What Is a Broadway Dance?

By Marie-Pier Rochon ; Updated September 15, 2017
Some world-famous actors and singers are also Broadway dancers.

A little over 100 years ago, Broadway theater was just getting started in New York City. In its early days you could catch a musical such as "Black Crook" for $2 a seat. Although it was criticized heavily back then, the Broadway style of theater kept gaining popularity amongst the middle class. Nowadays it is not surprising to find a Broadway dancing and theater school in most big cities around the world. Musical theater enthusiasts attend a range of classes at these school to learn about what makes Broadway theater so special or in the hopes of becoming the next Broadway star.

Definition and Origins

Broadway dance can be defined as the incorporation of ballet, jazz and modern dance styles with theater and singing. At its beginnings, people were intrigued with Broadway theater because it was the first time dance was an integral component of a play's plot. Because theater critics did not approve of Broadway as a serious type of theater in its first few decades, its creators were known as "gypsies" until successful productions proved otherwise. Some of the earliest recognized Broadway dance choreographers include George Balanchine, Robert Alton and Gower Champion.

Elements

Broadway dance is different from other styles because the fusion of ballet, jazz and modern allows for unconventional movements and unusual use of body parts. The use of theater props such as canes, top hats and gloves is also very popular in Broadway productions, allowing once again a variety of movements previously unexplored in theater or dance productions. Finally, what makes Broadway dance contrast with other dance styles is that is also blends in acting and singing, meaning that Broadway dancers also need to be actors and singers.

Jazz Inspiration

Many Broadway dance productions focus on jazz rather than ballet or modern dance. Popular Broadways plays that focused on jazz include "Chicago," "Moulin Rouge," "Hair" and "Mamma Mia." Movements such as jazz hands, the use of props and incorporation of personality and story-telling in jazz dance choreography are also found in most Broadway dance productions. The style of music is also being heard in some productions, although it does differ slightly depending on the storyline and general mood of the production.

Broadway Celebrities

Once Broadway musicals took off and gained popularity as a recognized artistic form of theater, some of the most talented multidisciplinary dancers-singers-actors became celebrities. Famous Broadway personas include Lillian Russell, DeWolf Hoppe, Anna Held, Marilyn Miller, Jack Donahue, Ray Bolger, Fred and Adele Astaire, Gertrude Lawrence, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin and Alfred Drake.

About the Author

Marie-Pier Rochon has been writing since 2005. She has served as a writer at PlaceForPoeple and a newsletter writer for the Creative Sydney festival. Previously, Rochon also worked as a communications adviser for various Canadian federal agencies. She earned a Bachelor of Arts with honors in organizational communications from the University of Ottawa.