full version The History Of Jazz Dance Essay

The History Of Jazz Dance

Category: History Other

Autor: Antonio 20 December 2009

Words: 2635 | Pages: 11

Maggie Miller

Dance Appreciation

Erin Leigh


Jazz Dance

"Jazz dance mirrors the social history of the American people, reflecting ethnic influences, historical events, and cultural changes" (Kraines, 2005,1). When I was younger I used to take dance. I hated ballet, liked gymnastics, and thought tap was okay; but I loved jazz. I took jazz dance three times a week and never complained; it was my life. People all over the world are familiar with jazz dance. Jazz dance is found in almost every form of dance; even the Las Vegas showgirls are jazz dancers in some form. This style in dancing is full of energy and life as well as a lot of fun. Jazz dance has a lot of historical significance and the movements are unique to the form.

Jazz originally came from African rhythms and its influences. The cultural traditions of the Africans were to celebrate everything through music and dance. During the 1700s slavery began to progress in Europe . Slave owners were cruel and had no concern towards the African culture and many slaves were not allowed to carry on with their normal traditions and ceremonies. In 1740, The Slave Act was passed banning the playing of African drums and the performance of traditional dances. The prohibition led to other forms of self-expression used by the slaves such as feet movements and hand clapping.

African slaves slowly began to learn about the music and dancing culture of the Europeans. Their exposure to another culture started the fusion of West African music and "dance tradition to the harmonies and musical structure of European music" (Kraines, 2005, 2). It is evident today that the styles of the two cultures have been fused to create many different dance styles. American dance has been strongly influenced by African elements in dance such as the rhythm and beats as well as movements. The shimmy and the Snake hips can be traces back to dances in Africa .

In the nineteenth century Americans discovered the music and dance performed by the African slaves. After watching and taking time to analyze the slave's movements, the minstrel show was created. This show was played by white Americans, with a face painted black, who made a parody out of the life of a slave while also popularizing the music and dance of the African culture. The Civil War between the north and the south started in 1861. After the Civil War was over in 1865 the minstrel shows began to become more popular throughout the United States , although these shows were a "huge and tasteless business" (Stearns, 1979, 55). The first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 and this was a great form of transportation for the minstrel shows. The railroad provided a way for many of these shows to travel causing the business of minstrel shows to become the main show in entertainment. Later on in the nineteenth century the Fugitive Slave Act of 1879 was created and most slaves were freed. These slaves then migrated north to the states that did not support slavery. These slaves that moved north began to replace the painted black faced Americans. The cakewalk, a dance invented by Africans, began to become incorporated into the minstrel shows and soon after the cakewalk became the theatrical ending to the show. Minstrel shows became more popular than they had ever been and with the help and influence of actual black performers the buck-and-wing was introduced. This type of dance had off beat rhythms and the metrical pattern was the reverse of the typical European metrical pattern. The popularity of this dance lead musicians to created new accompaniments that had unusual rhythms, this was called syncopation. This new creation of beats changed the music of the time and this type of music became known as jazz. Jazz music evolved and so did the dances and movements associated with the music.

Jazz became more popular among mainstream America , over the next few decades in the beginning of the twentieth century. "At the close of the minstrel period, the syncopated rhythms of American ragtime bands accompanied the introduction of early forms of jazz dances. In the brief period from 1910 through 1915, more than a hundred new dances emerged and disappeared from American ballrooms" (Kraines, 2005, 3). During the 1920s two dancers by the name of Vernon and Irene Castle came to the forefront of the jazz dance world. They took their unique ideas and styles and made jazz dance a very popular fad in the upper classes of society. In 1914 the First World War started and dancing became a way for people to interact and have a good time. Many people began to dance in restaurants and cabarets. During the latter part of the 1920s movies were no longer without sound and dialogue and many people flocked to the theatres so see this new kind of show, leaving Broadway plays in the dust. The 1930s brought on the Great Depression and many people across America were seeking a refuge from their everyday lives and they found this in dance halls and competitions.

Over the next ten years many musical and dance artists became popular and American was thriving on jazz dance. Broadway musicals, although not as popular as movies, were very famous and many important jazz dancers emerged from the spotlight. A very well known Broadway play called 42 nd Street was choreographed by the "subtle artistry of Fred Astaire, the most graceful and beguiling dancer the movies has ever known" (Kraines, 2005, 6). Astaire was huge on Broadway; he was the man to play the leading role. He spent many long hours learning ballroom dancing. "[The] use of his arms and hands, and indeed his entire body, was one of his greatest contributions to American vernacular dance" (Stearns, 1979, 223). America loved him. His dance style was unique. After his emergence into mainstream America , jazz dance became the centerpiece of American dance not only influence a culture, but a lifestyle.

Many women such as Betty Gable, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, and Rita Hayworth came to the front of the jazz industry. During the early 1950s a man by the name of Gene Kelly became famous for his unique dancing and choreography. He choreographed two films known for their "fusion of dance and drama in film [which] are An American Paris (1951) and Singin' in the Rain (1952)" (Kraines, 2005, 11). During the next twenty years Kelly choreographed close to ten films, all including jazz. Jazz dance was huge in the film industry and people of all ages during the time loved these films. One woman who stared in musical films was Debbie Reynolds. She starred along side Kelly in his film Singin' in the Rain. Gradually over the years Reynolds perfected her dancing career and continued on stage in Las Vegas . During the end of the 1950s the Latin American culture began to influence the jazz world. "In 1957, Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins used Latin American rhythms in West Side Story, a landmark in American jazz dance Broadway productions". (Kraines, 2005, 12).

