Jazz Choreography Enterprises has been working with Quinnipiac University since 2016 to create a Signature Experience in Jazz Dance class that allows students to better understand jazz dance, both through learning the movements and studying the history. On September 24th, JCE hosted another workshop for a new class of students.
The students attended the class for a variety of reasons, some even including enthusiasm about past iterations of the Signature Experience class.
“I decided to take this class because my friends took this class before and enjoyed it,” said Michelle Misiti.
“I took this course to expand my horizons. At Quinnipiac University I am a Pre-Physician Assistant major and therefore am enrolled in a lot of science courses. Taking a signature experience in Jazz dance is different from my normal course load and seemed interesting,” said Jenna McHale, offering a different set of reasons for being there.
It seemed that many of the students in attendance were there because they had an interest in dance, even if they had never studied it.
“I did do dance when I was little, from age 6 to 14. I did ballet, lyrical and contemporary. I was on the competition team for a few years, but did not continue this into high school and college,” said Sofia Possidento. She was one of the few who seemed to have some prior experience. Many others had never taken a dance class before.
Marian Hyun began the class by running the warm-up and teaching the class some basic jazz dance movements. A few of these were steps that the students were familiar with from the research materials they viewed and read prior to attending. Merete Muenter took over for the second half of the class, teaching the students a combination to “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The students were engaged and picked up the movements pretty quickly, especially for beginners. The fact that they got into it was even more impressive given that more than one of them didn’t expect to be taking a full dance class.
“I was expecting it to be more of a class room setting, learning about jazz and its history. I really did not anticipate doing so much dancing!” said Possidento.
“I did not expect to learn as much of a routine as I did,” said Deanna Sgambato, echoing Possidento’s statement. “I expected to learn a lot about the history of jazz and do some dancing that corresponded to those teachings.”
Still, it seemed that they all appreciated learning the dance, as everyone I spoke to listed it as their favorite part of the class.
Following the dance portion of the class came the lecture and discussion component, the part that was perhaps closer to what some of the students had expected. Marian Hyun explained the history of jazz dance, how it evolved from being a largely social dance derived from African dance styles into a more performance based style as it combined more and more with Western dance disciplines like ballet. She also spoke about Jack Cole and other jazz choreographers who were prominent in the development of Broadway jazz.
“This is the kind of dance class you would take if you wanted to eventually dance on Broadway,” she said to the students.
The students were engaged with the material, expressing interest in what they were learning, just as they had with the dancing. They were also all very complimentary of the whole experience, saying that they enjoyed the class and would recommend it to others.
“Even if you aren’t a very coordinated person it is so much fun,” said McHale.
The students were also invited to attend the October performance of the Jazz Choreography Project to get a taste of what modern choreographers are doing with different styles of jazz dance. I asked some of them for their responses to what they saw as well as what they were expecting from the performance, now that they had actually experienced a jazz dance class.
“Going into the show, after having experienced the one jazz dance class, I was expecting to see a story being told through specific isolations or movements. I also expected to see dancing that heavily depended on the beat of the music. What I ended up seeing was not vastly different from what I had expected to see, but it still shocked me how effortless the dancers made their performances seem when I knew from my previous experience how taxing it could be,” said Sgambato.
“I expected an excellent performance with varying styles of jazz. The performance was exactly what I expected and impressed me even more than I anticipated,” said McHale. “My favorite pieces from the performance were ‘Five Guys Named Moe’ and ‘Gravity…War On Love’. ‘Five Guys Named Moe’ was a very energetic and upbeat piece that kept my attention and was extremely entertaining. I enjoyed ‘Gravity…War On Love’ because the performers moved fluidly and the performance told a story that was beautiful and elegant.”
Students also expressed their interest in perhaps seeing other jazz dance performances in the future.
The Signature Experience in Jazz Dance course with Quinnipiac is just one way that Jazz Choreography Enterprises looks to keep interest in jazz dance alive. Educating those who might not normally experience jazz dance is a great way to help new people discover this truly American art form. To hear more about the Signature Experience classes and other ways that JCE is working to bring jazz dance to new audiences, whether it’s through classes or performances, check out our website.