From the olden days till date, Jazz dance has always been influenced by trends of the popular culture. One can see many overlapping steps in jazz dancing, which are common to others. It is a combination of ballet, contemporary, African, and theatrical dance. Jazz dance is basically an energetic form that is sensual and equally graceful like other dances.
Jazz dance can vary from being quite lively and frenetic to slow and lyrical. Jazz is related to several dance styles like the tap and ballet, with traces of African-American rhythms and dances. It is profoundly determined by jazz music in its sounds, rhythms, and techniques. This dance form is more popular in the United States as compared to Europe. Its style, which is energetic, abstract, sensuous, clean and cool, is what makes jazz dance different from all the other types of dances.
Till the mid 1950s, this dance form was associated with tap dance, which was the main dance presentation of the era. It was initiated by the African-American community in the United States. You can try yoga or any other exercise to loosen your stiff muscles, and then perform this dance. In terms of jazz, ideas and opinions are varied, but there are some basic steps which you cannot segregate from the dance repertoire. Here are all the basic steps that you need to know, to get started.
Ever heard the terms second position, contraction, lunge, etc.? These terms will be new to a person who has just been introduced to the world of jazz. Here’s a collection of the standard positions that one needs to follow while performing jazz dance.
Before you start any dance form, it is always advised to do some warm-up exercises so that your muscles get loosened up. These isolations are taught in jazz dance schools at the beginner and intermediate level.
In this isolation, the head is rotated to the left and to the right. First stand straight with the arms stretched out parallel to the ground, and the knees slightly bent. Now stand in the preparatory position (arms are held in front in a rounded position with the fingers touching).
For right head isolation, hold the right shoulder down and tilt your head towards the right.
For left head isolation, hold down the left shoulder and tilt your head to the left. You can move your head while keeping the shoulders stable. Repeat the same for front head and back head isolation.
The hip muscles will be loosened while performing this isolation. Similar to the head isolation technique, you need to stand straight with the hands to the side. Let your shoulders hang and maintain a relaxed posture. Now move your hips to the right for right hip isolation, and to the left for left hip isolation.
You need to stand in the second position and place your hands on your hips. Now bend your knees slightly and move your ribcage to the right and then to left, without moving your waist.
Stand in the second position and bend your knees slightly. Now place your hands on your hips and push your chest outwards for outward chest isolation, and inwards for inward chest isolation, respectively.
This one’s performed in ballet as well as in jazz. The leg is held in the attitude position with one of the legs bent towards the back.
Put your right foot forward. Now cross your left leg over your right leg, and lunge forward with your right leg. Position your left leg into attitude and turn to your right on your left foot. Raise your hands over your head, and turn them inwards so that the inner part of the palms are facing each other. Let the fingers be in a relaxed position.
This dance move requires you to move your hips in a sexy manner while pliè with the hands rounded at the back. You can take a few steps before you actually break into a hip walk.
All you need to do is to stand in a comfortable position with your back straight and legs joined together.
Now take your left leg forward and point the toes towards the ground.
The next step is to take your right leg forward while moving your hip outwards.
Repeat the same with the right leg as well.
Once you are done, turn to your left/right (whichever is convenient) and lift both your hands just above the waist. You can again restart the dance.
This step is frequently used in posters and images, as it can effectively portray the excitement involved in the dance form. This move requires balance and flexibility.
Take your left leg to the back and lift the heel. Stand straight with the hands in a comfortable but straight position.
Lift your left leg in a relevé and raise your hands to form a V-shape. While doing so, lift your right leg and stand on your heels.
Now bring the raised left foot down to the front (almost perpendicular to your chest region), and bend backwards with your head also bent in the same manner.
This move is basically associated with ballet. Once you are familiar with the basic single turn, you can opt for doubles as well as triplets.
Firstly lunge forward with your left leg and raise the heel of the right one. Now keep the right arm in the first position while the left one in the second position.
Bring the right leg forward and lift it a few feet above the ground while keeping the toes pointed downwards. Keep the heel of the left leg raised. Now spin in one direction without losing your balance.
Slowly lessen your speed, and put your left leg down and open your arms sideways.
The ‘Rhythm Nation’ video showcased a new dance move called the ‘Running Man’. It was performed by MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, and others, in their live shows. It is also called the ‘Hammer’.
Stand in a relaxed position with the hands to the sides. Now lift your left leg and bend it 90 degrees. Keep the toes bent downwards, and raise the heel of the right leg. Your hands must be placed in the first position. Now bring your left leg down slowly and slide the right leg backwards. Also, push your hands downwards with closed fists.
If you are looking for a difficult dance move, then maybe you should try out the ‘Stag Leap’! The high jump split with one foot tucked under the knee is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Stand straight with hands to your side. Now bend your legs and jump in the air (maintain the bent legs position). Bend your right leg further and point the toes towards the floor. Let the left leg bend backwards with pointed toes. Raise your arms in a V-position, and maintain this position so that you can stay in the leap style for a longer period of time.
Like the stag leap, this type of jump is also considered to be a difficult one. In this, you need to do a middle air split and then land safely. Stand with your back straight and hands to the side.
Now bend your knees and place your hands on the floor so that you will have grip while jumping.
Once you are ready, jump up in the air by pushing yourself. After you have reached the highest point of your jump, stretch out your legs and hands sideways. Look straight and keep the toes pointed. Land safely by bringing both the legs together and hands back to the sides.
One of the most iconic moves, this is done either on the left or right side, with some extreme twists in the upper body.
Stand with a straight back and the legs joint together.
Place your right leg over the left one, and transfer the body weight on the right foot.
Now pull the left leg backwards and transfer the body weight on it.
Take the right leg to the right and transfer weight on it.
Now bring the left leg closer to the right leg, and transfer the body weight on it.
Jazz Dance Legends
Technique is the core of any dance movement, and therefore, to perfect a dance step, it is important that you learn the techniques correctly. Jack Cole, considered the father of jazz dance techniques, developed different styles of this dance form. His techniques were employed in various videos, television commercials, films, and musicals. Rapid directional changes, angled placement, and long knee slides remain his trademark. Another name worth mentioning is Bob Fosse. He was a choreographer, and a film director. Rounded shoulders, inward knees, and full-bodied isolations were his forte. Other names to reckon are Katherine Dunham, Gus Giordano, Jerome Robbins and Gwen Verdon.
Learning jazz is a great way to stay in shape, and its dance classes are conducted all over the world. To improve your steps, it is recommended that you learn some other dance form like ballet and hip hop. Personal instruction is necessary to learn this dance, which you can acquire by enrolling in a dance studio. Though you can pick out a DVD to learn the basic steps, it is always better to take professional help to master this art form. There is always a great demand for skilled jazz dancers in Broadway productions and dance performances all over the world. Noted choreographers have their hands full working in a variety of genres, television commercials, drill teams, etc.
Costume and Attire
It’s showtime folks! Make sure you have the proper costumes to go with your performance. Jazz dance costumes and shoes are considered to be one of the most elegant dance costumes, with all the flash and crazy colors. They are sometimes delectable but should be well fitted.
In case of lyrical jazz, the color and detailing may be a little subdued. The costumes are more inclined towards the ballet costumes, which are floaty and feminine.
So what are you waiting for? Get on your dance shoes, put on some jazz music, try out some of these jazz dance steps, and let your feet just sway to the rhythm.