The term "Jazz" was first applied to a style of music and dance during WWI. Jazz in a dance form, however, originates from the vernacular dances of Africans when they were brought to the Americas on slave ships. This dance form developed alongside jazz music in New Orleans in the early 1900s.Beginning in the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s,
Jazz dance transformed from this vernacular form into a theatre-based performance form of dance that required a highly trained dancer. During this time, choreographers from the modern and ballet dance worlds experimented with the jazz dance style. This includes choreographers like George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Jack Cole, Hanya Holm, Helen Tamiris, Michael Kidd, Jerome Robbins, and Bob Fosse. All of these choreographers influenced jazz by requiring highly trained dancers to perform a specific set of movements, which differed greatly from the colloquial form of New Orleans in the 1900s. Also during this time period (circa. 1950) jazz dance was profoundly influenced by Caribbean and other Latin American dance styles which were introduced by anthropologist and dancer Katherine Dunham.
Throughout its history, jazz dance has developed in parallel to popular music. This pattern of development has resulted in a few elements of movement key to the dance style, the most important being that jazz is they physical embodiment of the popular music of a given time. An example of this is that during a down time of jazz dancing from 1945–1954, when big bands and dance halls were declining, the vernacular of the dance followed less jazz music and leaned more toward rock and roll, creating moves like "The Monkey" and "The Jerk".
Syncopated rhythm is a common characteristic in jazz music that was adapted to jazz dance in the early twentieth century and has remained a significant characteristic.
Isolations are a quality of movement that were introduced to jazz dance by Katherine Dunham.
Improvisation was an important element in early forms of jazz dance, as it is an important element of jazz music.
A low center of gravity and high level of energy are other important identifying characteristics of jazz dance.Other elements of jazz dance are less common and are the stylizations of their respective choreographers. One such example are the inverted limbs and hunched-over posture of Bob Fosse.
Notable directors, dancers, and choreographers
Michael Jackson, known as "The King Of Pop"
Katherine Dunham, an anthropologist, choreographer, and pioneer in Black theatrical dance. She introduced isolations jazz dance.
Jack Cole, considered the father of jazz dance technique. He was a key inspiration to Matt Mattox, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Gwen Verdon, and many other choreographers. He is credited with popularizing the theatrical form of jazz dance with his great number of choreographic works on television and Broadway.
Eugene Louis Facciuto (aka "Luigi"), an accomplished dancer who, after suffering a crippling automobile accident in the 1950s, created a new style of jazz dance based on the warm-up exercises he invented to circumvent his physical handicaps. The exercise routine he created for his own rehabilitation became the world's first complete technique for learning jazz dance.
Bob Fosse, a noted jazz choreographer who created a new form of jazz dance that was inspired by Fred Astaire and the burlesque and vaudeville styles.
Gus Giordano, an influential jazz dancer and choreographer, known for his clean, precise movement qualities.
Jerome Robbins, choreographer for a number of hit musicals, including Peter Pan, The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof, Gypsy, Funny Girl, and West Side Story.
Gwen Verdon, known for her roles in Damn Yankees, Chicago, and Sweet Charity.
David Winters known for his role as A-Rab in West Side Story and as an award-winning choreographer for movies and TV programs.