What Is Authentic Jazz Dance

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila

When you search the Internet, you find out many different definitions what is Authentic Jazz Dance or Authentic Jazz for short.

Many of these definitions connect Authentic Jazz Dance to jazz steps which are especially from the 1930s. When you are doing those steps, you are jazz dancing.

That, however, is only a part of enormous dance collection which contains all jazz music-related dance forms including solo dances, group dances, and partner dances, briefly saying from Cakewalk via Charleston and Lindy Hop to Hip Hop dancing. It could be argued for even earlier dance forms than Cakewalk, which are part of Authentic Jazz Dance, even if, there is no clear connection to jazz music. African-American dancing has its roots in a much earlier time than Cakewalk.

Authentic Jazz Dance is a general term to describe these dances.

The term ‘authentic jazz dance’ is obviously from the end of the 1950s when Marshall Stearns began to use it. That happened probably because of the Modern Dance and Ballet-connected “modern” jazz dance movement started more and more to take over the term ‘jazz dance’. Stearns also reconnected ‘jazz dance’ term to mean original Jazz Dance forms in his Jazz Dance study in the 1960s, but his work had little effect on the use of the term. After him there were Old Timers like Albert ’Al’ Minns, Leon James, Charles ’Cholly’ Atkins, Louise ‘Mama Lou’ Parks Duncanson, Mura Dehn, and Alfred ‘Pepsi’ Bethel, who used the term ‘authentic jazz dance’. Charles ’Cholly’ Atkins used also the term ’authentic jazz’.

Some of these Old Timers like Al Minns and Mura Dehn still kept talking about Jazz dancing and Jazz Dance without an ‘authentic’ prefix even in the 1980s.

Also the term ‘traditional jazz dance’ was used by Old Timers like Mama Lou Parks and Mura Dehn. According to Terry Monaghan, the term ’traditional jazz’ is difficult to use because it is connected to Dixieland jazz music in Europe. The term ‘traditional jazz dance’ is connected to all jazz music-based dance forms.

Earlier, at the latest from the end of the 1910s, Authentic Jazz Dance was known as Jazz Dance. There was used at the time at least following terms concerning original jazz music-related dance forms, jazz dance, original jazz dance, modern jazz dance, modern jazz, and jazz (as connected to dancing). Even ‘jazz steps’ was used as a term concerning jazz dancing in the end of the 1910s.

Nowadays, original jazz dance, modern jazz, modern jazz dance, jazz dance, and jazz (where dancing is concerned) are usually connected to Modern Dance and Ballet-based dance forms, which are only loosely (if not at all) connected to jazz music.

Some authors also have used ‘vernacular jazz dance’ or ‘swing dance’ terms to describe original Jazz Dance forms. As Terry Monaghan has stated ‘vernacular’ means ‘ordinary’, and many times original Jazz Dance forms have been highly practiced, and they may contain complex techniques. To call the practicers of these dance forms ordinary would not be correct for them.

The terms ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ have usually been based on swing music-related dance forms, even if there has been Texas Tommy Swing dance a long time before swing music emerged. The terms ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’, however, have been connected varyingly to only some jazz music-based dance forms during the years, and they have not been used as coherently as the terms ‘jazz dance’ and ‘authentic jazz dance’ have been used.

Although swing, especially big band swing music, has been important part of jazz music and Jazz dancing.

Authentic Jazz Dance is thus the best alternative to use until Jazz Dance is again firmly related to jazz music-based dance forms.

Here are some important features found in Authentic Jazz Dance:

The most important part of Authentic Jazz Dance is individuality. Each Jazz dancer is different. You should not copy anybody else exactly.

Rhythm is essential in Authentic Jazz Dance. For example, Pepsi Bethel has said: Without rhythm it is nothing. The rhythm is more important than movements you do. There is no definite way to do movements in Authentic Jazz Dance but the rhythm has to be consistent.

Everything should be done by music in Jazz dancing. When you are listening to music and Jazz dancing, you have a dialogue with music. You communicate with music and be a part of the orchestra as an instrument as for example Mura Dehn has explained in her Spirit Moves documentary.

That is Authentic Jazz Dance.

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About authenticjazzdance

The author of the site is Harri Heinila, Doctor of Social Sciences, political history, and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Political and Economic Studies at the University of Helsinki. He is interested in Authentic Jazz Dance: all jazz dances from different eras of jazz. E.g. Cakewalk, the Charleston, Black Bottom, The Lindy Hop, Mambo, Rhythm Tap. Heinila researches jazz dance, in particular, in the context of Harlem, New York. His doctoral dissertation, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality - The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943 is a groundbreaking study in the field of jazz dance and Harlem.
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