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Home > Jazz dance

The Versatile Jazz Dancer: Perfecting the Four Styles of Jazz Technique

The jazz dancer of today has to be versatile in order to grab the golden opportunities that come their way. The good news is that Broadway loves jazz dancers. The bad news is that Broadway mainly lives in New York…and well…if a dancer isn’t NY bound then it could be a tad more challenging to find opportunities. The best way to increase the chances of being seen is to tighten up that jazz technique and to perfect the four main styles of jazz which are classical, Latin, lyrical and theatrical.

Some prime examples of these four jazz techniques in history really stand out. Jack Cole developed the classical jazz technique when he used his modern dance background and put it to jazz music. Along with Jack Cole came Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins who really sparked it up when they added theatrical arrangements to the technique. They translated it to the stage and into the movie scene as well. Then enter Jose Limon who made a huge mark on the technique as well with his Latin flair. We also saw jazz evolving into a lyrical technique, which embodied fluid movement but was still considered “jazz dancing”. As a result, we see known choreographers, like Mia Michaels making their mark in lyrical jazz history.

All four of these techniques are now required of the jazz dancer. It isn’t enough to be an expert in just classical jazz. Cross-training is essential: one has to really know their way around all of the jazz styles! It’s a good idea to take Latin dancing on top of jazz dancing and to know how to dazzle it up with a hat and cane. Ballet technique is equally important for the lyrical dancer as tap dancing is for the classical jazz dancer. Each of the following styles is vital to a jazz dancing career.

Classical jazz technique as we know it today is very involved. A dancer has to go beyond the competition “tricks” to really get into the technique. Scissor kicks and axel turns are not all there is. A dancer has to reach into the soul in order to find the primal rhythm and depth of kinetic translation. The most interesting and engaging movements can be the transitions and the accents. The small movement can become larger than life with projected energy. It need not be a talent show of ability, although knowing how to do the big jumps and turns are indeed important to a professional dancer’s career. Classical jazz is sleek, domineering and sensual. It must ooze from the eyes and bleed from the pores. One must live and love every movement and work it to its fullest potential (unless the choreography dictates otherwise!).

Helpful tip: don’t forget to pick up a pair of kneepads! This is a dance gear necessity and might just help you land that jazz audition that involves a lot of floor work.

Theatrical jazz creates a whole other dynamic to the world of “jazz”. We now think of hats, canes and staged musicals. An element of theatrical jazz that must be developed is the ability to embody a character. A dancer has to know how to be charming, funny and even outright ridiculous if the choreography calls for it. We are so used to being portrayed as sensual and beautiful through our movement that we forget jazz can be downright silly. The use of props also becomes quite important to theatrical jazz dancing for these very reasons. To really be prepared for theatrical dancing, a dancer should know how to do chair and stair work, a great hat grab and to properly twirl a cane on queue. Theatrical jazz oftentimes involves more simple jazz movement in order to accommodate singers and props. Speaking of singing, it’s not a bad idea to learn that too if theatrical jazz is the chosen path.

Helpful tip: Keep a homemade cane as well as a Derby and/or Fedora hat on hand for practice and auditions. One can make a cane simply by picking up a cylinder wood piece, hip height, at the local Home Depot. Paint it black and the tips white.

Latin jazz however, is one of the oldest forms of jazz. Being that jazz began its roots within the Latin realm, it makes this style a very important one. Jazz dancing often calls for a Latin flair that includes hip movement which sometimes calls for the opposite of a classical jazz hip movement. It’s a good bet this style will pop up within an audition or dance number, so brush up! Learning the salsa, meringue, samba, mambo (you get the picture), is a great way to cross-train. Developing that Latin finesse within the jazz dance framework will certainly ensure more opportunities and more audition placements! Be sure to learn how to dance in heels, this is essential! Some dance facilities offer this type of training specifically, rather than leave a dancer to learn informally. It is certainly worth the time and effort to assure that one’s hard-earned dance training won’t be over-shadowed by inexperience with heels and cost the audition.

Helpful tip: Buy a high-quality pair of character shoes and ballroom shoes (one in tan and one in black), comfort is crucial. This is a first-class addition to any dance gear closet.

Lyrical jazz is one of many new developments in jazz dancing, it stems from contemporary ballet and modern dance. Lyrical jazz dancing involves a great deal of balance, extension and turning. The movement is legato, fluid and powerful rather than staccato, abrupt and sudden. The best thing a lyrical jazz dancer can do is to work on their ballet technique! This doesn’t mean Pointe-work must be sought out. This just means that ballet technique must be solid on top of jazz technique. Consider it a blend of the two. The ability to display emotion is a top priority of the lyrical dancer. The body must be an oracle of raw feeling, must demonstrate evenly connective movement and posses a special depth of interpretation through motion and flexibility.

Helpful tip: Being limber is especially important to the lyrical dancer. One can be more prepared by supplementing dance classes with Pilates and/or yoga classes.

The jazz dancer of today must be resourceful and smart since being an excellent dancer isn’t always enough. Adapting to emerging styles in the jazz technique such as “pop jazz”, a popular “street” style for video background dancers, will help keep more auditions within your range. By broadening the jazz technique a dancer can ensure readiness for the next big opportunity that knocks on their door. Being prepared, attentive and having the right gear can mean all the difference in getting that big break. Don’t forget the most important element: have fun! Keep a smile and a heart full of faith and go land that great dance gig!

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