Jazz dance is the performance dance technique and style that emerged in America in the early twentieth century. Jazz dance may refer to vernacular jazz or Broadway or theatrical jazz. Both genres build on the African American vernacular style of dancing that emerged with jazz music. Vernacular jazz dance includes ragtime dances, Charleston, Lindy hop, and mambo. Popular vernacular jazz dance performers include The Whitman Sisters, Florence Mills, Ethel Waters, Al & Leon, Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, Dawn Hampton, and Katherine Dunham. Theatrical jazz dance performed on concert stage was popularized by Jack Cole, Bob Fosse, Eugene Louis Faccuito, and Gus Giordano.
The term "jazz dance" has been used in ways that have little or nothing to do with jazz music. Since the 1940s, Hollywood movies and Broadway shows have used the term to describe the choreography of Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins. In the 1990s, colleges and universities applied to the term to classes offered by physical education departments in which students dance to various forms of pop music, rarely jazz.
The origin of jazz dance can be traced to African ritual and celebratory dances from around the seventeenth century. These dances emphasized polyrhythm and improvisation. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, the transatlantic slave trade brought ten million enslaved Africans to the Americas. By 1817 in New Orleans, city laws "restricted gatherings of enslaved people to Sunday afternoons in Congo Square, known as Place Publique".
In 1917, jazz pianist Spencer Williams wrote a song called "Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble" which inspired a jazz dance called the shimmy. The shimmy is done by holding the body still "except for the shoulders, which are quickly alternated back and forth". The dances that emerged during this period were the Charleston and the Lindy hop.The Charleston is "characterized by its toes-in, heels-out twisting steps". It can be done as a solo or with any number of people.
The Lindy hop was a wild and spontaneous partner dance that was extremely rhythmically conscious. When the Great Depression began in October of 1929, many people turned to dance. Because of this, the Charleston and the Lindy hop are now considered to be under the umbrella term "swing dance" because they were most popular during the swing era of music (1935-1945).
Jacqui Malone distinguishes between dances such as the Lindy hop in the 1930s and Bob Fosse's choreography in a Broadway musical such as Chicago in the 1970s, though the term "jazz dance" has been applied to both. She uses terms such as "vernacular dance" and "classic jazz dance" to refer to the former. Referring to the latter, she follows Marshall and Jean Sterns in using the term "modern jazz dance". The Stearns drew attention to Shuffle Along, an all-black Broadway revue with Josephine Baker that started in 1921 and toured American cities for two years. Buddy Bradley choreographed black musicals in 1920s and 1930s and with Jack Cole, who choreographed the movies Kismet (1944), Gilda (1946), and Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1953). Cole influenced what Krin Gabbard calls the "pelvis-dominated choreography" of Bob Fosse. Gwen Verdon was a student of Cole, and she danced in the musical Chicago in 1975. Twenty years later Chicago was revived on Broadway, and Ann Reinking repeated some of the Fosse style. This style of jazz dance has also been linked with Gower Champion, Michael Kidd, and Jerome Robbins. The emphasis on sexuality in this kind of dancing led Martha Graham to say it belongs to the "House of Pelvic Truth".
White choreographers on Broadway began using vernacular jazz movements as early as 1913, setting the choreography in all or mostly white casts shows. In 1913, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. of the Ziegfeld Follies purchased the finale to The Darktown Follies, a show choreographed and performed by an all African American cast and made it the finale of this show opening on the New Amsterdam Theater. In the 1920s and 30s African American women who starred in the musical stages revues of New York further popularized jazz dance vocabulary, as well as radical images of free, laughing, satirical, gender-bending female independence.Eugene Louis Faccuito created the Luigi Technique consisting of "highly stylized, continuously flowing movements that developed the technique and style for the combinations that followed". Cole's style has been called hip, hard, and cool". Fosse combined "vaudeville, striptease, magic shows, nightclubs, film and Broadway musicals".
Contemporary jazz became well known because of shows like So You Think You Can Dance. Mia Michaels's earlier work exemplifies this style. Some other companies and choreographers that create contemporary jazz dance are Sonya Tayeh, Mandy Moore, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Commercial jazz, which has been popular since the 1980s, combines aspects of hip hop and jazz and is often done to pop music. This style can be seen in the music videos of Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. Commercial jazz often includes more "tricks." Commercial jazz and contemporary jazz are both seen at dance competitions. Another variety of jazz is Latin jazz. "Maria Torres developed and popularized the fusion at Broadway Dance Center". Latin jazz has an emphasis on the movement of hips and isolations. It can be seen in the films El Cantante and Dance with Me, as well as on TV dance shows.