?Jazz dancing involves movements that are specially choreographed to West-African music compositions. The movements are termed as jazz, which is basically an umbrella term, and set to ‘blues’ notes, polyrhythms, improvisations, the ‘swung’ note, and syncopation. The Jazz form of dancing actually relates to several dance styles that are related, such as ballet, tap, and the African-American rhythms-and-dance styles. This dance form originated in the late 1800s. The trend took time to catch on, but eventually did by the mid 1900s.
Till the 1950s, jazz dancing was largely referred to as tap dancing, because of the routines set to jazz music. The Jazz Age was characterized by the popularity of dance forms such as the Cakewalk, Charleston, Jitterbug, Black Bottom, Boogie Woogie, and the Lindy Hop. These styles developed at various venues, and were excellently executed by dedicated enthusiasts, who made even the most simplest step look quite elaborate. The African Connection In the early 1800s, when slavery existed in many parts of the world, slave trade was a popular business.
It is this slave trade that led to the origination of jazz dance. In African culture, people used to dance in celebration of birth, puberty, marriage, and even death. Taking this tradition forward, slaves also danced as a form of interpretation of life. Their dance was primarily coordinated by drum beats. These slaves were taken to various regions like West Indies and America, and this is how jazz reached the American lands. Contribution – African music generally accents the second and the fourth beat that gives a rebounding feeling, and thus, the ‘swinging movement’ was formed.
The other major contribution of African influence are the polyrhythmic movements, in which individual body parts are moved according to different beats. The Role of the Church In America, slaves were not allowed to dance, by the Protestant Church. The Church strongly disapproved of any form of dance, by passing the Slave Act, as they thought dancing was sinful. The act also did not allow the use of African drums in any dance form. However, the French and Spanish Catholics allowed slaves to dance to keep them happy and physically fit. Thus, the dances in these regions regained most of the African flavor, that the dances in America lacked.
However, the ban did not suppress the African slaves’ interest in dancing. It is during this period that the use of violins (fiddle), quills, and banjos were made while dancing. Contribution – Due to the ban on drums, the same effect was created by foot tapping, stamping, and hand-clapping, that later formed an inseparable part of modern jazz dance. Origins of Jazz in America As the ban on African dances was not lifted, the white owners, who found the dance form to be a part of their recreational activity, started to paint their faces black and perform the slave dance.
This form of dance became popular, and later on proved to be a major turning stone in the evolution of jazz dance. On the other hand, the dances that were performed at plantations were considered holy or religious. The plantation owners, under the influence of European culture, started the Americanized version of the slave dance. Minstrel Shows The number of white dancers performing the slave dance increased around the 1850s to 1900s. There were dance troupes that traveled to various towns and performed minstrel shows.
In these shows, the dancers portrayed an African-American as an idiot, or someone who had a dandy appearance. The popular imitation of the slavery dance was made by Thomas Rice, in the dance ‘Jump Jim Crow’. As majority of the white dancers in the dance troupes increased, the African-Americans found it extremely difficult to find a place in the troupes. Thus, most of them migrated to Europe in search of job opportunities. Contribution – Though the minstrel shows were not completely based on African traditions, but still they did contribute to the evolution of jazz.
The movements like cakewalk, jig dancing, and the essence, are a result of these shows. Birth of Theatrical Jazz The minstrel shows slowly made way for ballroom dances. There were songs that were written by African-American composers, that taught people the techniques of dancing. Animal dances like the Turtle Trot, the Monkey Glide, the Bunny Hug, etc. , became popular in American ballrooms, and even the high society ones weren’t left out. Read more at Buzzle: http://www. buzzle. com/articles/history-of-jazz-dance. html.