Magazine article Dance Magazine

So What's American? What's Jazz? (Starting Here)

Magazine article Dance Magazine

So What's American? What's Jazz? (Starting Here)

Article excerpt

An American in Paris used to be identified by his wearing of white athletic socks and dancing and singing in the streets. By "Yankee ingenuity." But American national character is far more complex--contradictory, schizophrenic even. It's not just one thing. For example, we are totally global and yet isolationist; exhaustively democratic in seeking group input and yet we eschew challenging discussion; we are charitable yet insatiably greedy. We will be honest to a fault to a Dr. Phil or a Jerry Springer but lie to a Senate subcommittee or our homeroom teacher. We will go halfway round the world to guarantee the freedom of another nation but don't to go a mile away to vote to insure our own. It's hard to put labels on Americans.

If we cannot succinctly define "American," it's small wonder that we have difficulty defining jazz dance, a major American art form. It, too, is not just one thing. It's hot and cool. It's the slinky, pelvic-centered low blues, extending to the angst-filled pop lyrical contraction. It's the ragtime rebels, the prohibition jazz babies pushing the envelope. It's jazz tappers rifting percussive improvisations. It's classical and contemporary musical theater. It's MTV. If it's performed at a jazz club or a jazz congress, does that make the work jazz? If it's a modern dance or contemporary ballet choreographer working to jazz or pop music? Are the Dallas Cheerleaders doing jazz dance? We recognize Giordano's and Hatchett's classical moves, but what about the new, edgy moves by youngsters who never learned classical jazz or jazz syllabus terminology? …

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