A Brief History of Jazz Dance

The history of jazz dance starts in Africa though many believe that jazz dance originated in the United States.

African-American Inspiration
Many of the dance movements associated with jazz dance can be traced to African influences. Slaves captured in Africa brought their dancing traditions across the Atlantic. Once in the new country, the African slaves continued to use dance as a means of self-expression and an emotional outlet, despite being forbidden to dance by their owners.

Jazz Elements
The advent of jazz music, especially in the clubs of New Orleans, advanced the dance style. One of the first jazz dancers was Joe Frisco, who, in 1910, performed in vaudeville. The high-powered energy delighted audiences.

At the end of World War I, jazz dance morphed into a new form. The 1920s saw the origin of flappers, complete with short, frilly dresses, who weren't afraid to strut their stuff on the dance floor. The informal nature of jazz dance became an accepted norm. Dixieland jazz prompted new dance forms. The black bottom, Charleston, fox trot, rag, and shimmy were all based on jazz components.

In the 1930s, swing jazz grew in popularity, thanks by music from Duke Ellington and big bands. The Jitterbug and Boogie-Woogie were popular social dances.

By the 1940s, WWII brought a sudden halt to socialized jazz dance. Now, dance studios began teaching the form. Eventually, it became as popular as ballet. Suddenly, jazz dance moves appeared in Broadway musicals.  A new jazz style, bebop, emerged. Dancing to it wasn't easy because the rhythms were offbeat.

Like music, jazz dance has adapted to the rhythms of time. Different types of current jazz dance techniques include African, break dancing, hip hop, lyrical, modern and rock. Many examples of jazz dance are set to popular tunes. Choreographers disagree about the use of mainstream music instead of jazz. Still, if you attend a Broadway show, you will find strong examples of jazz dance.

Jazz dance has remained popular through time. Though its origins are still young, the dance style has modified to fit the music world.

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