All That Jazz (What’s Jazz these days?)

We can all remember jazz ballet, jazz hands, lycra, sequins, lace-up jazz shoes and Flashdance, but what is jazz dance now and how has it evolved?

Jazz dance is no longer solely the domain of fan kicks and shimmies. The term “jazz” now incorporates a broad range of dance styles. Prior to the 1950s, jazz dance was a style that originated from African American dance and in the 1950s “modern jazz dance” emerged, with roots in Caribbean traditional dance. Every individual style of jazz dance to this day has roots traceable to one of these two distinct origins.

Beginning in the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s, jazz became a form of dance that required the dancer to be highly skilled, and during this time, both modern and ballet choreographers including George Balanchine, Jack Cole, Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse experimented with jazz dance.

Jazz dance develops in parallel to popular music, with jazz being the physical embodiment of popular music of a given time.  It therefore continues to evolve and remain popular across the world and across age groups.

Dance Informa sought to uncover what is being taught as “jazz” in Australia’s leading dance programs and spoke with the directors of some of our country’s premier institutions.

Dance training Sydney Australia

Students at Urban Dance Centre, Sydney

Juliette (Jet) Verne
Urban Dance Centre, Sydney

What styles of jazz does your school teach?
Urban Dance Centre teaches traditional jazz with a taste of modern flavor. We believe and are very passionate about the classic technique, power and clean lines of traditional jazz and we include and are continuing to grow with today’s modern movement, music and styles.

What makes a great jazz dancer?
A great jazz dancer owns their dancing with power, technique, confidence and style. Someone who is unpredictable with outstanding technique and a whole bunch of fire!

Where do you draw your inspiration from when teaching and performing jazz?
I draw my inspiration from successful dancers/choreographers such as Desmond Richardson, Gil Duldulao and our very own Kelly Abbey. Plus my family, UDC faculty and students, and music inspire me every day!

How do you think jazz has influenced other styles of dance?
I think jazz has influenced many styles of dance and music. A lot of pop artists throughout the years have fused jazz and hip-hop styles together and have come up with some amazing dance routines in their music videos and live concerts. Lady Gaga, Madonna, Beyonce and Janet Jackson, to name a few, have all had a jazz influence within their repertoire and have produced some very exciting and inspiring work.

What do you think jazz is now and how has it changed?
I feel jazz dance styles have branched out to many exciting new and different styles like lyrical jazz and JFH (Jazz/Funk/Hip Hop) and is constantly growing and changing. Like any art form, jazz will continue to grow, morph and change which is why we as a dance community are so passionate about it and love it!

Jazz dance in musical theatre

Dancers perform iconic Fosse jazz choreography in the Australian production of ‘Chicago’. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Todd Patrick
Patrick Studios, Melbourne

What styles of jazz does your school teach?
At Patrick Studios Australia we offer a number of different styles. In jazz particularly we teach jazz technique classes tailored to beginner, intermediate or advanced students. We also specialize in jazz classes that include a technical routine as well as Broadway jazz classes taught by Australia’s leading musical theatre choreographer – Andrew Hallsworth.

What makes a great jazz dancer?
A good jazz dancer has wonderful technique and lines with a good base in classical ballet. Men, in particular need a strong grounding and a masculine edge to their dancing.

All great jazz dancers dance with power and can interpret music well. These days there are some extraordinary dancers that master their technique. This is incredible to watch but I strongly believe that there is no point in doing 10 turns into an incredible jump combination finishing with a back handspring if you do it like a gymnast. I love all of that, I think it’s exciting, but I know that with a sense of performance and feel for your music you will make a connection with your audience that will far outweigh technical feats.

Where do you draw your inspiration from when teaching and performing jazz?
I am incredibly inspired by the dancers around me, especially my students, each and every day!

How do you think jazz has influenced other styles of dance?
Jazz is in every style of dance, it’s a natural way of moving.  You don’t have to have the perfect facility to be a great jazz dancer; therefore, jazz is a style that runs through many genres of choreography. More than anything, its influence is seen in every new generation coming through as they watch A Chorus Line or Footloose, or any show or movie that inspires children to take their first steps towards a dance studio.

What do you think jazz is now and how has it changed?
Jazz is IMPORTANT, that’s what I know.  The three major musical theatre auditions this year were all about technique and style; Lion King, Grease and Wicked are all shows that you must have a strong technical foundation for. If you want to be a successful dancer you must have jazz training. Sometimes I think lyrical becomes what younger dancers think is “in”. In fact, it is derived from a fusion of jazz and contemporary.

Real jazz is athletic and sexy, it’s full of energy and grit, it’s sweaty and exhausting, from the sensuality of Fosse to the strength of A Chorus Line. Personally, jazz for me will always be a Barbara Warren Smith class. She has taught most of Victoria’s jazz dancers how to roll a shoulder and tip a hip unlike anyone I know. She is still the sexiest woman strutting her stuff in the studio as she was when I first had the privilege of taking her class.

Cameron Mitchell
Brent Street, Sydney

What styles of jazz does your school teach?
Commercial jazz, Broadway jazz, JFH (jazz/funk hip-hop), lyrical jazz – basically every form of jazz.

What makes a great jazz dancer?
Versatility is the most important thing for any dancer. You must be able to adapt to any choreographer’s style.

Where do you draw your inspiration from when teaching and performing jazz?
The music! That’s where it all begins. I let the music tell my body what to do and feel.

How do you think jazz has influenced other styles of dance?
I think in this day and age all the styles influence each other. Hip-hop has a jazz flavor, yet jazz is heavily hip-hop influenced.

What do you think jazz is now and how has it changed?
If it’s really good it is because it has evolved. All jazz can have the feeling of times past but it really has to be modern – even Broadway, if it has a new spin. It’s great.

Top photo: Talia Fowler and the Australian cast of FAME. Photo by David Wyatt.

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