2015 Archives

Is This the End of Jazz?


The following is from the August 10, 2015, edition of Dance Teacher. SMU Dance Professor and Choreographer Danny Buraczeski provided expertise for this story.

August 10, 2015

By Rachel Zar

If you offer jazz in your studio, the style is most likely rooted in theatrical jazz dance, influenced by the 1940s and ’50s Broadway choreography of Jack Cole, Jerome Robbins and Matt Mattox, and later, by innovators like Gus Giordano, Bob Fosse, Luigi and Frank Hatchett. 

For decades following its rise to musical theater prominence, jazz was the hot studio style, beloved by teen competition dancers and Broadway hopefuls alike. But what is the state of jazz today? Where does it fit amid the explosive popularity of the elusively defined, highly televised juggernaut known as contemporary? Is jazz dying out, or is it simply evolving? And what do we owe our students in terms of preserving the history of the form? 

We spoke to seven experts in the shifting field—choreographers, performers, company directors and, of course, teachers—to get their take on what defines jazz today and where the genre is headed tomorrow.

Danny Buraczeski
Choreographer and jazz dance professor at Southern Methodist University

I’m feeling much more positive about the state of jazz dance this year than I have in a while. The students in my jazz classes have been so responsive and interested. Sometimes in the past, there’s been a little resistance, especially with the first-year class, because their jazz experience is all over the map.

I tell dancers that the history of jazz is basically the history of race in America, and it’s important that they know that. When I talk about a particular artist, I always talk about the social context of the choreography. I also teach them that jazz dance is the one form that doesn’t exist without the music. You can’t look through a glass door and tell that it’s jazz dance on the other side unless you can hear the music playing. In our last end-of-semester senior show, there was jazz dance to music by Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. The music is what really got them excited, and that was so gratifying for me to see.

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