of dance techniques and steps that made history.
The original steps were exemplified out in the plantations, and jazz dance itself came about as a crossbreed of American culture, European jigs and the music and movement tradition of the African slaves. Jazz music obviously inspired some of the first documented jazz dance choreography, and this further adds to the rich and diverse history of jazz dance. Europe lent elegance to the technique, Africa gave it its movement and rhythm, and America allowed it to have the exposure and growing popularity that has sustained it as a cherished dance style today.
Modern Day Enjoyment
After being passed down through plantation ancestors and early restaurants and night clubs, jazz dance began to be taught in studios. The 1940s brought a revolution of jazz dance, increasing its demand for studio instruction and causing it to rival the popularity of classical ballet. Jazz began to appear more and more in not only vaudeville acts, but also in Broadway shows and musical comedies.
Still, even up until this time, jazz dance was sometimes confused with tap dance, due mainly to the similar music used. Modern jazz was developed by choreography greats such as Bob Fosse, whose work is emulated in the ultimate of jazz dance shows such as Chicago and Cabaret.
To properly execute jazz dance steps, many teachers still believe in teaching a firm classical ballet foundation so that bodies can develop with strength and agility. Turns and leaps are prevalent in jazz, so understanding the history of jazz dance and the different styles it is derived from, is vital in performing it properly. One of the components of jazz that first made it appealing to dancers of all ages, was the high level of improvisation it required. Dancers who are bold enough to do so can alter classic jazz steps to fit their own style and personality, making it not only entertaining to create, but endlessly fun to watch as an audience member as well. Jazz dance is able to be traditionally peppy and bright, but can also take on a flowy and soulful feel. There are no limits to its creativity, and this has continued to rank it as one of the most popular forms of dance available in studios today.