Jazz Technique/Warm-up Exercises

A recent Facebook post about conventions only being interested in “fun choreography” prompted me to write this:

Apparently, some of my colleagues have been engaged by dance conventions, only to discover that the organization was only interested in having the teacher present “fun choreography”; especially if the dancers are “already warm”. I have taught at conventions, and luckily I have never found myself in this position.

As You probably know, I was trained by Luigi. I spent nearly 30 years studying his technique directly under him. After being certified by Luigi, I now teach the Luigi jazz technique at the Joffrey ballet school in New York City. The Luigi method divides the class in half. The first 45 minutes is devoted to the technique exercises/warm up. The second 45 minutes is spent on a combination. (Luigi believed that there was no need to do “across the floor” exercises; he felt that anything that could be done across the floor could also be inserted into the combination. I’ve always followed Luigi’s model for teaching Jazz with no “across the floor”, but I do see the value in across the floor combinations/exercises.)

With respect to the Luigi technique exercises and warm up: the warm up is so much more than just a means of warming up the body. I would never entertain the idea of skipping the warm-up simply because the dancers are already warm… Especially at a convention. Don’t dancers come to conventions to learn to DANCE? They can learn STEPS on YouTube. They do not need me to teach them steps. The majority of the teaching of Jazz occurs during the warm-up. If we are going to teach jazz as a technique, we have to TEACH Jazz. Real jazz has a look, A style, A feeling, a sense of musicality and rhythm, a deep connection to the ground that is also lifted and pulled up. The truly great Jazz dancers: Cyd Charisse, Bob Fosse, Carol Haney, Gwen Verdon, Gene Kelly, Ben Vereen, Chita Rivera exemplified this “look” this “style”. It brings to mind the idea that “Ballet defies gravity, Modern Dance plays with gravity, and Jazz acknowledges gravity…BUT IT GOES DOWN FIGHTING”. That look of being lifted and pulled down into the ground simultaneously must be TAUGHT and STUDIED. Jazz teaches us how to use the BODY- not just the arms and legs. Jazz teaches how the rib cage is held, how epaulment works, how the arms and legs connect to the back, How the pelvis is placed, and how to feel everything from the inside. How to feel and interpret the music. Mr. Fosse said “Don’t dance the steps, dance the MEANING of the steps. The warm up TRAINS the dancer and TEACHES the TECHNIQUE that is Jazz.

When I teach at conventions, whether the dancers are warm or not, the warm up-technique exercises is the most important part of my class. And when taught right…the warm up can be incredibly exciting as dancers find a new way to work. They find things they never felt before and by working this way, one day they will find a REAL DANCER looking back at them in the mirror as their body acquires real Jazz technique. Yes…there will be a combination; the point of which is to work on the TECHNIQUE that makes JAZZ the great American art form that it is. Jazz is not about steps or choreography. It is about style, look, musicality and feeling. If we present kids with work that is of REAL QUALITY they will know it, they will embrace it and they will GROW. Isn’t that the point of a CLASS?

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