birth of the jazz dance

We the people of the 21st century can imagine different things when hearing the word "Jazz". Both jazz music and dance through the evolution from its deep roots from 16th century up to the contemporary times has become such a complex subject that it is hardly possible to describe it in one sentence. Regarding this, I like the term elaborated by Patricia Cohen towards jazz dance which she calls "the CONTINUUM" that is established by historical, cultural, social and kinetic continuity of African-American dance form.

No doubt, the jazz dance is a product of blending of two worlds, two cultures, two races, black and white, deriving from its West African roots, in which music and dance are functional aspects of everyday life, developing in a solid trunk of African-American Vernacular culture up to its theatrical offshoots and styles born from authentic jazz, that can be seen as branches (watch the pic).

Jazz Dance Tree by Kimberly Testa (c)

Vernacular jazz developed with the times on the plantations and, after Civil War, in juke joints of the South and the honky-tonks and the dance halls in the North. Animal dances like Buzzard Lope, Turkey Trot, Scarecrow and the Fishtail, like the descriptive Itch, Slap the Baby and Pickin' Cherries were observed by white people who found the dances intriguing if intimidating because of their loose-limbed and articulate torso movements. Black dancers adopted Eurocentric verticality for their Cakewalks and later the closed ballroom position for the Lindy. Whether via appropriation or blending, depending on viewer's perspective, jazz dance evolved through the first half of the twentieth century to include elements of both Africanist and European dance.

Patricia Cohen defines such elements in jazz dance nature as: SOCIAL (community - the circle; individual creativity within the group; vocal encouragement; lack of separation between performer and spectator; friendly challenges among the dancers; confrontational attitude ("in your face"); joyousness; call-and-response, interaction between musicians and dancers); and the KINETIC (use of the flat foot; bent hip, knee, and ankle joints; articulated, inclined torso, body part isolations; earthiness (groundedness); improvisation; embellishment and elaboration; polyrhythms and syncopation; polycentrism; angularity and asymmetry; personal expression and creativity).

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