Since the mid-nineteenth century, jazz dance has evolved from popular theatre to concert stage, from small dance studios to large universities, and from the movies to television. The term "jazz dance," which encompasses several different styles of movement, represents different things to different people.
Before defining what jazz dance is, consider what jazz dance is not. According to Friesen (1975):
In jazz and theatrical dance, long beautiful legs, an excellent figure, and a pretty, face certainly are important aspects. Other considerations seem to be technical abilities such as kicking to the top of one's head, undulating the hips and torso in provocative ways, turning rapidly, and tapping the feet accurately in accordance with a rhythmical and predictable beat. Dances of this medium are highly skillful and very entertaining, and the expectations of the percipient are only that he enjoy and perhaps appreciate the skill and attractiveness of the performers. This type of dance asks physical technique of the dancer but demands little or no symbolic illusion. It demands the least of the percipient and also is the most popular (p. 102).
Unfortunately, many dancers and dance audiences would describe jazz dance in exactly the same way. This description omits the rich history and culture that has accompanied jazz throughout the years. It also does not mention the syncopated rhythms that are specific to jazz dance and music, and provides no concept of what jazz has contributed to dance history. An unfortunate aspect of this situation is that some jazz is being performed in a way that makes it appear flat, predictable, and unimportant.
We live in an era in which the term "jazz dance" evokes images of MTV and dance routines from substandard movie musicals such as Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever, and Xanadu. Although one could argue that these dances are derived from the jazz form, they seem to have been created to quickly thrill the audience, and provide the instant gratification that the public has come to expect. Quick film editing and squarely counted (as opposed to syncopated) rhythms and movements are the …