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The history of jazz dance

Jazz dance is a lively and expressive form of dance, offering a diverse range of

themes and moods from serious and contemporary to upbeat and energetic.

Its origins date back to the African American communities in the early 20th century,

reflecting on the diversity of their culture, rhythms, and movements.


It has evolved over time with a range of styles emerging that reflect the changing

times, culture and music. To understand how jazz dance has grown into how we know it today, we need to look back at its beginnings.


In the 1920’s, Dixieland jazz music with its fast ragtime beat was very popular and

the growth of jazz dance was directly influenced by this music. In 1923, social dance

became popular and the high energy Charleston, with its quick high-kicking

movements, was introduced. Dancers used body isolations for the first time and the

hand clapping and foot stamping were linked to the dance’s African origin.

In the 1930’s the “Swing” era was born, again from African American roots,

generating well known dances like “Boogie Woogie”. Famous for his roles on Broadway followed by Hollywood movies, Fred Astaire created a unique dance style that brought elegance to the dancer’s image, by blending the flowing steps of ballet with the abruptness of jazz movements.


During the 1940’s, the popularity of social dance declined and the growth of jazz

dance as a professional dance form began. Up until now, jazz dance had been

performed by talented entertainers without any formal training. Influenced by ballet

and modern dance, it was now performed by professionals trained in ballet and

modern dance.


The “Father of theatrical jazz dance,” Jack Cole began training jazz dancers for

Hollywood movie musicals and Gene Kelly began making his impact on jazz with his

energetic dance style, combining athletic qualities with jazz and tap.

The influence of Latin American music and dance was seen in the Broadway

production of “West Side Story” in the 1950’s, followed by the 1960’s “twist” and

Mowtown music. It was during this time that modern jazz emerged with its

expressive movements.


In the 1970’s, Bob Fosse became the outstanding name in the world of jazz dance.

As a choreographer, some of his greatest works include “Cabaret” and “Chicago.”

The 1970’s also saw the beginning of “Breakdancing”, a form of modern street dance

from the ghetto neighbourhood of New York City. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that this

popular form of dance became a part of the American dance culture.


Jazz dance in the 1980’s got a super boost from hit movies such as Fame,

Flashdance, Footloose and Dirty Dancing. The launch of the American television

channel, MTV, provided a platform for dancers to appear in music videos.

In the 1990’s the jazz world was introduced to street dancing, street funk, break

dancing and hip hop.


Box office success continued into this century with the first of three Center Stage

movies in 2000, combining jazz, hip hop and ballet.


Jazz dance has evolved over time with the music and moods of each decade.

With the combination of expressive movement and energetic rhythm, it allows the

dancer to explore their individual style and connect with the music on a deeper level.

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