Photo: Merete Muenter
On October 2nd, 21 Honors Program students from Quinnipiac University were at Pearl Studios in New York City learning the Black Bottom, a popular jazz dance of the 1920s. The introductory jazz dance class they were taking was part of a minicourse called A Signature Experience in Jazz Dance, which also included a performance of the JCE Jazz Dance Project on October 23rd. Jazz Choreography Enterprises has been teaching jazz dance to Quinnipiac students since 2016.
The class was taught by JCE’s artist directors Marian Hyun and Merete Muenter. Hyun opened the class with warm-ups and some basic movements of “The Black Bottom.” Muenter then taught them an original combination she choreographed set to the music of “West Side Story.”
The students who attended the class—which was created with non-dancers in mind—had a wide range of experiences in dance.
“I have never been a dancer and I wanted to try something new,” Brooke Aubry said. “I saw that the Honors program was offering this class and I was able to learn to dance and gain perspective on the history of jazz.”
“I love to dance but to be honest, I’m not very good at it,” Lauren Fletcher said. “This class was a great, low-impact and low-pressure way to be able to learn some new dance styles without worrying about my skill level.”
But there were also students like Sophia Ferrara who said, “I was interested in signing up because I have been a dancer my whole life, so the chance to learn jazz in NYC sounded very exciting.”
This created a different set of expectations among the students and led them to experience the class in different ways.
“Going in I was expecting to dance to jazz, what I did not realize was jazz has different styles,” Aubry said. “When I thought of jazz, I only thought it was a slow music genre. I soon learned that it was not, and it has some fast-paced moves.”
“I expected that I would be uncomfortable and a little embarrassed because I am not used to dancing in front of people,” said Sophia Cappolla. “It was definitely a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but as I kept going I relaxed and it became more fun.”
“I was expecting to learn some basic jazz moves and some choreography, maybe even to learn a short dance as a class,” Ferrara said. “The class was not much different than those expectations, except I was pleasantly surprised by the additional educational aspect of the class.”
“I was surprised about how much we learned in the short while we were there,” Khushi Agnish agreed.
Following the dance portion of the class, Marian Hyun gave a quick lecture on the history of jazz dance and how it was created in the United States through a melding of West African and European cultures. Many of the students appeared to share a new admiration for jazz dance after taking the class and hearing the lecture portion about its history.
“My perception of jazz has definitely changed because I did not realize how complex it is, how deep the history behind it goes, or how much it has changed over the decades,” Ferrara said. “I found the lecture portion of the class to be very interesting and helped the overall experience because the moves became meaningful, rather than just a dance step that had been created by a choreographer.”
“I felt that the lecture portion was just as important as the dance,” Aubry said. “It was fun to learn the dances but understanding the history of the dances was really interesting to me.”
“I have a better appreciation for the history of jazz dance and I really loved the cultural depth of the style,” said Fletcher. “I thought the lecture portion was so valuable to appreciate the form. We were able to reflect on what we had just learned in a historical context. This definitely added to the experience as a whole.”
The students who took part in the Signature Experience class were able to attend the JCE performance on October 23rd and see what contemporary choreographers are doing with the style. A couple of the students offered us their thoughts on the show.
“The performances were very different from each other and not the ‘typical’ type of jazz I used to think jazz is. There were stories in the dances and the talk with the choreographers added to the meaning,” said Khushi Agnish. She added that the class helped her appreciate what she saw on stage all the more.
“The story of jazz that you told us about did show in a few of the dances! From the ones about slavery to the one in which people were just having fun! All were great performances and it was way better than my expectations.”
“I really enjoyed seeing the jazz performance,” Sophia Cappolla said. “It was interesting to see such a wide variety of dances within one genre. I expected for each piece to be a lot more similar than it was, but they were each unique and told a different story. It was also inspiring to see how passionate and excited the dancers were to be performing. It was so clear that they were having fun and loving what they were doing.
“Taking a jazz dance class definitely enhanced my experience because I have a better appreciation for how much work these dancers put in and how much effort it takes to be a dancer. Not only do you need good focus and good technique, but you need to make it look effortless while you are performing. I really loved this performance, and I hope to be able to attend another one.”