Your Introduction to Jazz Dance

What You Need to Know About Learning Jazz Techniques

Three female dancers practicing in dance studio, leaping
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Know it or not, you see jazz dance all over the place, from television shows and movies to music videos and commercials. People enjoy watching jazz dancers, as the dance moves and techniques are fun and energetic.

Jazz dancing is a form that showcases a dancer's originality. All jazz dancers interpret and execute moves and steps in their own way. This type of dancing consists of fancy footwork, big leaps, and quick turns. To excel in jazz, dancers need a strong background in ballet, as it encourages grace and balance.

Jazz Clothes

When dressing for a jazz dance class, you need clothing that allows you to move. Jazz classes are casual and relaxed, but a dancer's body lines need to be visible—so baggy clothes are generally discouraged. Tights and leotards are fine, but most jazz dancers prefer to wear jazz or dance pants. These pants are usually boot-cut or flared styles, as tight leg bottoms restrict ankle movement. Tops usually worn for jazz include form-fitting tank tops, T-shirts, or leotards. Check with your teacher before buying jazz shoes, as many class instructors have preferences.

Class Structure

If you are attending your first jazz dance class, get ready to really move. A good jazz class explodes with energy. With music styles ranging from hip-hop to show tunes, the beat alone will get you moving. Most jazz teachers begin with a thorough warm-up, then lead the class in a series of stretching exercises and isolation movements. Isolations involve moving one part of the body while the rest of the body remains still. Jazz dancers also practice the art of suspension. Suspension involves moving through positions instead of stopping and balancing in them. Most jazz teachers will end the class with a short cool-down to help prevent muscle soreness.

Jazz Steps

Your instructor will teach you a variety of steps; however, you will want to try to make each step your own. In a jazz class, dancers are encouraged to add their own personality to each step. Jazz steps include basic turns, including chaines, piques, pirouettes, jazz turns, and some ballet turns, to name a few. Leaps include grande jetes, turning jumps, and tour jetes. Signature to jazz dancing is the "jazz walk." Jazz walks can be performed in many different styles. Another popular jazz move is the "contraction." A contraction is accomplished by contracting the torso, with the back curved outward and the pelvis pulled forward. You'll also learn the basic jazz square and leg holds. Learning jazz dance technique takes a lot of practice.

Influential Jazz Dancers

Many famous dancers have helped shape what we know as jazz dance today. Considered the father of theatrical jazz dance, Jack Cole developed techniques that are used today in musicals, films, television commercials, and videos. His style emphasized isolations, rapid directional changes, angled placement, and long knee slides.

A winner of eight Tony awards, Bob Fosse was a musical theater choreographer and director and a film director. Characteristics of his dance style are inward knees, rounded shoulders, and full-body isolations.

Considered a founder of jazz dance, Gus Giordano was a master teacher and gifted choreographer. His dance style has influenced modern jazz dancing. Many jazz teachers employ his methods in their classes.