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Jazz dance is a classification shared by a broad range of dance styles. Before the 1950s, jazz dance referred to dance styles that originated from African American vernacular dance. In the 1950s, a new genre of jazz dance — 'Modern Jazz Dance'- — emerged, with roots in Caribbean traditional dance. Every individual style of jazz dance has roots traceable to one of these two distinct origins.
The term "Jazz" was first applied to a style of music and dance during WWI. Jazz in a dance form, however, originates from the vernacular dances of Africans when they were brought to the Americas on slave ships. This dance form developed alongside jazz music in New Orleans in the early 1900s. Beginning in the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s, Jazz dance transformed from this vernacular form into a theatre-based performance form of dance that required a highly trained dancer. During this time, choreographers from the modern and ballet dance worlds experimented with the jazz dance style. This includes choreographers like George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Jack Cole, Hanya Holm, Helen Tamiris, Michael Kidd, Jerome Robbins, and Bob Fosse. All of these choreographers influenced jazz by requiring highly trained dancers to perform a specific set of movements, which differed greatly from the colloquial form of New Orleans in the 1900s. Also during this time period (circa. 1950) jazz dance was profoundly influenced by Caribbean and other Latin American dance styles which were introduced by anthropologist and dancer Katherine Dunham.
Throughout its history, jazz dance has developed in parallel to popular music. This pattern of development has resulted in a few elements of movement key to the dance style, the most important being that jazz is they physical embodiment of the popular music of a given time. An example of this is that during a down time of jazz dancing from 1945–1954, when big bands and dance halls were declining, the vernacular of the dance followed less jazz music and leaned more toward rock and roll, creating moves like "The Monkey" and "The Jerk".
A low center of gravity and high level of energy are other important identifying characteristics of jazz dance. Other elements of jazz dance are less common and are the stylizations of their respective choreographers. One such example are the inverted limbs and hunched-over posture of Bob Fosse.
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