The roots of jazz can be traced back to gospel, folk, and blues music created by African American populations as early as the antebellum period, although jazz as a style would not be fully developed until much later. It wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th century that the form as we know it today began to take shape and gain popularity, namely in and around New Orleans.
Jazz is characterized by heavy brass, conflicting rhythms, and improvisation, and it is one of the few forms of music that is categorically attributed to American culture. As such, it is no surprise that several types of dance either stem from this style of music or lend themselves to it. Here are just a few of the ballroom dances one could perform to jazz music.
This dance from the early 20th century is attributed to Harry Fox and was originally called Fox’s Trot. It was danced to ragtime music, which is a form of jazz.
This versatile dance allows partners to switch back and forth between slow-quick-quick steps and more traditional slow-slow-quick-quick steps to speed up or slow down, depending on the rhythm. Because jazz is often variable, the style is highly compatible with the fox trot.
Any beginner to dancing, and especially dancing to jazz music, should start with the fox trot. This fun social dance is easy to learn and more complex stylings can follow.
This dance is similar to the fox trot, but as the name implies, a bit quicker. Like the fox trot, this dance is well-suited to changing jazz rhythms, as there are both lively steps and slower interludes.
Both East and West coast swing styles can be danced to jazz music, including variations like Lindy, Jitterbug, and so on. In fact, when swing dancing and music were on the rise, jazz and swing music were often considered interchangeable, considering jazz often used swing-style rhythms.
For beginners, East coast swing is probably easier to start with, although West coast arguably invites more variation, especially in terms of suitable music. Both styles tend to work best with jazz when a six-count rhythm is used (as opposed to, say, the eight-count rhythm more common to Lindy).
The jive is more often paired with rock and roll or big band music, but because it is a swing derivative, there’s no reason you couldn’t dance jive to your favourite jazz tracks. Because the style of dance is so lively, though, it tends to work better with faster-paced songs, so an up-tempo jazz selection is advised if you want to make the most of this dance.