Continuing our in-depth exploration of the nine movement forms that inspire and shape Nia, this month our spotlight falls on Jazz Dance.
In African traditions, every aspect of life is comemorated through dance - indeed, to this day, in my native South Africa, protesters demanding a pay rise will demonstrate through dance. This is the birthplace of Jazz Dance, which migrated to America in the 1800s with the slave trade. In parts of America, slaves were forbidden by the Church from using drums, so they used foot stamping and hand clapping to achieve percussive effects.
Gradually the dance form spread amongst the plantation owners, who adopted it for entertainment, and minstrel troops became commonplace. Under European influences, the stage was set for the rise of modern American Jazz Dance.
Yet the story doesn't end there, because, as the dance form evolved, so did the music. Jazz music became increasingly complex and improvisatory, departing from the existing styles of jazz dance. It took Jack Cole, known as the "Father of Modern Jazz", to combine his studies of ballet and modern dance to create a choreography that became popular in Broadway. Following in his footsteps, many other dancers became pioneers in Jazz Dance - Katherine Dunham, Jerome Robbins and Matt Mattox, to name a few.
Although many techniques of Jazz Dance are drawn from ballet, it also introduces several techniques that are used in Nia. Isolations involve focusing on one specific part of the body, and Nia has incorporated the Chest Isolation as one of its 52 Moves. Improvisation is an important element of Jazz Dance, and this is an over-arching part of the Nia experience.
Energetically, Jazz Dance is about showmanship, sassiness and fun. The songs Point of no Return from the routine Passion and City of Light from the routine R1 are great examples of Nia choreography inspired by Jazz Dance.
But there's no need to limit Jazz Dance to these songs. Next time you dance, try shimmying those shoulders, fluttering those fingers or add some funky attitude to your martial arts move. Release your inner show(wo)man and show the world how it's done.