jazz dance

Topics: Jazz, Dance, Social dance Pages: 7 (2758 words) Published: April 28, 2014
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 popular music. But, like so much that is “from America”, the history of jazz dance begins 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 earthy; low, knees bent, pulsating body movements emphasized by body isolations and hand-clapping. As slaves forced into America, starting during the 1600’s, Africans from many cultures were cut off from their families, languages and tribal traditions. The result was an intermingling of African cultures that 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. The rhythms and movements of African dance: the foot stamping and tapping, hand-clapping and rhythmic vocal sounds were woven into what we now call jazz dance. In the 19th 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. With white dancers as the star performers of the minstrel and vaudeville show, 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. Through the end of the 1920’s, Dixieland jazz music, with its fast ragtime beat, spread from New Orleans to Chicago and New York. The growth of jazz dance was directly influenced by this musical genre. In 1923, the Charleston was introduced and Americans were quick to adopt it. In the Charleston, dancers used body isolations for the first time in a social dance, and the hand-clapping and foot-stamping that it incorporated were a direct link to the dance’s African origin. This was also the era of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a black tap dancer who achieved world fame through the clean and clear percussive rhythms of his feet. The early forms of tap dance evolved from the Irish jig, which incorporated limited upper body movements. As the movements of the tap dance became more flexible, the lightness of Robinson’s style influenced the future of tap dance by changing the placement of the tap steps from the full foot to the ball of the foot. Bill Robinson was seen performing on Broadway, in Hollywood films, and in shows that toured the country. During the Depression of the 1930’s, people escaped into dance competitions in hopes of winning a cash prize. The sound of jazz music started to change due to the “symphonic jazz” of Paul Whiteman. He brought full orchestration to his music and made syncopation a part of every song he played. (Syncopation places the accent or emphasis on normally unaccented beats of music. It adds to the surprise and spontanaiety of jazz dance.) The music of the black American bands of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong gave birth to swing music. The “Swing Era” also termed the “Big Band Era”, generated well-known dances such as the Lindy Hop and the Boogie Woogie. During the 1920’s, Fred Astaire had been a vital part of Broadway, but in 1933 when musicals found their fame in Hollywood, he became the leading man for movie musicals. Astaire created a unique dance style that brought elegance to the dancer’s image. He blended the flowing steps of ballet with the abruptness of jazz movements and...
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