Top Stories

Where’s the Jazz?

By Emily Yewell Volin.

Where’s the jazz?  Literally.  Where’s a concert jazz dancer to look for performance opportunities?  Jazz dance is uniquely American, with an emphasis on syncopation, isolation and groundedness.  And, like all art, jazz dance is bound to current societal trends and progress in related movement fields.  As a result jazz dance has changed into either an increasingly commercial commodity that is inherently removed from concert venues or an increasingly ballet based form that does little to represent the African dance roots of true jazz dance.  A few companies dedicate their mission and vision to the preservation of classical jazz works.  Many jazz companies explore classic and contemporary jazz dance in its many forms including, but in no way limited to, classical, lyrical, contemporary and hip hop.  Many of these dance companies remain dedicated to keeping jazz inspired works in their diverse repertoire, though would not be aptly labeled as jazz companies.

Jazz dance classes offered in studios and university/college programs are consistently over capacity.  You could call them big sellers and crowd favorites. Yet only a select few of these organizations produce jazz or jazz infused works in concert and dancers move out of most programs unsure how their passion for jazz dance can pair with their passion for a career in concert dance performance.

What’s an aspiring concert jazz dancer to do?  Begin by reading below.  It’s a listing (admittedly partial) of North American jazz dance companies as well as dance companies committed to including jazz works, or works influenced by jazz styles, in their diverse repertoire.

Jazz is alive and well, rooted in its history, and growing into its future.  Soulful, passionate, electric, athletic and virtuosic; you’ll know when you’ve experienced jazz or jazz inspired work.  And, it’s likely you’ll leave the concert or class wanting more.

Concert Companies Dedicated to Jazz Dance Repertoire
(Listed in Alphabetical Order)

Dancer Kimberley Cooper of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks in 'Wilds'. Photo Trudie Lee

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks
Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, from Alberta Canada, was founded in 1984 with the objective of creating concert jazz dance that sustains the spirit and traditions of jazz. After more than two decades of work, a distinct and eclectic style that mixes groove, African roots, rhythm, improvisation, interplay with musicians, and deeply human soul, has distinguished DJD on the international jazz dance stage. The company founders and artists are progressive historians, innovating boldly while maintaining a respectful and loving eye on the roots of jazz.

Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago
Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago is the original jazz dance company, captivating audiences worldwide with dynamic performances and the diversity and wide appeal of its repertoire. Known for its high-energy, high-impact artistry, GJDC continually expands the boundaries of jazz dance while diversifying the repertoire, and receives critical and audience acclaim worldwide.

The mission of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago is to create and present new and innovative jazz dance choreography, often redefining and expanding the very definition of jazz dance, and to bring this invaluable American art form to audiences and students of all ages and from all ethnic backgrounds.

Jump Rhythm Jazz Project in 'Spring'. Photo William Frederking

Jump Rhythm Jazz
Jump Rhythm Jazz is a Chicago-based, Emmy-Award-winning dance theater company that was founded by Billy Siegenfeld in New York City in 1990.  The company’s rhythmically explosive ensemble celebrates dancing and singing to the beat-driven sounds of swinging jazz and the blues, hard-hitting funk and hip-hop, and world music.  Jump Rhythm performs its rich blend of percussive musicality and story-based dance theater in annual festivals in Chicago as well as on tour nationally and internationally. Jump Rhythm company members are also teachers and workshop-leaders of the unique approach to movement study called Jump Rhythm Technique.

Patti Rutland Jazz
Patti Rutland Jazz is a professional contemporary, jazz and hip-hop dance company based in Dothan, Alabama.  One of the most innovative dance companies in the Southeast, PRJ has created a new vocabulary of dance that appeals to diverse audiences and dancers alike.  The PRJ aim is to make dance accessible to the widest possible audience through professional concerts and to instruct youth on how to utilize technical skills as tools to develop a strong work ethic, self-esteem, respect for others and a positive outlook on life.

Concert Companies with Jazz or Jazz Infused Repertoire
(Listed in Alphabetical Order)

Atlanta Dance Connection (see review of their recent performe of The Dark Allure)
Bridging the gap between classical Ballet and traditional African dance, the Atlanta Dance Connection’s mission is to create and produce art, entertainment, and education at its highest level, while providing a venue for established, emerging artists to showcase their work. Public performances, educational programs, and artistic collaborations serve as the impetus for the Atlanta Dance Connection’s vision.

Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance. Photo Oliver Fantitisch

Bad Boys of Dance

Bad Boys of Dance was founded in Maryland by dance superstar Rasta Thomas in 2007. BBD debuted at the 75th anniversary season of the world renowned American dance festival “Jacob’s Pillow”. BBD’s mission is to push the boundaries of male dancing and deliver the most exciting dance shows in the world. Today the company brings their magic to the masses, giving over 150 shows a year and has performed for over 500,000 fans worldwide. These amazing dancers’ versatility and talent push the bounds of dance today with athletic jumps, endless turns and endearing individuality. The Bad Boys seamlessly combine ballet, jazz, contemporary, hip hop, tap and acrobatics to make for a dance experience you’ll never forget.

