Jazz dance has its roots in the folk dances of Africa. Unlike the early Europeans, the African people believed in using the whole body including the hips and ribcage as a means of dance expression, and dance and music were an integral part of everyday African life. When African slaves were brought to the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries, the Europeans were appalled by the black slaves who danced with never seen before movement which they tried to abandon.
However, the dances survived, were adapted and took on slightly different forms in different areas. In the United States, for example, arm swings and body movements were added to Irish clog dancing, and gradually American Tap and Rhythm Tap evolved. Early forms of tap and jazz were danced in minstrel shows, medicine shows, carnivals, circuses and vaudeville, as well as socially among blacks.
A Deep Rhythmic Conversation
Origins of Jazz dance can be traced all the way back to the first years of the arrival of African slaves to the shores of Central and North America. Dances and music they brought were much more free-flowing, experimental and improvisational than traditional dances that were brought to North America by European immigrants. These heavily rhythmic-based and tribal dances had a feature that was described by historians and music experts as almost “conversation-like” qualities, in which both the dancers and music players reacted one to another, creating free-flowing music that enchanted them completely.
The Rise of Jazz
Jazz was born in 1895 when Buddy Bolde decided to start his first band. It all started in New Orleans which was the birth place of jazz. New Orleans was the only place in the New World where slaves were allowed to own drums. It was in New Orleans where African used the European horns mixed with African drums. The sounds that was created was like no other. Jazz dance paralleled the birth and spread of jazz itself from roots in black American society and was popularized in ballrooms by the big bands of the swing era which was the 1930s and ’40s.
Individuality & Spontaneity
Ever since Jazz entered into popular culture, it immediately fueled the creation of its dance style that not only followed its modern rhythms, sounds, and techniques but also heavily promoted the sense of individuality, spontaneous dancing, free flow dancing and showcase of the skills of dancers. Dancers who started dancing to the early sounds of Jazz developed a high degree of improvisational skills, which became especially popular in the African American communities as early as the 19th century.
However, the mainstream popularity of Jazz music and its accompanying dance techniques arrived only after the World War I when modern sound broadcasting techniques enabled easier sharing of music across the entire United States and not only in “music hubs” of its largest cities.
Jazz music was often performed by large New Orleans’ bands (who received notoriety by performing Jazz at funerals of local music artists or during public holiday celebrations). One of the most famous Jazz musicians that promoted this music style and dance was Buddy Bolden and his band, who often performed at the Funky Butt Hall. Another favorite Jazz dance meeting place was at Economy Hall, a dance hall in Tremé, historic neighborhood of New Orleans what is remains to this day important center African-American, Créole, and brass band culture.
With the rising popularity of Jazz dance, this music style started changing under the guidance of modern choreographers such as George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Jack Cole and Hanya Holm. They began using highly trained dancers who were tasked to perform highly precise and difficult dance moves that elevated Jazz dance into a modern art form that was different than casual Jazz dances of New Orleans music bars.
The golden age of traditional Jazz dance lasted between 1930 and 1960, during which Jazz became influenced by other styles such as the Caribbean and Latin music. This happened not only because Jazz became popular across entire North America, but also because many of the most talented musicians and dancers flocked into New Orleans and started experimenting and morphing the entire genre of Jazz. New influenced transformed traditional Jazz genre into what is today known as modern Jazz.