Teaching Jazz Technique

I recently re-posted an old blog article on social media; the topic was “Teaching the Luigi Jazz Technique” https://classicalballetandallthatjazz.com/2016/11/27/first-blog-post/. The post spurred a number of comments by readers; but this comment by Annemarie Drake caught my attention:

“Bravo! I am so frustrated by the lack of technical training in modern and jazz in today’s studios. In the comp studio where I currently teach  they only have a ‘technique’ class which amounts to conditioning and tricks.  Fortunately they have a strong ballet program (compulsory),  but only learn dances, not technique in jazz and contemporary.”

Dance education, like everything, grows, evolves and changes and I am fully aware that in some respects, I am trapped in a past that no longer exists. Many of the younger teachers and administrators working today (including some that I have worked under) do not realize or understand that the Jazz in which I was trained has a technique unto itself. 

A strong ballet technique (which is extremely important for most (not all) western/European concert dance traditions) will not fully prepare dancers for Jazz. I have taught Luigi Jazz technique to many ballet conservatory programs and some ballet companies. These dancers do NOT look like Jazz dancers when they begin, because they simply do not understand Jazz technique. Jazz is much more than steps and choreography. It’s style and technique must be STUDIED if the dancers are truly going to inhabit this idiom.

When I refer to Jazz Technique, I am not really referring to isolations, progressions, or a particular set of port de bras, pirouette preparations or parallel tendus (although these are certainly part of Jazz). These are typically taught in a cursory fashion, never digging down to the depth of what Jazz truly is. The Jazz technique to which I am referring is much more about the “How” than the “What”. I am teaching how the shoulders work, how epaulment is used,  how the arms are connected to the back, how the rib cage is held, how the spine is lengthened while the top of the chest and shoulders and back pull down, how the oblique muscles are activated, how the hips are pulled up, how the thighs are pulled up, how the turn out continues up into the hips and helps them “pin back” while the glutes are activated, how plié is used, and how the entire body is worked as a unit. I am teaching about feelings of opposition with respect the the epaulment, plié, and how the body reacts to gravity. I am teaching about the resistance against the space. I am teaching about creating a palate of movement qualities. I am teaching about phrasing and musicality. I am teaching about line, energy and finding the movement within the shape. I am teaching about style. I am teaching Jazz. 

And so, trapped in the past, a past where Cyd Charrise stabbed the air with her endless legs, a past where Bob Fosse hunched over, cocked his hat over one eye and turned in his feet, a past where Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera exploded across the stage, I continue to search. I am searching for just the right word or phrase to explain how this work is done, taught, and passed on to the next generation. And I am searching for just the right word or phrase to explain why. Because this work is disappearing. And because the loss of this piece of our artistic heritage would be a tragedy beyond measure.

“Never stop moving” – Luigi

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