On January 19, Jazz Choreography Enterprises hosted a Jack Cole technique dance class that was taught by Ed Kresley. The format for the class was a bit different than others. While most classes have a warm-up section and build to a large combination at the end, this class was more of a sampler with Kresley putting together many smaller combinations.
“It would be impossible to teach any full routine by Jack Cole. The intricacy of his choreography would require several classes in his technique,” Kresley said, explaining why he chose to run the class this way. “Jack used many different disciplines in his work, which explains his genius and which is why I decided to do short pieces that made up his style, to show the dancer the reason Jack was called the Father of American Jazz Dance.”
He cited Indian, Afro-Cuban, and Flamenco as just some of the dance styles that Cole used when assembling his jazz routines. And indeed, you could see these influences in the combinations that Kresley taught the class.
The first set was inspired by the film Designing Woman and had a Bollywood feel to it. The beginning motions were used as warm-ups so that the class could learn the different arm and hand gestures.
“Don’t just do the gestures. Each movement means something,” Kresley said to the class, relaying the words of Jack Cole to emphasize the importance of the specifics.
The first half of the class built on these warm-up exercises, bringing them into a larger combination, ultimately the longest one he gave the class.
In most of the classes I’ve viewed, the warm-up section of the class is distinct from the combination section. The movements end up feeling more clinical and are very obviously meant to get the dancers prepared for the combination work later.
In this class the warm-up movements built quickly into a combination, which made the warm-ups feel less clinical. The flowing nature of the movements mattered because they ended up being used directly in a larger grouping of steps.
Students in the class seemed to like this approach of having mini-combinations rather than a singular larger one.
“I liked the format with lots of shorter combinations because it allowed us to explore the many different facets of Jack’s choreography and style,” said Kelly Carrol.
Amy Frick added that “when learning a new style, sometimes it’s overwhelming to also remember long sequences.”
After a quick break, the second half of the class progressed into across-the-floor movements working on various steps from Jack Cole pieces.
Some of the movements had accompanying arm or head gestures, combining expansive steps with flowing arm movements. One was focused on being more of a strut-walk in time to the music. These combinations were a fun break from the in-place routines that allowed the dancers to move more freely around the studio space.
The class finished with a series of short eight-count combinations that tied together. These showcased the range of influences Cole drew from. One of the movement sets included the mambo and other Latin steps. Another brought out pirouettes. It afforded the dancers the opportunity to see different sides of Cole’s choreographic repertoire.
I asked some of the participants after the class, among other things, if they thought Jack Cole’s choreography was still relevant.
Betsy Hafkin said she thinks so, but she also grew up learning the style and has a soft spot for it. “I grew up learning from Chuck Kelley who was heavily influenced by Jack Cole and Matt Mattox so I love this stuff.”
Rose Zingale offered another angle, pointing out how different dance styles intersect and that’s what keeps them relevant. “I was excited to realize that way, way back when I was a dancer in the Stuart Hodes days at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, our normal curriculum consisted of ballet and modern,” she said. “When I had requested some jazz classes Stuart had hired Ritha Davie from India, to teach East Indian Dance but NOW I know why!”
She enjoyed getting to learn about the connection between jazz and Indian dance through Kresley’s class and the Jack Cole style. “Seeing the connection between East Indian Dance and early jazz dance history was exciting and inspiring! Learning about the history as we danced it showed how you can mix up basic elements to create anything.”