Nicole Padilla leading students across the floor

On October 12th, Professor Melissa A. Kaplan, Interim Director of the Honors Program at Quinnipiac University, and 18 Honors Program students attended a jazz dance class and lecture taught by JCE Artistic Director Marian Hyun, who was assisted by Junior Board Member Nicole Padilla. The class was part of a mini course known as “A Signature Experience in Jazz Dance,” one of several Signature Experience courses offered by Quinnipiac University to its Honor Program students. The students were mostly beginners with only a few of them having previous dance experience.

Hyun began the class with a variety of warm-up exercises, such as isolations that showed the students how to independently move their shoulders, ribcage, and hips. She also taught them a port de bras from Luigi’s warm up and explained the story behind the development of Luigi’s jazz technique.

Luigi was injured in a car accident, and doctors believed that he wouldn’t be able to walk again. He managed to restore his ability to move through a dance technique that he created. Luigi went on to a career as a dancer in classic movie musicals and a legendary jazz teacher. Hyun wanted to give the students a taste of Luigi’s beautiful style.

The students then learned several basic steps like the Jazz Square, Sunshine and Rain, and Shimmy. Hyun constructed a short Charleston combination from some of these elements to show how they might fit together. The Charleston was followed by traveling steps across the floor.

The class ended with the students learning a longer combination. They broke off into smaller groups and performed the combination several times to close things out.

The Lecture

Following the class, Hyun conducted a brief lecture accompanied by video of the various styles that influenced jazz dance.

There was an example of traditional African dance, one of the primary foundations of jazz. This dance was community based, with people dancing in a circle, and many members of the community participating.

Following this the students saw an example of contemporary African dance, which was more performative in nature. It also showcased a lot of the roots of jazz dance like grounded movements and a fluid upper body.

Then she showed an example of the Cuban Mambo, which featured a lot of hip and shoulder movements. This provided an example of the African influences, seen in the previous dances, but also European influences like partnering.

Hyun showed some examples of historical Regency dancing, which also had an influence on jazz, mostly in the form of partnering and more rigid or codified choreography.

Jazz dance formed from a combination of the African and European influences, even though people from each of the cultures initially thought the other’s dances were strange or grotesque. Africans thought that the touching of a woman, especially around the waist, was taboo, and Europeans found the hip movements of African dance to be rather scandalous. Still, the different cultures came together in creating this new form of dance.

Hyun explained that white dancers during the Jazz Age (1920’s-1930’s) would often learn the steps of African American dances from black dancers and choreographers and then adapt the movements to be more acceptable for mainstream white society, creating popular dances like Black Bottom and the Charleston.

She showed footage of early swing dancing, which was the popular social dance for parties and clubs. It featured a lot of improvisation, which is another hallmark of African dance.

She then showed some examples of ballet, which was a major influence on jazz dance, especially the styles that became more popularized by various Broadway productions.

The influence of jazz also goes both ways. Padilla showed a video of a ballet dancer performing a solo to a Kanye West song, showing that ballet is evolving to take in more contemporary influences as well.

 

The Questions

After the class and the lecture, I asked the students a few questions, and these are some of the responses they gave:

1) What made you interested in signing up for this class?

“I was interested in signing up for this class because throughout middle and high school, I have always been a part of the theater program. I have always enjoyed singing and dancing and thought that jazz dance would be a unique twist to something I had previous experience in.” — Elise Maoirano

“I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and do something I’ve never done before. Dance was a creative outlet I held back from doing because I was afraid, I wouldn’t excel at it and embarrass myself in the process.”  — Jewel Hu

“I was interested in this class because I had never had a dance class before, let alone a jazz dance class and so I wanted to see how my first experience with one would be like. I’m always open to new experiences and broadening my horizons so I wanted to sign up for it!” — Julia Nguyen

 

2) What were your expectations going into the class? How did the class align or differ from those expectations?

