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From Ear to Eye: Ideas to Aid Jazz Music Lovers in Viewing Jazz Dance

Eclectic Edge Ensemble

Saxophones, trumpets, drums, dancers……..the beginning of a large list of musical instruments. Wait a second; dancers!? Yes, dancers. Dancers should indeed be a part of this list, as far as those who study and proliferate jazz movement are concerned. This sentiment is not as uncommon as one would imagine. Lovers of the jazz aesthetic can agree, regardless of whether they prefer music or dance, that the two mediums are inherently and beautifully connected to one another for many reasons. It is these elements of connection to and respect for the music, versatility, embracing humanness, and most importantly, rhythm, that provide the common ground for jazz music lovers to view and appreciate jazz dance.

One of the most satisfyingly simplistic and authentic ways for both a dancer and a viewer to get involved is finding connection to and respect for the music. Purposeful use of and genuine connection to the music is a hallmark of quality jazz dance. Many jazzers enjoy dancing socially just as much as they enjoy dancing in a concert setting, and the common thread between those two things is music. Jazz musicians savor a close relationship between their eyes and mind, and by throwing in the additional element of the eyes, jazz dancers develop a keen relationship between the operation their body and the acting of listening to music; in short, they create a visceral absorbing of and response to music. 

Another factor that can be taken into account by jazz music fans watching jazz dance is the shared concept of collaboration. Both jazz dancers and musicians have the distinct pleasure of working in tandem with several elements at once to produce a unified whole. Varied instrumentation (be it several dancers with their own distinct movement style or several musicians with their own distinct sound) creates numerous possibilities for unique and satisfying outcomes. Jazz dance and music also share in the joy of improvisation, another element that encourages the creation of fascinating chance encounters.

The jazz aesthetic also fosters versatility, an element that keeps jazz interested folk constantly wondering what could be done next. Jazz music has fused with pretty much every other form of music, and if it hasn't, it can. The same idea goes for dance – jazz fusions have created seemingly endless possibilities for movement and idea explorations. Truly understanding the basics of this aesthetic, such as musicality, rhythm, honesty in emotion, and collaboration can provide a solid base for successfully and whole-heartedly catapulting into new musical and movement territory, fostering a sense of variety not seen quite as much in other forms as it is in jazz. In a solid jazz dance concert, the appeal of this idea can often be seen rather well through presentation of a wide range of movement styles and music choices, allowing the viewer to enjoy several styles in one sitting.

Jazz also allows musicians and dancers a sense of emotional freedom; as a vernacular form from its roots, rather than trying to rise beyond it (as in forms such as ballet), the jazz aesthetic asks its participants to embrace and showcase their humanness by using common energy to emote. Jazz dance is unique from other dance forms in the fact that it often seems to be simply celebrating the music. If one takes into account the inherent humanness of dance and music existing as result of one another, this dance already has its purpose. This incredible humanness alone is enough to create purposeful, satisfying, engaging and visceral dance, particularly when matched with just the right tune.

Finally, there is rhythm; Our body runs on the rhythm of our heart. We make rhythm with our bodies, both through the creation of music and of dance. This bond is a strong one, and comes across quite clearly when experiencing a well thought out collaboration of jazz music and dance. Regardless of the music choice, rhythm is ever-present in dance. It is simply up to the choreographer and performers regarding how much they would like to acknowledge it. People who feel drawn to jazz often find rhythm to be the most essential element in their medium. Sharing interest in this creates a common thread for jazz musicians, dancers and viewers to understand and appreciate one another’s pursuits.

Connection to and respect for music, collaboration, versatility, embracing humanness, and rhythm provide a common ground within the jazz aesthetic for dancers and musicians to appreciate one another’s work. The inherent and beautiful connection between movement and music, though elusive, gains clarity when considering all that the  two mediums share. Keeping this view in mind, it seems only natural that dancers be included on a list of musical instruments. Operating from this standpoint, jazz music lovers will be on just the right track to take a leap into whole-heartedly viewing and truly enjoying jazz dance.

This article was written for the July issue of Coda, the Twin Cities Jazz Society newsletter. I hope you found it an interesting way to view jazz and musically-driven dance, as the creation of such is what we foster in the Eclectic Edge Ensemble. There are many upcoming chances to try these ideas out for size; just check the front-page of our website for our next round of shows!

- Erinn Liebhard, Company and Board Member