When the average person thinks of “dance” companies, they usually conjure up images of New York City Ballet, or the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Major ballet and modern companies are the organizations that most people are familiar with. These companies have a rich, well publicized history in the United States.
Lurking sometimes just below the radar are the jazz dance companies in our country. Founded in 1962, Giordano Dance Chicago was considered the first dance troupe to dedicate itself solely to jazz dance. Today, there are very few jazz professional performing companies. At their last festival, the Jazz Dance World Congress only identified eleven such major companies in the United States, compared to the dozens of ballet and modern organizations. Why is there such a disparity in the number of jazz companies and the number of ballet and modern companies? Why does our country seem to publicly embrace other forms of dance above jazz? Can jazz performance companies compete with the established ballet and modern companies?
I believe that jazz dance companies face overwhelming odds against them for success. One reason for this is lack of funding. While patrons of the arts are often anxious to support new and innovative ideas, they are usually more generous when the proposals are coming from an organization that has an audience already in place.
Another issue jazz performance companies must address is the ever changing style of their repertory. From the very beginning, jazz dance has relied heavily on originality and improvisation. As time progresses and new generations of dancers emerge, they bring with them their own unique style. Current trends and fads play an extremely important part in the evolution of jazz dance. Although these trends often make jazz so interesting and groundbreaking, they can also be a detriment. If the very essence of a dance form changes every few years to fit the popular mold, there are many challenges it must face when it comes to forming an established company. Donors will not want to spend money on something that does not have a firm foundation.
It would seem that ballet and modern performance companies have a much better chance of success because they have roots in an established, time-honored tradition. By its very definition, jazz dance takes its cue from contemporary ideas and forms, which can unfortunately hinder the establishment of jazz performance companies.