Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bunheads for a Better Tomorrow Presents…

Ballet is often seen as the foundation for many dance forms. The ballet technique teaches the importance of stamina, flexibility, a keen-memory, coordination, good posture, and balance; just to name of few. These benefits allow dancers to approach any form of movement with a strong foundation. Nevertheless, sometimes that foundation is not enough. As dancers become older, they often begin to take jazz dance. Most bunheads encounter moments of extreme confusion when they begin jazz with only a ballet foundation. Those “rules” of ballet technique fuel a hindrance when dancers are asked for sharp, quick, grounded movements, or turned-in legs, during jazz classes. The ballet-trained dancer has a body that is not used to moving in such radical ways!

Because of this, I feel like jazz is also a key foundation for a dancer and should be taken hand-in-hand with ballet. When considering aspects of dance such as core strength, musicality, confidence, expressiveness, dynamics, and rhythm, jazz technique accomplishes all six. Without jazz, the dancer is missing many key elements to fully expressing themselves in their movement. For example, ballet focuses on strength largely in the lower body only. Jazz, however, works to strengthen areas such as the core. Whether through sit-ups, body rolls, or jumps, jazz technique improves core strength, which in turn helps a dancer during turns or Pointe work for their ballet class. Furthermore, jazz music can be upbeat or expressive in a more free way. Ballet has expression too; nevertheless, it is only allowable to the point of the technique.

One feature of jazz dance is that the movements can be somewhat more mature, or sexualized, than ballet. Because of this, studios must offer jazz to younger children in a modified way. The jazz technique foundation must focus less at times on pelvis isolation, and instead appraoch moves such as bounces, chasses, kick ball changes, jumps, jazz squares, pivot turns, jazz walks or runs, jazz hand combinations, and step-togethers. All these, and more, will allow a dancer to slowly internalize some key aspects of jazz (they can add on the hips and what not later).

As aforementioned, difficulties will arise when learning to move slow first (in ballet) and then fast (in jazz or hip-hop) and visa versa. Instead, dancers must learn to move slow and fast at the same time. They must train their bodies to control their center, and how to let it go. They must understand how to turnout from the hips, but they also must know what it feels like to move in the natural form of one’s body. They must feel what dancing barefoot is, but also know what it is like to sail around the room on satin.

Many of the values that a dance studio enforces uphold the American dream: responsibility, little time for leisure, devotion, pursing your passion and success earned through hard work. It is no wonder that dance has survived so long in American culture: it reflects our culture’s foundational goals! I think that art often reflects the times, and today’s times are quick. We live in a fast-paced world, and the art of dance is beginning to reflect this aspect of society. Jazz somewhat replaced ballet in American culture in the early twentieth century and now Hip-Hop (an even faster and more isolated form of movement) has stepped forward to try to replace jazz. I know I personally do not want to stay a bunhead and behind the times and that is another reason why I advocate a jazz foundation for today’s young dancers.


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