Over the next twenty years jazz dance progressed into different styles of dance. One major landmark of this progression was the emergence of a man named Bob Fosse onto the Broadway scene. He was a regular at burlesque shows and nightclubs. After attending these shows he began to see their influence in his dancing and he created his own unique style. This style was more sexual and provocative than jazz dance seen in the years earlier.

Fosse's style was distinct. It was highly creative and often included bizarre movements. His choreography was slick, erotic, and intense. There were many poses characteristic of the Fosse style; most recognizable was the long-legged look with raised arm and limp wrist. Fosse and his personalized jazz dance style continued to make a mark on the Broadway stage and in Hollywood films throughout the 1980s. Fosse was a one-man jazz phenomenon (Kraines, 2005, 16).

In 1975 Fosse choreographed a musical called Chicago . This play was later redone in 2002. The movie gained excellent acclaim and in 2003 the file one seven Oscars at the Academy awards, one being the Best Motion Picture of the Year (Patrick, 2003). The film also won three Screen Actors Guild Awards (Patrick, 2003).

In the remake of Fosse's film Chicago the dancer's movements are "hunched, distorted, and isolated" (Kriegel, 1994, 105). In the film the dancers used many body isolation moves as well as contractions and releases. Their dancing style was very unique and very sexual. The women all danced as one, their bodies moving across the floor. The feelings that one would feel were of strong discontent, these women were not happy. You could sense their anger and hatred towards men as they sang about their cruel nature. In one scene from the movie all the women are locked up in jail cells, they all begin to vocalize a word and every woman's word was different. The silhouettes of the women were seen dancing in the background as their bodies moved towards the light. Their movements were suggestive. As the women reached the light, they stopped abruptly and each woman struck a different pose. A woman stepped towards the front exposing her more into the light. She moved her hips side to side as an attitude walk (Hatchett, 2000, 68). One could feel the passion in her voice and the sensuality in her step. As she danced she used a body roll to express the sexuality she felt towards her husband (Hatchett, 2000, 28). The more she danced the more she moved her hands, in the cut hand position using jazz hands (Hatchett, 2000, 73). As well as using her hands in the flick hand position and the get jiggy move (Hatchett, 2000, 75-76). As the woman danced she told the story of how she killed her husband and her sister who were having an affair together. She exited the stage and another woman enters. Each woman told their individual story of why they were in jail, each with contempt and rage. The elements of jazz dance as well as the style and movements of the traditional African dances traced back to the 1700s were evident in the movement.

In one film named Dancin' that Fosse choreographed to a song called "Big Noise from Winnetka in which three jittery dancers twitched at one dynamic level for the entire piece" (Kriegel, 1994, 97). This portrayed the dynamic of a jazz piece. It does not matter whether or not the dancer is jittery or if they are solid and have good jazz hands, it is about the feeling from with inside the audience when they see the piece.

During the next twenty years jazz dance became a staple in modern society. Certain dances became fads that young students are taught about in modern day jazz classes. Jazz dance has been used and performed world wide by millions of people. A group of women performers known as the Radio City Rockets have been performing since the early 1970s and are still performing today. Many people from across the United States travel to see them perform during special holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Another such performer known world wide is the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Jackson has a very unique style of dance that many people have tried to perform and emulate since the 1980s. If one were to ask another, Michael Jackson would most likely be known by everyone across the world. Jazz dance has become a hung thing in the modern world and will continue to be a thing of the past, present, and future.

In conclusion, the historical significance of jazz dances can be traced back to the African culture of the early 1700s. Jazz dance has grown from a cultural tradition into a world wide genre in dance. People throughout time have placed their own mark on the style and more people will evolve in the style as the years pass. Having studied jazz dance as my research topic, I have learned much more about the art from than I did when I was younger and "in love" with jazz dance. Jazz dance is a world thing that will enrich your life and I am glad that I have let it enrich mine.


Stearns, Marshall, & Stearns, Jean. (1979). Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance. New York : Schrimer Books.

Kraines, Miranda Goodman, & Pryor, Esther. (2005). Jump Into Jazz: The Basics and Beyond for the Jazz Dance Student. Boston : McGraw-Hill.

Hatchett, Frank, & Gitlin, Nancy Myers. (2000). Frank Hatchett's Jazz Dance.

United States : Human Kinetics.

Kriegel , Lorraine Person, & Vaccarro, Kimberly Chandler. (1994). Jazz Dance Today. Minnesota : West Publishing Company.

Patrick. (2003). News: " Chicago " wins 3 SAG Awards!. Retrieved November 1, 2005 from http://www.efanguide.com/~chicago/index.html#

Patrick. (2003). Oscars: ' Chicago ' Big Winner at 75th Academy Awards!. Retrieved November 1, 2005 from http://www.efanguide.com/~chicago/index.html#

Richards, Martin (Producer), Marshall, Rob (Director). (2002). Chicago [Motion Picture]. United States : Miramax.