Jazz is one of the largest and longest living music, a genuine expression of the American country. For over a century it has been a voice of freedom and originality for musicians and dancers.
Coming from an African cradle, expressions like call and response conversation, rhythmical syncopation and improvisation defined the overall message of Jazz, the inclusion of an individual person to become a living part of the whole. Everybody gets a voice, there is always space for individual feeling, sharing, supporting and most of all accepting any diversity. Jazz is music and movement from people for people.
The message for you as a dancer is: "Music is being played, come on in and add your voice!" Getting closer to jazz music, you will have to love it for its happiness and sadness, hints of robustness, fun and joy that will capture you. Its soothing effect will alter your perception of time and body weight. Get ready for a roller coaster ride of sensations and emotions.
You can build up your entire dance interpretation in swing dances like Jive, West and East Coast Swing, Slow Foxtrot and Quickstep by finding some Jazz diamond gems waiting for you to be applied in your own dancing.
Diamond gems of Jazz
Is Swing a kind of music or a way to perform? It's both, it has remained one of the most popular music and dance styles since 1920s and it is the way of playing the rhythm. A “swung” beat plays with the length of the space between beats. This is how Louis Armstrong, the master of improvisation, was playing when he arrived to New York from New Orleans. Harlem at that time was the black capital of the world, all black artists without freedom were there. The best African-American musicians and Lindy Hop dancers were performing in fancy clubs like the Cotton Club and the Savoy.
Due to the swing, the rhythm deals with emotions. Swinging of the sound and swinging in dance was used to create beauty and gave an aesthetic approach to the rhythm and movement. Additionally, swinging out of borders provided new rhythms and movement designs. Swing wave comes always to a different position, which creates excitement, brings life to the musician and the dancer.
Duke Ellington blended the roar and the refined in his music perfectly, with the tune "It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing" he confirmed that Swing was primarily the music of black self-expression. But not for a long time. Musicians and dancers of all skin colours and nationalities have been adopting the idea of swing up to the present day.
For a dancer swing can be an actin, moving shape or a movement accent, an expression in space or effect in time, where the speed increases towards the centre of the swing action and decreases on the way out. You’ve tasted your swing actions many times and for sure they never tasted exactly the same. As a spectator you are nearly tasting the swing together with the performer by seeing numerous shades of it – the power of inclusion is inevitable.
Rhythm is the first thing that you associate with the word Jazz. It rules the world, the whole universe, but as a dancer, you can turn it into a ritual. How? By playing with it, exploring the possibilities of how to divide, reunify or accent the beats.
There are many aspects to the beat which is always there. In Jazz the accent goes from the downbeat, which we hear on the 1st beat of the bar, on beats two and four, so called off beats. It feels much cooler to let the rhythm pulse on the 2nd and the 4th beat of the bar. That kind of groove creates pleasure and makes you go along with it. Syncopation is the very life of Jazz as accents appear where they are not expected.
Before you dance a rhythm, sing it first, then your actions and movements will fit it naturally. Like birds singing their rhythms effortlessly. Discover how to move within the beat not just on the beat and especially how to move in the spaces between the beats. In Swing most of the magic happens between the beats and this is the area to be researched.
African traditions, like call and response singing, were kept alive through traditional black gospel and Jazz music. It is quite different to hear the music or to experience it. By singing and responding you become a part of the song and community.
Another beautiful sense of merging can be found in Blues singing where the mode is neither major nor minor, Blues melodies simply navigate in between, triumphant yet humble, mysterious...
I will let you know more about how melody could affect the way you choose to move in the next article.
Jazz is the player's art, not the composer's. The performer improvises and creates art on the spot, in the moment. In dancing movement is your art, your courage and risk-taking. You dress it up with your own interpretation, made up and decided as you go along.
Which new layers can you add to your interpretation of Swing dances? Here are some suggestions:
· generally strong movements could also be lighter or heavier,
· direct in space movements could be more flexible and curved,
· be aware of sharing the sense of the body weight with your partner and acknowledge opportunities for overbalance, counterbalance and leaning,
· energy could be kept inward for a longer time before being released, as great musicians say that legato existed before staccato,
· allow yourself to be behind the time as well, rather than in front of it, the feeling of being slightly led back is comforting,
· mind that your originality is unexplored territory as you are not yet totally aware of your strengths,
· you can express your unique ideas in your choreography, everybody is capable of inventing,
· don’t forget to have fun, this is how you will introduce your own humour spontaneously,
· create your own recipes, spice them with your own Jazz feeling,
· there are no wrong movements, just better choices, the joy is hidden in endless layering, shaping, bridging, developing.
Like love, you recognise Jazz when you encounter it, in all its complexity and beauty.
Jazz covers a multitude of sounds and dances, from the early Blues to Ragtime, Dixieland, Charleston, Peabody, Fast Fox Trot, Turkey Trot, Lindy Hop, Black Bottom, Jitterbug, Boogie-Woogie, Jive, Jump Blues, Bebop, Shag, Rock'n'roll, Swing, Bossanova, Soul...
Ask Alexa to play for you Scot Joplin, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, George Gershwin, Glenn Miller, Barry Harris, Miles Davis, Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Robbie Williams, Michael Buble...
Enjoy and have fun!