Introduction to jazz dance
Jazz dance offers an improvised and energetic style of exercise that allows participants to physically express themselves through a range of routines. Jazz dancing emerged in the early Twentieth Century, in southern US cities like New Orleans and St. Louis, and has since become a global phenomenon.
With flowing movements similar to ballet, jazz dancers combine sharp turns, large leaps and quick footwork in a show of flexibility and grace. Performers interpret accompanying brass music to produce steps and twists in their own unique way. Jazz dance routines build upon ‘center control’, where all moves stem from the body’s center to retain its balance during difficult maneuvers.
Builds muscle strength - With its high leaps and nimble steps set to frenetic musical arrangements, jazz dancing is great for developing muscle strength – especially in the lower body. Explosive power is required for jumps and twists, and as a result the performer’s calf muscles and quads soon build up.
Develops poise and grace - If you clumsily stomp your way through day-to-day life, jazz dancing could well be the activity to help you move faster on your feet. Developing poise and grace with its light-footed moves and lightning fast steps, you’ll be tip toeing towards better balance in no time.
Raises concentration levels - If you drift into daydreams at the drop of a hat, looking out the window at work thinking of tropical beaches, jazz dancing could help you improve your concentration. Requiring large degrees of self-discipline and memory power, jazz routines combine a number of complex steps and turns.
Promotes better flexibility in the arms and hands - Unlike many dance styles, jazz dancing requires good flexibility in the arms and hands, with a range of expressions – including the infamous ‘jazz hands’ pose – stemming from free movements. This flexibility will soon come to you with regular jazz dancing practice.
Styles of jazz dancing
Though jazz dancing may contain aspects of ballet, hip-hop and Latin American dance, it is mainly formed from a trio of key elements including:
Improvisation - Jazz dance is different from many traditional dances in the sense that it promotes freedom of expression and individuality. Although anchored by certain basic steps, jazz dancers are free to improvise in their routines and express their emotions in time with accompanying music. This is certainly a dance style for the creative thinker.
Musical connection - With its roots in improvisation, jazz dance requires a musical connection between the performer and accompanying music before it really flourishes. Without this bond, the dancer may struggle to physically express themselves in tune with the music. The choice of jazz dance music is therefore essential to get the dancer moving in a stylish manner.
Ad libbing and syncopation - Jazz dancing requires an urgency and excitement that is lacking in other dance styles. It demands sudden changes of pace and movement from the performer and therefore requires both concentration and light-footed flexibility.
Toe rises and straddle split leaps - These are popular moves that many beginner jazz dancers work towards achieving. The ‘toe rise’ sees the dancer rise to a standing position – after kneeling down – using only the tops of their toes to support them. Needless to say, the move requires rather a lot of practice. In contrast, a ‘straddle leap’ sees the dancer take a short run up before jumping high into the air and splitting their legs as wide apart as possible before landing safely.
What to expect from your first class
Jazz dance classes may cover a range of energetic routines set to different genres of music. With the soundtrack potentially covering everything from jumping jazz hits through to hip-hop and R ‘n’ B, you’ll certainly enjoy a number of diverse workouts. Lessons generally start with a holistic body warm-up before beginners learn the basic steps and turns in a friendly and supportive environment. Just be ready to enjoy an active session, which may see you jumping and shuffling faster than you could ever have imagined. Creativity is also encouraged - so be prepared to improvise.
Key jazz dancing tips
Although jazz dance has similarities with the world of ballet, don’t let that put you off. Even if your only other dancing experience was twenty years ago, boogying on down at the village hall disco, jazz dance is a fun and accessible style of exercise. Don’t be deterred after seeing some of its more complicated manoeuvres.
Before sprinting out and buying a pair of jazz dance shoes, get professional advice from your teacher. Some instructors have different preferences, so take time to check with them first before you rush into buying a pair of your own.