“I initially thought we were going to learn about the history of jazz, but we got to do even more! It was really nice to be able to dance collectively as a group and many of us have danced before, been exposed to jazz dance, or it was our first time! I enjoyed following the steps of the instructors and being able to learn jazz from their eyes and incorporate their own twists and elements within the dance routine.” — Natasha Shah

“I was expecting poor performance on my own part as I’m not good at self-expression in terms of dancing and feel self-conscious doing it. However, the teacher taught me not to feel that way and come out of my shell and just enjoy myself. That was a very nice feeling.” — Jewel Hu

“I expected the class to not be too difficult to follow and that we would learn a few combinations. The class aligned with my expectations because the instructor made the routine easy to follow and went over it many times.” — Amanda Gold

 

3) What parts of the class did you enjoy the most? Were there any parts of it that you didn’t enjoy?

“I enjoyed seeing how popular dance moves have jazz characteristics. I also loved seeing how people who have never danced in a studio before pick up choreography by the end of the class. There were no parts of the class I didn’t enjoy. — Megan Zhao

“I really enjoyed learning the routine of the second dance we did, where we were split into smaller groups after learning it and had the chance to perform without any help. This was really cool because it boosted my confidence and I felt like I had learned a lot in just a short amount of time. There weren’t any parts of this class I didn’t enjoy.” — Michaela Caron

“I enjoyed learning single moves at the beginning of the class. When we started stringing moves together into a dance, I felt that I could not keep up and I was getting stressed.” — Lydia Molnar

 

4) After taking a class, how has your perception of jazz dance changed, if at all?

“The class has changed my perception of dance overall. It is interesting how being skilled in one area of dance does not always or often carry over to other areas. My experience with musical theater did not seem to benefit me as the styles are so drastically different. This enhanced my appreciation for dance and its multifaceted layers.” — Elise Maoirano

“I think my perception of jazz dance has broadened because I didn’t realize the history and background behind the development of jazz dance into modern day jazz. I don’t think I really had a perception to begin with, but I enjoyed learning about it.” — Julia Nguyen

“My perception of jazz dance changed because I now realize how a lot of other styles of dance contributed to what jazz dance has become today.” — Amanda Gold

 

5) Having studied the art form and taken a class, would you have any interest in continuing to study jazz dance in any way?

Some students, while enjoying the experience, didn’t think they would continue with jazz dance.

“No, not really. Maybe learning more about jazz dance, but not participating in it.” — Elise Maoirano

“I would not have any interest in continuing to study jazz. Although it was interesting to learn about jazz and experience this niche of dance, I am not interested in doing more with it.” — Lydia Molnar

“I might be interested in taking a jazz dance class as an elective in school for a semester but other than that I don’t really see myself continuing to study jazz dance.” — Amanda Gold

But others thought that they might want to keep studying jazz dance in some capacity and learn more about the art form.

“I would have an interest in continuing to study jazz dance in the manner at which it evolved and how different individuals define jazz.” — Natasha Shah

“I definitely say I would like to continue learning it. It is a wonderful form of expression that comes in many forms as well.” — Jewel Hu

“I do have interest in experiencing more jazz dance, especially through performances and observing how different people construct their perspectives of what jazz is.” — Megan Zhao

“Yes, I think I would be interested in taking another class because it was fun and I think it could be an interesting activity to just do for leisure.” — Julia Nguyen

“I would be interested in going to see jazz dance performances and perhaps taking a class just for fun. For me, I liked the way I didn’t think when I was dancing and it seems like it would be a great way to take my mind off of things and to continue stepping out of my comfort zone. I would rather take a class or see a performance than study the technical side because I really enjoyed experiencing it outside of just words in a book.” — Michaela Caron

 

Jazz Choreography Enterprises strives to keep the love and appreciation of jazz dance, an American art form, alive through its performances, dance classes, and educational experiences like these. It is with your support that we are able to create events like these and bring the experience of jazz dance to new audiences every year.

 

Josh Harris

Josh Harris

Josh Harris is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger. He also writes fiction under the name J. Young-Ju Harris. He does not dance particularly well.
 
 

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