Origins of Jazz Dance and How It Has Influenced American Culture in Society Today Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Jazz dance is an integral part of American history. The various types of jazz dance all come from a fusion of African and European traditions, which is why jazz dance symbolizes American culture itself. According to Tilton's film Jazz Dance, jazz dance first evolved in the Deep South and spread as far as Europe before returning home to America. Jazz dance is not monolithic, and it is important to recognize the differences between types of dancing such as tap and swing in order to understand the contexts in which the dances were or are used. For example, some dances became popular in theater, while others were more comedic. Jazz dance might not seem to have a political or even an economic dimension, but it certainly does. The impact of jazz dance on American society has been felt on almost every dimension including political, economic, and social realms. In particular, jazz dance has contributed to the empowerment of the African-American community, bolstered the American entertainment industry, and also infused folk culture with a fine art dimension.

The political dimension of jazz dance is inextricably linked to race relations in America. As Stearns and Stearns point out, jazz dance is directly related to the changing status of African-Americans. Even if jazz dance did not cause the empowerment of the African-American community, the art form did parallel black power and pride. The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural phenomenon that showcased the importance of black art forms. Prior to jazz dance, African and African-American culture were looked down on, and believed to be inferior to white culture. Jazz dance was initially misappropriated by white opportunists who incorporated the moves into mistral shows (Nalett). Nalett notes that many African-American dancers migrated to Europe, where they received both respect and recognition. The experience of receiving respect for a black art form empowered the African-Americans living abroad, as well as those still living in the United States. Thus begun the first time in American history where whites started to look up to blacks, rather than view blacks as subordinate. Jazz dance can therefore take a good deal of credit for improving the political status of African-Americans. It would still take decades for the Civil Rights movement to eliminate the Black Codes that prevailed in the south, but the promise of a new life lured many blacks away from the Deep South and into the burgeoning centers of culture in urban America. Jazz dance and other elements of black culture were changing the political character of America.

There was also an important economic dimension to jazz dance. The white entertainers recognized the potential to steal black moves and incorporate them into mistral shows. Mistral shows capitalized on black culture, but only whites profited. Jazz dance became popular enough to build entire musical theater performances around it, as Stearns and Stearns describe. Whites like Fred Astaire…

Sources Used in Document:


Hill, Constance Valis. Tap Dancing America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Nalett, Jacqueline "Jazz Dance History." Retrieved online:,d.b2I

Stearns, Marshall and Stearns, Jean. Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance. Da Capo, 1994.

Tilton, Roger. Jazz Dance. [Feature Film]. 1954. Retrieved online:

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