Making Jazz Dance History – Today
Making Jazz Dance History – Today
By Lea Edwards; November 2014
Recently I visited the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah and noticed a statement by the President, Todd Grace, Ph.D. He said, “The study of history is not about celebrating the past. It’s about understanding the present. History explains how and why the world we live in today was created. Armed with that knowledge and insight, we can make well-informed decisions about the future. Knowing where we’ve been gives us a road map for going forward.”[i]
I’ve thought a lot about the niche that Dancin’ Unlimited fills in the local dance community, appreciating the variety of jazz dance forms that Marilyn York, Artistic Director, selects or choreographs each year. Every season, our dancers perform a mix of “vernacular jazz dance” with the more drum driven, African movements, as well as Broadway dance, lyrical jazz, Latin jazz, tap, and the new fusion of jazz and contemporary dance. Marilyn pulls from the 20th century great choreographers such as Katherine Dunham, Jack Cole, Jerome Robbins, and Bob Fosse. She personally has studied with or knows the work of Luigi, Giordano, Joe Orlando, Frank Hatchet, and Chet Walker (a protégé of Fosse).
At Dancin’ Unlimited Board meetings we often struggle over how to promote the Company, without sounding like we are too wallowed in the past. Now the epiphany hits… we (i.e., Marilyn and the dancers) are bringing the rich and diverse forms of jazz dance that have grown since the 1800s and matured in American culture during the last hundred years into our present. Moreover, Marilyn herself is blending them into the jazz contemporary style with her choreography in pieces like “In Succession,” performed at the Fairfax County Dance Coalition’s (FCDC) A Celebration of Dance Gala on October 11th.
At the annual Jazz & Tap Dance Festival (J&T), next on March 14-15, 2015, Dancin’ Unlimited partners with local studios and companies to showcase practically the whole genre of jazz dance, including Hip Hop. Marilyn never knows exactly what each company will perform. It’s a “pot luck” of advanced and professional pieces, yet every year the program is fresh and new. Jazz dance evolved with street dance, with friendly individualized competition among folks who danced in their communities every day. And jazz dance emerged as a concert program. Bob Boross, Shenandoah University Jazz Dance faculty lead, said, “this event (J&T) is an outstanding example of the spirit and breadth of jazz dance as an art form. It should be written up in one of the dance magazines.”
What’s our niche? We connect audiences with the heritage of jazz dance and “assure” it will continue into our future as a soulful, inspiring and uplifting dance form for everyone, ever adapting and fusing with the world of dance arts. Dancin’ Unlimited provides high quality jazz and Broadway dance to the Northern Virginia community. Dancers across the country are finding our website and realizing we are a jazz dance center of excellence, the only professional jazz dance company in the region. As a founding and continuing member of FCDC, we raise the awareness that jazz dance is the primary “Made in America” dance art.
There’s a new text book released this year, called Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches.[ii] It includes a terrific tree diagram showing the roots and branches of jazz dance (page xvi in the Introduction). Using that graphic as a reference for future blog articles, we will highlight why certain movements and music are called jazz dance and where jazz-contemporary dance is trending toward the future. Dancin’ Unlimited wants to help everyone recognize where jazz dance has been so we can appreciate its present and future forms.
[i] Georgia History Today. News Magazine of the Georgia Historical Society, Spring/Summer 2014.
[ii] Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches. Edited by Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver, University Press of Florida, 2014.