What is Jazz Dance? - History & Terms

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  • 0:00 Jazz Dance
  • 0:32 History of Jazz Dance
  • 1:28 Important Terms
  • 2:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

Jazz dance is fast and fun. It uses upbeat music and leaps and turns to interpret traditional and not-so-traditional movements. Keep reading to learn about the history of this exciting kind of dancing.

Jazz Dance

Do you love to move to fast-paced music? What about making up your own moves as you go along? If so, jazz dance might be just the thing for you. Jazz dance first appeared on the dance scene in the early 1900s in New Orleans and gained in popularity through the 1950s. It incorporates many of the same elements as ballet, including leaps and turns. In this lesson we'll focus on the history and important terminology of jazz dance.

Jazz Dance is often looser than traditional ballet dancing.
Jazz dance is often looser than traditional ballet dancing.

History of Jazz Dance

Jazz dance is based on dance moves that slaves brought to America. Slaver owners would make the captured Africans dance as a way to keep them physically fit. Originally, jazz dance referred to any kind of movements performed to jazz music, including tap dancing. Early jazz dancing was interpretive and unstructured but soon evolved into more structured, theatrical performances.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, jazz dance gained in popularity and garnered acclaim. Some studios even taught jazz dance. Eventually, jazz dancing found its way to Broadway, rivaling ballet in popularity. By the 1950s, jazz dance included moves from both ballet and contemporary dance. It was also influenced by Latin and Caribbean music.

Jazz dance remains very popular. While it does incorporate some classical moves, its fast pace, high level of improvisation, and upbeat music keep it a favorite among students.

A stag jump
A Stag Jump

Important Terms

Here are some important terms typically used when discussing jazz dance:

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