What Is Jazz Dance? With 12 Top Examples & History

So you know what jazz music is, and you know what dance is. But what is jazz dance? Below we let you know and give real video examples.

What Is Jazz Dance? Definition

What Is Jazz Dance Definition

Jazz dance can be difficult to define because it has changed profoundly throughout history and is still changing. Jazz dancers may dance to jazz accompaniments, but their movements may also be jazz dance even without jazz music.

In many ways, the definition of jazz dance is similar to that of jazz music. Jazz dance often mirrors the sounds, rhythms, and techniques of this music. The movements are syncopated or occur between the beats of the music, and the backbeat is the most important. This emphasis makes the performance feel laid-back despite quick and volatile movements.

Solos highlight the skills of individual performers and improvisation is common. Thus, dancers must be flexible and deeply understand the music.

The improvisation may be unpredictable and ever-changing. However, groups of performers must follow certain rules to make the performance flow smoothly. They must work together to focus on the big picture while showcasing individual skills.

12 Examples Of Jazz Dance

If you want to fully understand jazz dance, you will need a basic overview of the many types of dance.


Afro-Jazz dance relies more heavily on the original African influence than other types. This modern dance is more simple than most and focuses primarily on rhythm.


Ragtime featured many different dances. Some popular ones were The Grizzly Bear, The Turkey Trot, The Castle Walk, The Tango, and The Cinderella. For tutorials on such dances, watch the video above.

Broadway Jazz

Broadway jazz also goes by the title theatre jazz. It combines ballet, modern, and jazz dance. Like all aspects of theatre, it uses exaggerated motions and high tensions.


The cakewalk was popular amongst Black Americans during and after slavery in the United States. It was so formal that it made the audience laugh, and many believe it was initially a way to mock the dance moves of white slaveholders.

In this video, the performers focus on comedy and exaggeration. They are dressed formally, like white slaveholders, but their movements are satirical.

The Charleston

The Charleston was a theatrical dance popular in the 1920s. Performers swung their legs quickly and made a show of exaggerated arm movements. It became popular because of the Broadway musical “Runnin’ Wild.”


Jazz-Pop dance combines modern jazz dance with vogue, street dance, disco, and waacking.

The Lindy Hop

This clip from the 1941 film “Hellzapoppin” showcases the energy and sporadic movements featured in The Lindy Hop. It is energetic and appears random at first glance, but the performers carefully execute complex steps in partner dances.


Latino-Jazz mixes Latin American and African rhythms. This style draws heavily from Cuban and Brazilian dances like the samba and bolero.

Josephine Baker

This video shows Josephine Baker performing The Charleston. You may notice that she wears very few clothes, as she often did on stage. The dance evokes laughter, and she adds comedy with her facial expressions. Modern jazz dancers emulate her exaggerated movements and style to make their performances entertaining.

Jack Cole

In 1945, Jack Cole and Rita Hayworth put on this performance. You can see Jack Cole focus on theatrical jazz in the video.

“West Side Story”

This 1957 musical is a great example of jazz dance and its combination with Latin dances. The Dance at the Gym is an epic dance battle featuring elegant and complex movements.

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s music video, “Beat It,” is intense and full of emotion. Jazz dance influences many of the dance moves.

As you can see, there are many types of jazz dance, and the style has evolved throughout history. To practice your jazz dance moves, here are some of the best jazz songs you can use to feel the style and rhythm of jazz dance.

History of Jazz Dance

History of Jazz Dance

Jazz dance has a rich and tragic history. Its roots are African, but the dance style traveled the world during the slave trade. Enslaved people carried their cultural traditions on their long journeys and gathered to dance when possible. Many slaveholders even required that their slaves dance to promote fitness.

On Sundays, New Orleans’ Congo Square was a popular gathering place for local enslaved people, and it would later be known as the origin point of Black American roots music, jazz music, and jazz dance.

In the early 1900s, jazz dance developed in the form of ragtime. This style used syncopated rhythms. People in bars and dance halls would often showcase such moves. Soon, the Turkey Trot made its debut.

During Prohibition in the 1920s, jazz dancers took the style to a new level. In speakeasies, hidden bars where people gathered to drink illegally, people felt rebellious and full of life. Jazz dance perfectly mirrored this energy.

20’s jazz evolved into the jitterbug, which included dancing The Charleston, The Lindy Hop, The Balboa, The Collegiate Shag, and The Jive. Broadway jazz was also popular in the 1920s and became nearly as popular as ballet.

The American-born French dancer, Josephine Baker, continued to shape jazz dance. Her erotic dancing and lack of clothes on stage revolutionized jazz dance. Many modern jazz dancers learn from her technique and style.

In the 1930s and 1940s, swing bands were popular in ballrooms. Their music lent well to jazz dancing, in which many dancers participated. Around the 1940s, jazz dance had even weaseled its way into modern dance and movies.

Jack Cole made significant adjustments to jazz dance in the 1950s. He introduced Hollywood to theatrical jazz dance styles, allowing for the mainstream popularization of Broadway jazz.

Around the same time, Katherine Dunham combined African, Caribbean, and Brazilian dance styles with ballet, which added layers to jazz dance. She also introduced isolations, which still play a key role today.

When music videos grew in popularity during the 1970s and 1980s, performers like Janet and Michael Jackson incorporated jazz dance into their videos. Even live performances in pop and hip hop genres began to include such dancing.

Today, there are many forms of jazz music and jazz dance. One recent development is a combination of ballet and jazz dance. Music videos, live pop performances, and Broadway shows feature many types of jazz dance.

Jazz Dance vs. Other Dance Styles

Jazz Dance vs Other Dance Styles

Jazz dance is a popular dance style, but it has some key differences from other well-known dance types. It also has a specific type of music, something that other dance styles don’t have.

Modern Dance

While jazz dance showcases attitude and sass, modern dance emphasizes more vulnerable emotions. Jazz dance is also more structured than modern dance.


Ballet utilizes far more controlled movements than those featured in jazz dance. Ballet dancers turn their legs outward, while jazz dancers rely on parallel legs. However, both ballet and jazz dance feature leaps and turns.

Contemporary Dance

Contemporary dance is much more smooth than jazz dance. Contemporary dancers focus on fluid motions, while jazz dancers use syncopated movements infused with energy. Jazz dancers often isolate one body part during specific movements.

What Is Jazz Dance? Final Thoughts

What Is Jazz Dance Final Thoughts

Jazz dance plays a crucial role in the history of American dance. It was not only a revolutionary dance style, but also a celebration of Black American culture that has spread across the world. It will go down in history as an artistic force that broke barriers between black and white people.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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