History of Lyrical Jazz Dance

Updated March 23, 2017

Lyrical jazz dance is a popular form of dance that evolved in the last century. This type of dance is a creative form of dance because it allows the dancer freedom to express their ideas, feelings and emotions in regards to the music. The song is brought to life through the expressions, gestures and movements that the dancer chooses to use to interpret the song.

Roots of Jazz Dance

Jazz dance came into existence around the late 1800s using African American dances that were developed in everyday surroundings. This was called vernacular dance. Improvisation provided a key element in vernacular dance. As jazz music evolved in the early 1900s, tap dancing became the primary form of jazz dance.

Jack Cole's Influence

Jack Cole was one of the original pioneers of theatrical jazz dance even though he had his origins in modern dance. When he began choreographing musicals for Ziegfeld Follies in the 1940s, he combined modern dance with jazz dance steps to create a new art form. One of his techniques involved staying "low to the ground," increasing power through gravity in the dance.

Modern Jazz Dance

In the 1950s, tap dance branched out on its own, leaving jazz dance to follow its own path. Katherine Dunham was instrumental in combining tribal and ethnic dances with original moves from jazz dance, turning it into performance-based dances. Eventually jazz dance found one of its homes on Broadway. This new art form came to be known as modern jazz dance. Another branch of modern jazz dance eventually encompassed easier dances anyone could learn such as the Cakewalk, Charleston, Jitterbug, lindy hop and Swing Dance.

Lyrical Jazz Dance Appears on the Scene

During the 1970s, modern jazz dance gained in popularity with everyday dancers because of the freedom of performing movement strictly for pleasure's sake. Local dance studios thrived because they began to teach these new techniques to students, even though there were still dance students who spent years learning the original technique and theory of performance jazz dance.


Controversy arose over this new type of dance, and it became apparent that this new form needed a name separate from the original name of Modern Jazz Dance. Since the "untrained" dancer could learn these steps quickly, easily and the steps were always evolving into new styles, there needed to be a way to designate the difference between the original dance with its theory and techniques performed on stage and this type of dance. Thus, two branches were derived from modern jazz dance. The first became known as lyrical jazz dance when performed formally and structurally with its own unique theory. The other type was named commercial jazz dance and was the dance everyone could learn that reflected the heartbeat of the culture.

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About the Author

Anne Reynolds is a writer who has worked for the U.S. government, the public school system and as a public library specialist. She began writing in 1990 and has contributed articles to various online publications.