Origins of Jazz Dance

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Origins of Jazz Dance in American Culture
The varieties of jazz dance reflect the diversity of American culture. Jazz dance mirrors the social history of the American people, reflecting ethnic influences, historic events and cultural changes. Jazz dance has been greatly influenced by social dance and desired music. Like so much that is “from America,” the history of jazz dance commences somewhere else.

The origins of Jazz music and dance are found in the rhythms and movements brought to America by African slaves. The style of African dance “is earthly; low, knees bent, pulsating body movements emphasized by body isolations and hand-clapping” (Emery 85). As slaves were forced into America, starting in the 1600s, Africans from many cultures were cut off from their families, languages and tribal traditions (Emery 33). The result was an intermingling of African cultures in which created a new culture with both African and European elements. The Slave Act of 1740 prohibited slaves from playing African drums or performing African dances, but that did not suppress their desire to cling to those parts of their cultural identity (Alice Paul). The rhythmic vocal sounds were woven into what we now call jazz dance.

During the nineteenth century, American whites decided that they enjoyed the music and dance the slaves had created. In minstrel shows, white entertainers parodied their conception of slave life and popularized the African style of dance and music (Naden 37). With white dancers as the star performers, it was difficult for a black dancer to gain stature as part of a dance troupe. Because of this, many black performers migrated to Europe, where they introduced the newly emerging forms of Jazz music and Jazz dance. In Europe, these talented and innovative performers were more well received than in America. The minstrel show evolved and was eventually absorbed into the 20th century musical comedy (Naden 185).

Through the end of the 1920s, “Dixieland jazz...
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