About Jazz Dance History

By Winona Rasheed

Jazz dance started out as something totally different from what we see today. Its roots lie in tap dancing and moving to the rhythms of jazz music, music with an African influence. Though the period of time has changed, and the style of dance has evolved, you still cannot have a jazz dance performance without the rhythm of jazz or African music. This is the tie that binds the culture of jazz dance.

The Beginning of Jazz Dance

Jazz dance came about because of the art of tap dancing. Tap dancing began in the late 1800s, taking off from the African-American culture. A jazz dancer would put on tap shoes and do fancy foot- and legwork, dancing to the rhythm of jazz music, which was the style of music for that period. One of the noted tappers was Bill Robinson, or Mr. Bojangles, as he is called. Because of tap, other styles of dance were introduced into the jazz era, including ballet. Tap dancing was an art form not only in the African-American lifestyle; it had roots embedded in the Irish form of folk dancing.

The Style Changes of Jazz Dance

With time comes change, and by the mid-1800s the original form of jazz dance had moved from tap to other styles of dance entertainment. By the early 1900s, people began doing such dances as the cakewalk, Charleston, jitterbug, swing and the Lindy Hop, all of which were forms of jazz dancing “back in the day.” Today, jazz dance has evolved into contemporary or theatrical dancing, where ballet has been incorporated into the jazz style. Hip-hop jazz dancing is yet another form that is gaining popularity, using dance styles and techniques taken from the streets.

Features of Modern Jazz Dance

When people give a modern jazz dance performance, it's usually done in a theater. For this kind of theatrical performance, the dancers must be in shape to perform. They are like acrobats doing lifts, turns, leaps and swinging movements. Everything is choreographed for the storytelling dance. Every jazz dance must have a “good swing.” Performances may include movements such as axel turns, barrel jumps, bounces and a traveling step movement. Dances will incorporate ballet movements, pencil turns and pivot steps. They will involve twists, leaps and slides.

From Ordinary to Extraordinary

Jazz dance, created from the past, turned something old into something new. Long ago, jazz dance was done by ordinary individuals as they went about expressing themselves through movement at cabarets and boogie-woogie spots. Back then you didn’t need training, you just cut loose on the dance floor. Today, jazz dance is organized and performed by professional dancers in theaters. They are trained dancers, much like actresses and actors performing on stage. Their performance is full of attitude, mixing storytelling with dance. It's a form of entertainment that leads to careers, competitions and showstopping performances.

Contributions of Traditions and Cultures

Jazz dance has left a huge mark in history in the form of traditions and cultures. Styles and techniques have been mixed and matched, passed down and improved upon. Jazz dance started out with African Americans when they began dancing on American soil as slaves; this lets you know that blacks have contributed more than just labor to this country. They have introduced the world to music and dancing with spirit, taking the stiffness out of entertainment as it was during the dance period of the waltz and the minuet.

About the Author

Winona Rasheed is a dedicated writer. She has been writing for over 10 years and has written several children books. Her professional writing experience includes writing articles for “Author-me” website newsletters, and ghostwriting articles and E-Books for others. She has written over 20 articles as a writer for Demand Studios.