Cangelosi Dance Project
Kris Cangelosi’s work with her company in Baton Rouge LA, is abstract, defined by a vibrant and passionately moving drive that blends modern dance’s shaping and classical ballet’s exactness and lift. When Cangelosi constructs the movement and overall structure of a piece, she works from an inner story which forms the route of the dance.  In the preparation development she works with dancers with improvisation as well as constructed movement phrases to consider possibilities to outline clarity and heighten individuality, creating productions that are natural, sensitive and inspiring.

Cerqua Rivera
Cerqua Rivera of Chicago is a company that has redefined the concept of a “performance ensemble”.  By uniquely fusing dance, live music, and visual art together on stage, CRDT performances truly satisfy the senses.  Each concert focuses on a new segment of society and a new era, reaching out to ethnically diverse audiences and communities, and expressing stories that span the diversity of American society. Cerqua Rivera’s multifaceted, innovative performances include an array of musical styles and original compositions, including jazz, classical, Latin, rock ‘n’ roll, and blues.  Its contemporary dance choreography fuses jazz, modern and ballet.

DanceWorks Chicago
DWC is proud to promote excellence in dance through creation of an eclectic repertory featuring who is new and what is next in contemporary dance, as well as showcasing exciting work from established choreographers. Committed to fostering a culture that values diversity relating to artists and their collaborators, the work of art on stage, and the audience served, DWC accomplishes its mission by bringing people together with a wide range of skills, approaches, and experience. Creating an environment for meaningful exploration is an important part of the continued forward movement of the art form as well as part of building Chicago as a destination for dance.

Houston Metropolitan Dance Company in ‘Zoom’. Photo Ben Doyle, Runaway Productions LLC

Houston Metropolitan Dance Company
Houston Metropolitan Dance Company aims to enhance the quality of life for individuals and society through the instruction and performance of dance. The company does not have an artistic director but an artistic committee that sets the season for the professional company. The committee always tries to keep jazz idiom as a part of their seasoned concerts and feels it is important to show the diversity of the company’s repertoire.

Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theatre
Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater is dedicated to preserving and presenting the work of generations of great artists, choreographers and teachers, as well as showcasing the work of emerging talent in a broad spectrum of dance styles. LVCDT seeks to maintain a world-class performing arts company, creating multicultural opportunities to build artistic bridges beyond our borders. Through educational outreach programs, LVCDT seeks out at-risk youth and provides a path to confidence, discipline, and excellence that will benefit the youth and their community way beyond their participation in the dance program.

Les Ballets Jazz De Montréal
An internationally renowned repertory company, BJM – Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal has continued to grow with all the energy and spirit of exploration for which it has been known since its birth in 1972. Thanks to the enduring faith of Geneviève Salbaing and co-founders Eva Von Gencsy and Eddy Toussaint, this vitality has made its mark through the years. Since Louis Robitaille was nominated artistic director in 1998, BJM is now, more than ever, in tune with the times. While preserving the essence of the company, BJM works today with some of the most prestigious figures in the world of dance and contemporary ballet.

LehrerDance. Photo by Nate Benson

LehrerDance is an inspiring and innovative contemporary dance company based in Buffalo, NY. Under the direction of Jon Lehrer, the company showcases Jon’s unique choreography and embodies his definitive style. Jon’s extensive background in both the modern and jazz dance idioms fosters choreography that is organic, artistic, accessible and often humorous, reflecting life experience and the human condition. The LehrerDance style is based on three main elements of movement: circularity, 3-dimensionality, and momentum.  These combine to create a form best described as “organically athletic” – integrating the approach and fluidity of modern dance with the excitement and energy of jazz dance to create an expressive, engrossing style of movement.

The Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco) is a world renowned company celebrated for its creativity, administrative acumen, and adherence to the standard of excellence established by its founder Joan Myers Brown. Philadanco presents the highest quality of professional dance performance and improves the skills of emerging and professional dancers and choreographers in a nurturing environment, while increasing the appreciation of dance among its many communities.

River North Dance Chicago in 'Simply Miles...'. Photo Jennifer Girard

River North Dance Chicago
River North Dance Chicago is dedicated to the creative advancement, presentation and preservation of jazz based contemporary dance regionally, nationally and internationally. Some works are “jazzy”, some jazz-infused, and some are more contemporary and/or edgy.   Audiences always receive a balanced offering, including the basic three facets of River North: the romantic and lyrical, the contemporary, and the jazzy.

River North Dance Chicago recently presented “Simply Miles, Simply Us”, a tribute to the great American jazz legend, Miles Davis.  The work, choreographed by River North Dance Chicago’s Artistic Director, Frank Chaves, premiered at the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University in Chicago, as part of their month-long Miles Davis Festival in April 2011.


Top photo: Philadanco. Dancers Chloe O Davis and Joan Kilgore. Photo by Lois Greenfield.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top