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What is Jazz Dance?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Jazz dance is a form of modern dance which is heavily influenced by the sounds, rhythms, and techniques of jazz music. Like jazz music, this type of dance is highly individual, with an emphasis on showcasing individual skills, and dancers who specialize in it are skilled at improvisation as well as working with other dancers to achieve a desired look and feel. Many regions of the world offer classes in this type of dance, and some very accomplished dancers and choreographers work in this field.

Like the music which inspired it, jazz dance has its roots in the African-American community in the United States. Various forms of jazz dance were being performed as early as the late 1800s, and by the First World War, it had become an accepted and well known genre. This dance form went on to heavily influence Broadway choreography and, in turn, Hollywood choreography, and it has also seeped heavily into ballet and modern dance.

Most talented jazz dancers start out in the field of ballet. In ballet classes, they learn control, skill, and grace, and they tone and condition their bodies for dancing. Once dancers have mastered the discipline of ballet, they can pursue additional training in jazz dancing, which hones improvisation skills, teaching dancers to move with the beat and to riff off each other in performance. Skilled dancers with jazz training can be in great demand, appearing in films, Broadway productions, and dance performances all over the world, with some noted choreographers working in a wide variety of genres, from television commercials to drill teams.

Jazz is known for being heavily syncopated and unpredictable, thanks to its African influences, and jazz dance is the same way. Dancers may be slow, dreamlike, and graceful, or they may move abruptly and sharply, executing fantastic leaps and other feats. As a result, they must be physically very flexible, and very attuned to the music they dance to.

Some jazz dance is heavily structured and choreographed, while other performances build in room for improvisation. In group performance, improvisation must be carefully executed, with the dancers working together so that they do not clash or distract from the harmony of the piece, just like jazz musicians. This form of dance does not necessarily have to be performed to jazz music, although it often is, and it can integrate skills from other fields of dance, like tap; the original jazz dance, in fact, was tap dance, with dancers branching out into other styles only in the early 1900s.

Musical Expert is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Musical Expert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon989311 — On Mar 01, 2015

What is the purpose of jazz dance?

By anon323279 — On Mar 04, 2013

Jazz is one of the world's most popular dances.

By anon289164 — On Sep 03, 2012

Is jazz explored by both male and female dancers?

By anon133187 — On Dec 09, 2010

where did jazz dance originate from?

By anon81499 — On May 02, 2010

Jazz is normally done in 4/4 time.

By anon76349 — On Apr 09, 2010

jazz dances are normally roughly between one and five minutes long and movements are generally in count of eight. hope that helped.

By anon76348 — On Apr 09, 2010

jazz dance was originally performed in cabarets, brothels, night clubs and on the streets. today, however. it has evolved so far from this now being preformed all over the world, on broadway, stage shows, music videos, festivals, musicals, films and television commercials. to name the basics. hope that answered your question.

By anon52555 — On Nov 15, 2009

In what time signature is jazz dance performed?

By anon27140 — On Feb 24, 2009

where is jazz dance performed?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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