The History of Jazz Dance: From African Roots to Modern Art

Jazz dance is an art form that has evolved from the 19th and 20th century stage dance and traditional black social dances, as well as their white ballroom branches. It is a style of performance that emerged in the United States in the middle of the 20th century, and can refer to vernacular jazz, Broadway point or dramatic jazz. The two types expand on the African-American vernacular dance styles that emerged with jazz music. Vernacular jazz dance incorporates ragtime, Charleston, Lindy hop and mambo movements, and popular vernacular jazz dance artists include The Whitman Sisters, Florence Mills, Ethel Waters, Al Minns and Leon James, Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, Dawn Hampton and Katherine Dunham.

The dramatic jazz dance performed on the stage of the show was promoted by Jack Cole, Bob Fosse, Eugene Louis Foccuito and Gus Giordano. The original body rhythms and movements of what would eventually become jazz were brought to the United States by African slaves. African dances were practiced close to the ground, with knees bent, pulsating movements characterized by isolation of the body and rhythmic applause. After so long enslaved in foreign lands, many Africans lost their tribal traditions and mixed with other European tribes and groups.

This mix of cultures gave rise to a dance style that eventually became jazz. Although the Slave Act of 1740 prohibited slaves from playing African drums or doing their native dances, traditions persevered. The origins of jazz dance can be traced back to the first years of the arrival of African slaves on the coasts of Central and North America. The dances and music they brought were much more fluid, experimental and improvisative than the traditional dances brought to North America by European immigrants.

These tribal and rhythmically based dances had a characteristic that was described by historians and music experts as “conversational qualities”, in which both the dancers and the musicians reacted to each other, creating a fluid music that completely enchanted them. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, decidedly unclassic dance moves unleashed fashions such as Charleston, Jitterbug, Cakewalk, Black Bottom, Boogie Woogie, Swing and Lindy Hop. Jazz music borrowed rhythms from African music, especially drums, and invented new forms. New Orleans was the epicenter of invention with blues, spirituality, ragtime, marches and sounds of Tin Pan Alley. In 1817, New Orleans reserved a park area called Plaza del Congo for improvisation of African dance and informal music. It was the planting ground for many jazz musicians and performers and served as an important early location for one of New Orleans' most famous exports - the all-American art form called jazz.

But dance continued to evolve for the most part settling into a vibrant style known as jazz dance which we now label tap. The rhythms even infused formal European classical ballet adding a distinctly American touch to a court dance and giving rise to the hybrid dance forms that evolved in the mid-twentieth century. The golden age of traditional jazz dance lasted between 1930 and 1960 during which jazz was influenced by other styles such as Caribbean and Latin music. There are no limits to the directions that jazz choreographers can explore; tomorrow's jazz hasn't even been imagined today. Many consider jazz to be from the United States but as with many things (hamburgers hot dogs apple pie) jazz didn't originate there. This happened not only because jazz became popular throughout North America but also because many of the most talented musicians and dancers flocked to New Orleans and began to experiment and transform the entire jazz genre. The transformation of jazz dance into dance theater and the important role of professional techniques and choreography created the “modern jazz dance”.

Jazz music was often performed by big New Orleans bands who received notoriety by playing jazz at funerals of local musical artists or during holiday celebrations. They began using highly trained dancers who were tasked with performing very precise and difficult dance moves that elevated jazz dancing to a modern art form that was different from the casual jazz dances of New Orleans music bars. In 1917 jazz pianist Spencer Williams wrote a song called Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble that inspired a jazz dance called Shimmy. And like jazz music jazz dance focused on improvisation and a call-and-answer format that allowed dancers to create a conversation between musicians instruments and their bodies.

Leave Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *