A brief description of Jazz dance is that it is a ballet based technique that focuses on body percussion, center control, and expressive musical elements. Although that is a fine definition, jazz is so much more! It’s a huge umbrella for many styles of dance, including lyrical, musical theatre and swing, just to name a few. It is more than just a demonstration of movements, it is a direct conversation between the body and music.
Many young dance students are drawn to jazz because the music tends to be up beat with several bursts of energy throughout the piece. Beginner students can easily identify what is expected in jazz, for example, high energy, sharp movements with an emotionally happy, confident performance. Dancers who are more advanced are able to see and use jazz in other ways. The “conversation” isn’t always cheesy smiles and jazz hands. It can be deeper; it can be ugly, raw and powerful. It can hit various levels of emotion. Jazz can depict positive and negative feelings of excitement. One minute it can show confidence and strength than heartbreaking vulnerability the next. The body’s center is significantly lowered which allows for a more human element.
Ballet tends to have a larger than life, angelic and superhuman quality. In addition to its technical base, its strive for perfection, commitment to details and ethereal beauty are just some of the qualities that have solidified ballet’s dominant place in the dance world. Jazz, however, breaks that fourth wall. It allows the dancer to connect directly and emotionally with its audience. It shows what people can feel/are feeling, therefore, allowing a more human connection.
Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t always have to be that deep! Like I said before jazz can be fluff and fun and not much more. It can just serve the purpose to entertain and help the audience escape for a bit to a happy place. However, it’s nice to know there is a deep end to the pool that you can swim to if you wish.
-Rebecca Inman, IDA Jazz Teacher, BFA Dance