JAZZ DANCE TIMELINE
Jazz dance was recognized as a style in its own right after World War one but
the foundations of Jazz Dance go back much further in American history.
Africans shipped to North America as slaves brought there performing
traditions with them and over time these dances gradually fused with
European and Asian forms of dance practised in the USA to become Jazz.
Jazz and Tap are both American creations but are really hard to define as
they keep changing irrevocably linked as they are to popular music.
IMPORTANT DATES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF JAZZ DANCE
The Government passes a law prohibiting beating drums and blowing horns.
African born slaves therefore turn to their bodies as instruments incorporating
the same percussive rhythms.
MID TO LATE 1800S(Following Abolition Of Slavery)
In Northeastern cities African Americans and European immigrants discover
similarities between their dance styles. A hybrid form evolves, fusing the toe
heelwork of the British Jigging and Irish Clogging with the African dance’s
syncopated foot stomping and expressive upper body. These improvised
dancers (all European though) start appearing on stage.
The rise of the Minstrel Show, the first professional performing outlet for
African Americans. Two circuits evolve segregating white and black
performers. Both groups have black faces performing numbers like the
“Cakewalk “that developed from plantation dances. The most celebrated
dancer of the time was a freeborn black named Master Juba. Who danced
with different rhythms in different parts of his body simultaneously? This style
becomes the bedrock of Jazz and Tap dance and its distinguishing features of
Syncopation and Isolation.
People of all races and socio-economic backgrounds flock to supper clubs to
watch people perform Ragtime, the precursor to Jazz music. African dance
based steps using the hips and torso with names like the “Grizzly Bear” and
“Turkey Trot “ become popular and make it to Broadway by the turn of the
In the Jazz age people embrace highly syncopated music and dance,
celebrating musicians ability to improvise and dancers ability to express their
individuality. In ballrooms in Harlem blacks and whites hit the same dance
floor. On Broadway whites flock to “Shuffle Along” an all black musical
comedy, which combines Jazz music and dance.
The end of the Harlem renaissance and the onset of the depression. White
choreographers are hired in the burgeoning film industry, which is interested
in Ballet but wants Tap; social and exotic dance numbers as well. Black artists
such as Katherine Dunham are hired as assistants.
George Balanchine’s “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” number in the Broadway
musical ’On Your Toes” marks the beginning of a successful relationship
between ballet and popular dance on Broadway.
Balanchine’s elegant and sexy choreography in this musical is defined as
Jack Cole considered the father of Theatrical Jazz dance develops “The
Dance Workshop” a group of highly trained Ballet, Modern and Acrobatic
dancers that perform in LA nightclubs and theatres. Cole’s study of
Bharatanatyam (Indian Classical dance) that involves isolations and quick
directional changes further influences the style of Jazz. Cole created dances
for 11 musicals and 24 films.
Jerome Robbins choreographs “Fancy Free” which blends Ballet, Swing
and Soft Shoe for the American Ballet Theatre. A full- fledged Broadway
musical is developed from this and is a smash hit.
Katherine Dunham opens the “Dunham School of Dance and Theatre” in
NYC and teaches Shoulder, Rib, Hip and Pelvis isolations while crossing the
floor. These moves become standard practice for Jazz classes.
Studios start offering Jazz classes in a variety of styles, Freestyle fast moving
ballet based technique, Musical Theatre, Afro Caribbean, Blues and Tap
Bob Fosse choreographs “The Pyjama Game” and brings a new dimension
to Jazz with his trademark hat and gloves; hip grinds deadpan looks, knee
slides and love of detail in movement. He goes on to be a major Broadway
choreographer choreographing and directing some of the most famous and
copied routines of all time (See Fosse notes)
Jerome Robbins conceives, choreographs and directs “Westside Story
“which fuels the popularity of Jazz dance.
Jazz dance groups start appearing on American television as back up
dancers for popular singers and musicians further spreading the popularity
Jazz dance classes become part of College Dance Department curriculum.
Funk, Hip Hop and Disco become features of Jazz movement.
In NZ the NZAMD starts the Jazz Dance syllabus for dancers to develop
through levels such as they do in Ballet.
The Age of The music Video. Singers employ dancers to sell their songs.
Modern choreographers such as Twyla Tharp start incorporating Jazz into
modern dance bringing it to a whole new audience.
Gus Giordano starts the annual World Jazz dance congress where Jazz is
propagated, preserved and developed. This is now held across the globe in
different locations giving dancers access to maser classes, discussion panels
Jazz dance is celebrated through TV programmes in particular “ So You
Think You Can Dance”, now a world wide franchise, Many conventions and
competitions are held around the world and styles vary as they continue to
merge with street dance and, ethnic dance styles and more.