Learning basic jazz dance steps are the first part of exploring jazz dance, an energetic and exciting display of physical prowess. Jazz dance itself is a combination of classical ballet moves mixed with steps from American popular culture, including African and Celtic dance influences. While it has become a fine art form, originally jazz dance was designed to entertain, and even the basic steps have a showy, extreme feel to them.
Learning Basic Jazz Dance Steps
Teachers may have different opinions of what makes up the elementary curriculum for jazz dancers, but there are a few steps that are always part of the repertoire. These steps are basics for all jazz dancers, and they remain an important series of steps to continue working on to perfect your technique, even as you go on to learn new steps.
This iconic move consists of a few basic walking steps, but done in a particular order:
- Step forward on the right or left foot
- Cross the other foot over the first foot
- Step back with the first foot
- Bring the feet side by side.
A jazz square is often done with some attitude in the upper body, accenting the motion. Jazz squares can be executed in groupings of two or more, repeated on the same side.
One of the key skills for any jazz dancer is to be able to move parts of the body individually. For hands and other extremities this is pretty easy, but to master jazz you need to be able to isolate the chest and hips as well, and this is almost always a part of any jazz dance warm-up.
To isolate your hips as an exercise, follow these steps:
- Loosen your knees
- Extend your arms out to the sides
- Holding your chest and your legs as still as possible, swing your hips from side to side
It's easiest to learn isolations in front of a mirror so that any movements you make with the rest of your body can be corrected immediately as soon as you see them.
Drawing from the ballet tradition, the chassé is literally a "chasing" step:
- Step one foot forward (or to the side)
- Bring up the second foot behind the first foot
- As you bring up the second foot to join the first one, immediately step off the foot to create a skipping movement across the floor
Your chassé step can take on a variety of different looks based on the speed with which you execute it. Accent the step with your arms to create artistry for this movement.
This is another classic move, and is often used in posters and images to convey some of the excitement of jazz dance. This dramatic move is performed by:
- A straight kick high up in the air
- Simultaneously doing an extreme back bend, head arched back and arms extended.
This iconic jazz step requires excellent balance and flexibility when done in this extreme manner. Simpler versions involve doing a back bend without any sort of kick.
This step is where the improvisation element of jazz shines through. One of the defining features of jazz, both in music and movement, is the room for individual expression. Every dancer's jazz walk is different. As you learn increasing numbers of jazz steps and your technique improves, observe how other dancers have defined their own jazz walks. Developing your own technique is a matter of letting your inner voice and feel for the music flow.
Learning Basic Technique
If text and video instruction is insufficient for you to learn these steps, consider attending classes at a local studio. Jazz dance has become popular enough to be offered in most dance studios. One of the advantages of a hybrid form such as jazz dance is that taking other classes such as ballet and hip hop can only improve your technique. Jazz dance is also a great way to exercise and stay in shape, and "jazzercise" classes are offered at gyms around the country. Even though their focus is on exercise, these classes can also teach a great deal about technique for the beginner.
It is also possible to learn some of the basic forms through DVDs, though there is the major drawback of not having any feedback as you learn the moves. Picking out a DVD with a reputable teacher and good production values can get you started on the road to enjoying jazz dance.
Whether you learn the basics of jazz through online step descriptions, from a local master artist, or from friends at school, these simple steps will come back repeatedly in your journey through jazz dance. As your technique improves new steps will enter your repertoire, but these basic essentials will never go out of style or be too easy or simple to use in your jazz dancing routines.