This page will update weekly to include a new question for the books that we are currently reading. Once the book is done, the questions will be archived and this page will start anew with the next reading.
Pat Cohen, Bob Cross, Sheron Way, and Billy Siegenfeld all present their definitions of Jazz dance. Which one do you most identify with? Are there bits and pieces from each you would take to create your own definition? Which pieces do you take? Do you think there are things they’ve left out that should be there? What are those?
Our dance communities have been making an effort to learn of the history that influences how we dance today. Jill Flanders Crosby and Michéle Moss state that we should “imagine the jazz tree as it appears in the introduction surrounded by a community dancing socially and performatively. The groove that the participants, dancers, and musicians share is one that celebrates individual expression yet moves as a collective. There is a give and take, shift and change in aesthetic intention that honors the roots of the tree, celebrating the heritage and legacy of jazz while new branches form as a result of the new innovations” (45). How do you see dance communities both honoring legacy and innovating new styles and movements? How are those two actions related in your mind? In what ways have you participated in that process?
How does the historical movement chart help you to see how dancing done in our current dance communities is in conversation with earlier dance movements, styles, and innovations?
You are probably familiar with the work of many of the choreographers discussed in this week’s reading, maybe particularly Bob Fosse if not the others. How have these choreographers’ works influenced the way you see, perform, and understand jazz dance movement? How do you see Bob Fosse’s work and style influencing jazz dance we see on stage and in the social sphere? Feel free to share video clips of their work to add to the discussion.
Choreographer Frank Hatchett stated in a 1999 interview, “‘You can be a dancer today by just knowing the latest steps. But to me you can see the difference in a dancer that has a knowledge of the older styles. I think that it just makes a stronger, more secure dancer'” (109). He also believed that taking technique courses was essential to becoming a great dancer, as “without this secure basis for movement skills, acquired by the dancer in technique classes, the ability to relax and find the groove is hindered” (111). In what ways do you find knowledge of older styles and proper technique has helped you in your own dancing? If you don’t dance (or even if you do!), how might an awareness of older styles and different techniques help you to understand and appreciate the dance more?
Just like many other art forms, much of the dance originating in the United States and the Americas has very strong ties to racism. Our book talks about how these were particularly visible on the minstrel stage, but along with the tensions of racism “there was also a dialogue, a give-and-take that was crucial to the development of tap dance into the present time” (141). How do you see our communities dealing with that racist history and continuing dialogue to recognize and stop the continuation of racist stereotyping and practices within our loved art forms? How does that dialogue shape the American-rooted dances people perform today?
Moncell Durden, talking of hip-hop as a social dance, states, “We need to be culturally sensitive to the values of other societies, communities, cultures, and subcultures and recognize that concert dance is not the only type of dance worthy of reflection and study. Social dance holds great importance, history, lineage, identity, and strength for the people who participate in it” (191). In what ways do you make efforts to learn the values of the communities whose dances you participate in and the music you listen to? Why is it important to learn those values? Are there things you wish your communities would offer to help you learn more of the history, lineage, and identity of the dances and music?
What are your thoughts about community service and learning opportunities and projects? Do you think that the process modeled in our textbook could be modified to work in our local, regional, and even (inter)national communities?
Carlos Jones states, “To discuss jazz dance and not acknowledge the issue of race greatly diminishes the truths that exist in the art form. Racism, both with its oppressive and facilitative qualities, is perpetually woven into the lineage of jazz dance” (231). Yet, many people today in our communities insist that a discussion or focus on issues of race are the reason they engage less often or quit engaging with blues and jazz altogether. After reading Jones’ chapter, in what ways might we get across the importance of acknowledging racial issues and actively working to dismantle racist systems within our own communities?
Michèle Scott states that when she observed Jazz Club Dancing in London, many of the dancers actively chose to listen to live bands and to dance to recordings. She says, “It occurred to me that not dancing when the bands played may have been a form of respect and an opportunity to get into and understand the music more deeply. I formed the opinion that dancers had only one chance to hear the live numbers and watch the interaction of the musicians–hence the attention” (263). When and why do you make decisions to just sit and listen to music versus dancing to it? What types of music draw your listening self out more than usual?
Jill Flanders Crosby goes about answering a question that many people in the blues and jazz music and dance communities regularly ask: what is meant by authenticity? She states that “authenticity . . . rests in . . . stories . . . and in the meaning participants find for themselves, resulting in a ‘felt authentic grounding'” (281). To give further clarity, she discusses her exploration to find authentic movement, discovering that there were core aesthetic and movement principles in rhythmic jazz and other African dance styles. When creating or improvising, “The core identity of the movement was never thrown away, but dancers played with that core while in conversation with the [music]” (283). How do you see this definition fitting into the communities in which you participate? Does the definition help you, or are there parts where you would like more clarity?