The varieties of Jazz dance reflect the diversity of American culture. Jazz dance mirrors the social history of the American people, reflecting ethnic influences, historic events and cultural changes. Jazz dance has been greatly influenced by social dance and desired music. Like so much that is “from America,” the history of Jazz dance commences somewhere else. The origins of Jazz music and dance are found in the rhythms and movements brought to America by African slaves.
The style of African dance “is earthly; low, ones bent, pulsating body movements emphasized by body isolations and hand- clapping” (Emery 85). As slaves were forced Into America, starting In the 16005, Africans from many cultures were cut off from their families, languages and tribal traditions (Emery 33). The result was an intermingling of African cultures in which created a new culture with both African and European elements. The Slave Act of 1740 prohibited slaves from playing African drums or performing African dances, but that did not suppress their desire to cling to those parts of their cultural Identity (Alice Paul).
The rhythmic vocal sounds were woven into what we now call jazz dance. During the nineteenth century, American whites decided that they enjoyed the music and dance the slaves had created. In minstrel shows, white entertainers parodied their conception of slave life and popularized the African style of dance and music (Andean 37). With white dancers as the star performers, it was difficult for a black dancer to gain stature as part of a dance troupe. Because of this, many black performers migrated to Europe, where they Introduced the newly emerging forms of Jazz music and Jazz dance.
In Europe, these talented and Innovative performers were more well received than in America. The minstrel show evolved and was eventually absorbed into the 20th century musical comedy (Andean 185). Through the end of the sass, “Dixieland Jazz music, with Its fast ragtime beat, spread from New Orleans to Chicago and New York” (All that Jazz History: Original Dixieland Jazz Band). The growth of jazz dance was directly influenced by this musical genre. The Charleston was introduced and Americans were quick to adopt it.
In the Charleston, dancers used body isolations for the first time In a social dance, and the and-clapping and foot-stamping Incorporated a direct link to African culture. This was also the era of Bill “Bespangles” Robinson, a black tap dancer who achieved world fame through the clean and clear percussive rhythms of his feet (Franks 55). Robinsons style influenced the future of dance by changing the placement of the tap steps from the full foot to the ball of the foot.
During the Depression, people escaped into dance competitions in hopes of winning a cash prize (Sorrel 56). The sound of Jazz music started to change due to the “symphonic jazz” of Paul Whitman (Sorrel 78). He brought full orchestration to his music and made syncopation a part of every song he played. During the 1 9205, Fred Astaire had been a vital part of Broadway, when musicals found their fame in Hollywood, he became the leading man for movie musicals (Franks, 76).
Astaire 1 OFF blended the flowing steps of ballet with the abruptness of Jazz and was the first dancer to dance every musical note so that the rhythmic pattern of the music was mirrored in the dance steps (Sorrel, 98). Just when social dancing was at its height, World War 2 put a stop to its popularity. Lack of attendance, plus the intricate rhythmic patterns of modern Jazz music, which were too complex for social dancing, led to the closing of dance halls and ballrooms (Cocoa 35).
With the demise of social dance, the growth of Jazz dance as a professional dance form began (Cocoa 42). During the sass, Jazz dance was influenced by ballet and modern dance (Cocoa 67). By blending the classical technique of ballet with the natural bodily expression of modern dance, Jazz developed a sophisticated artistic quality. Unlike early Jazz dance, which was performed by talented entertainers without formal training, modern Jazz dance was reformed by professionals trained in ballet and modern dance.
It was during this time that man who later became to be known as the “Father of Theatrical Jazz Dance,” Jack Cole, was busy developing his technique. Cole had studied modern, ballet, and ethnic dance (Goodrich 24). In the sass, there was a serious demand for groups to be trained dancers for film work (Goodrich 41). Cole was the one who started developing these trained Jazz dancers for the Hollywood movie musicals. Also, during this time Gene Kelly began making his mark as a dancer in Hollywood musicals (Goodrich,104).
His affect on Jazz was his individual, energetic dance style that combined athletic, gymnastic qualities with Jazz and tap. Rock and Roll became popular with teenage audiences and thus new kinds of social dances were created to go with this type of music. During this decade, the influence of Latin American music and dance enriched Jazz dance, as was seen in the landmark Broadway production of West Side Story. It was also during this time that Matt Amatol, who had been a dancer of the Jack Cole style in many Hollywood musicals, began to develop his own teaching and performing style (Sorrel 87).
He was another dancer who had studied ballet, modern, and tap and then found his love of Jazz in his late twenties. Amatol went on to teach dance in New York for many years before moving to Europe and developing his school and style based on what he called ” Freestyle” although many people still labeled him as a Jazz dance teacher and choreographer (Sorrel 109). Two other names emerged among the ranks of professional Jazz dance: Lugging and Gus Giordano. Lugging developed his technique as a result of an auto accident that left him paralyzed on the right side (Franks 181).
Doctors claimed he would never walk, et alone dance again, but he persisted through operations, physical therapy, and his own study of body development based on dance exercise, and eventually was able to not only walk again, but to dance and to teach (Franks 183). The technique he developed is influenced by ballet and is very lyrical. His technique requires that the body be exercised to its fullest to develop the strength necessary for muscle control, yet still look beautiful. Gus Giordano style is classical but greatly influenced by the natural and freer body movements of modern dance (Franks 190).
His technique aches isolation movements, emphasizing the head and torso and creating an uplifted look of elegance (Franks 194). Yoga is incorporated into Giordano technique Jazz dance today continues to both look back to the classics for inspiration and move forward to create new dance performances. In film, Jazz dance, and ballet fused in the box office success Center Stage (Dills 67). In some ways, Center Stage is reminiscent of Flashcards (Dills 89). Dance has been given a tremendous boost in which dancers yet again realized the importance of training in wide varieties of dance styles.
The current Jazz dance performance world has sought a wider variety of performance platforms, including cabaret and lounge shows, cruise ship entertainment, and touring dance companies (Dills 119). Jazz dance, and musical comedy, has become a primary entertainment. Major television productions, such as award presentation galas, and industrials (promotional business shows) still prominently use Jazz dance. The history of Jazz dance has evolved in pace with the music and moods of each decade. African American culture will always be a huge influence on the development of Jazz dance.