Thursday, September 16, 2010

Keeping Jazz Dance Alive

The jazz legend, Gus Giordano, dancing with his wife

There was an excellent article in Dance Teacher Magazine this month - Carrying the Jazz Dance Torch. It discusses how teachers are no longer teaching jazz dance history and the correct roots of it. Instead, we are focusing on what's sexy, tricks, and throwing in elements of contemporary and hip-hop so that jazz is hardly recognizable. I have really found this to be true in the last few years at competitions. My students performed a classic jazz-style piece to a Prince classic and it garnered positive responses from the judges for being a traditional jazz dance. Watch "So You Think You Can Dance" and you'll see those judges responding well to real jazz dances as well. There has been a trend for many years leading us away from jazz, but I think the pendulum is starting to swing the other way.

Here are some highlights I pulled from the article:
  • "So You Think You Can Dance" judges and produces often describe dances as jazz "when they often have very little jazz quality and are technically more contemporary or hip hop."
  • "Experts say the misinterpretation of jazz dance, along with teachers who focus on contemporary styles and a general lack of knowledge about the artform, is helping to contribute to the loss of jazz dance’s historical and cultural lineage."
  • "A full understanding of jazz dance can help dancers to better embody the work of any choreographer or culture."
  •  “Many times people think jazz dance just needs to be sexy and face the audience and have a lot of tricks. People need to step away from that and realize that this is an artform that has a rich cultural history, especially for our country.”
  • "Jazz dance grew out of African music and dance roots, including jazz music. It is based on stylistic vernacular movements (social dances created outside of a studio), but during the 1950s, a split from vernacular-based jazz dance (cakewalk, Charleston, jitterbug, swing, etc.) created a theatrical-based version of jazz dance with Caribbean and Latin American influences."
  • "Jazz dance should not be learned in order to please an audience."
  • "To be included in the jazz dance heritage a dance work should embody a noticeable amount of traditional jazz dance movement characteristics. That would include dancing in plié, movement that emanates from the pelvis and through the extremities, isolations, syncopation, dynamic extremes, strong energy flow either in visible bursts or in contained format (hot vs. cool), and letting the movement reflect reactions to rhythmic accompaniment."
  • "To focus exclusively on the contemporary style, which tends to be a mix of ballet and modern with few jazz qualities, “without mastering the deep well of potential and power than can be found in the vernacular is a wasted opportunity to expand and improve one’s expressive skills." "
  • "Make sure to utilize the core elements of traditional jazz dance—an earthy quality, pliés, isolations and syncopation."
  • "A lot of jazz dance is done to popular music with a strong beat, putting the movements on the one-count, and that is not what characterizes jazz."

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