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Jazz dance has two meanings, depending on the era. Both dance forms are related by evolution.
Until the middle of the 1950s, jazz dance in shows meant mostly tap dance, because jazz was the music and tap was the main dance of the era. American "tap dancing" has its roots both in the "Irish" folk dance tradition and in the African dance tradition. Also, during the jazz era, a popular form of jazz dance was Swing dancing and its related dances Cakewalk, Black Bottom, Charleston, Lindy Hop, all forms of dance commonly danced to jazz music.
Another essential root of jazz dance comes from the African American Vernacular Dance from the late 1800's up until the mid 1900's. After the 1950's, pioneers such as Kathrine Dunham took the essence of caribbean traditional dance and made it into a performing art.
Since the fifties, with the growing domination of other forms of entertainment music, jazz dance evolved with broadway choregrapher into a new, smooth, modern Broadway style that is taught today and known as Modern Jazz, while tap dance continued to evolve on its own. An early popular "jazz dancer" was vaudeville star Joe Frisco in the 1910's. He danced in a loose-limbed style close to the ground, with eccentric steps, and juggled his derby and cigar.
Jazz dance is a form of dance commonly used in Broadway shows and movies. Jazz is more a contemporary kind of dance as compared to ballet, for instance. Even though jazz dancing might look easy and fun when the dancers do it, the dancers have to be in really good shape, and practice sometimes six hours a day. Some traditional musical jazz numbers are All That Jazz and Chicago.
Both Jazz dance and modern dance techniques are based on the basics of the old ballet tradition, even though both forms where considered to be rebellions against it. To excel in jazz dance, the dancer must master ballet techniques. In jazz dancing the movements are big and exaggerated and there is usually an attitude the dancer conveys to the audience. The attitude would depend on the dance. For example in a modern number like Livin' La Vida Loca, the dancer would probably be happy, and look like they were at a party having a really rockin' time. Jazz dancing is also used in modern dancing as on MTV. Las Vegas showgirls are also jazz dancers.
Just about every dance school teaches jazz, as it is the most popular dance form for amateur dancers. The essence of jazz dance is entertainment to the people, a form of dancing which is easy to understand for anyone seeing it. As the famous modern choreographer and pioneer Alvin Ailey said "The dance came from the people, and should always be given back to the people".
Famous jazz directors and choreographers include Bob Fosse, Gus Giordano, Gwen Verdon, Jack Cole, and Eugene Louis Faccuito (also known as Luigi).
Well known Jazz dances include All That Jazz, Can-can, Damn Yankees, The Red Mill.
Jazz dance has appeared in various forms. However, these variations are related by common roots, namely tap, jazz music, and African-American rhythms and dance.
During the Jazz Era, popular forms of jazz dance included:
- swing dancing and the related Lindy Hop, Black Bottom, Charleston, and Cakewalk
- the performance style popularized by Bob Fosse’s work (e.g. “Chicago,” “Cabaret,” "The Pajama Game")
Jazz has now become an essential part of musical theatre choreography and serves as a base which is easily flavored by and interwoven with the dance style appropriate for the show (e.g. contradancing). Swing dancing and cabaret-style jazz dance thrive in dance schools and clubs and in the theatre.
People in the History of Jazz Dance
Jack Cole is the founder of the theatrical style of jazz dance. He was a key inspiration to Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Gwen Verdon, and many other choreographers.
Bob Fosse was and is a noted jazz choreographer who created a new form of jazz, inspired by Fred Astaire and the burlesque and Vaudeville styles.
An early popular jazz dancer was Vaudeville star Joe Frisco in the first decade of the 20th century. He danced in a loose-limbed style close to the ground, with eccentric steps, and juggled his derby and cigar.
Eugene Louis Faccuito (aka Luigi) is a remarkably talented dancer who created a warmup routine designed to prepare his body for dancing after being paralyzed in a car accident.
Jerome Robbins choreographed a number of hit musicals, including Peter Pan, The King and I, The Pajama Game, Fiddler on the Roof, Gypsy, Funny Girl, and West Side Story. He also directed the last four. He founded the ballet company Ballets USA. Robbins' resumé is impressively long and covers a range of dance styles and a large number of shows.
Gwen Verdon remains a famous performer of jazz dance, known for her roles in Damn Yankees, Chicago, and Sweet Charity.