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Jazz Social Dance and Impact on American Culture Essay

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Updated: Jun 4th, 2021

Introduction

The United States remains one of the most diverse societies in the world today because most of its citizens have different backgrounds. This situation has emerged after many years of immigration, interaction, and slavery that define the United States’ complex history. The problem of racism triggered numerous cultural dances and practices that would eventually influence this country’s political and social future. This paper gives a detailed description of jazz dance and why it is currently studied as a protest movement.

What is Jazz?

Jazz is one of the common music genres that define the culture and racial history of the United States. Hill describes it as a music type that originated from the African Americans between 1890 and 1900 (30). It is characterized by syncopation, improvisation, and a forceful regular rhythm. Some of the common instruments associated with jazz include piano, woodwind, brass, guitar, and violin. The leading styles associated with this music genre include bebop, swing, and free jazz. Despite the diversities in Jazz, many Americans recognize it by its unique rhythm. Its common notes include blue and swing.

Is Jazz Social Dance?

Jazz is a form of music that scholars and analysts cannot analyze without focusing on issues of race and society. According to Jones, the evolution of jazz emerged as a social technique or icon (233). With Jim Crow segregation being a common problem during the early years of the 20th century, jazz evolved to attract socialites and educated members of the society to fight against any form of subjugation. Due to the issues existing during the time, jazz remained marginalized and identified as a less sophisticated form of dance (Jones 233). By the 1930s, many White Americans began to show interest in it and made the practice part of the filmmaking industry.

Unfortunately, the Whites went further to omit the presence of black people in jazz dance and music. This means that the racial intolerance experienced in the United States made it impossible for “the greater masses to be exposed to jazz dance as seen on the black physique” (Jones 234). The greatness of jazz explains why it became a social dance that captured the attention of all members of society. It is also evident that the pre-eminence and effectiveness of this style encouraged many people to engage in a wide range of social activities. The development also resulted in numerous jazz dances that remain popular in different regions today.

Is Jazz Protest Movement?

Many people acknowledge that Jazz dance is a popular system used to create concerts and films. The appreciation of this kind of music by Whites is something that involuntarily propelled specific attributes that resonated with their wishes and expectations. This kind of development explains why the current form of jazz dance “holds only faint whispers of the African aesthetic” (Jones 236). From this understanding, it is clear that Jazz dance remains one of the cultural practices that have changed over the years.

Those who have investigated this form of music without bias have realized that it emerged as a movement against the issues and challenges that many African Americans encountered towards the end of the 19th century (Corbett 92). The events of the 20th century would also make it impossible for many people of color in the United States to achieve their potential and lead high-quality lives.

Some analysts have explained why archeologists and music historians should teach jazz dance as a technique that carries the African aesthetic value. This means that those who want to have a clear understanding of jazz should consider the voices, predicaments, and challenges that led to its inception. Jones goes further to indicate that Dunham’s movement of the 1940s and 1950s was ethnic in nature (237). This fact explains why many people viewed or treated it as a form of black or racial dance. The pioneers of jazz succeeded in introducing it as a powerful model or movement that would guide and encourage more citizens from marginalized societies to appreciate their strengths and engage in activities that would eventually make them successful.

With numerous cases of segregation, many African American artists stopped focusing on the needs of the popular audience. Instead, they began to produce music that would symbolize the experiences and challenges many citizens faced in the country. This kind of music would appeal to more African Americans and encourage them to engage in protests that would bring their rights and liberties closer. Some artists criticized African Americans for playing music that fulfilled the expectations of the white audience, including Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Billie Holiday (Jones 237). Duke Ellington went further to use Jazz music to narrate the history and pains of people of color in America.

The fact that some jazz musicians predicted and engaged in activities that would revolutionize America and make it a land of free people explains why it was a movement. Such artists used music and their statuses to promote notions of social justice and racial inequality (Hill 33). With such ideologies, many people in different regions across this country would begin to sympathize with the predicaments many citizens faced.

Additionally, the nature of jazz dance was a new opportunity for African Americans to describe the disunity that existed in this country. Using this idea, Corbett indicates that Jazz dance entails body isolation whereby individuals move one part at a time (92). Such a practice has its “roots in African derived movements” (Corbett 92). With such aspects and ideas, many African Americans began to pursue and fight for their rights. This development is what catalyzed the commencement of the infamous Civil Rights Movement.

Effects on Social Norms

Every group or society has its unique values and behaviors that all members should conform to. Hill defines a “social norm” as a cultural product that exhibits people’s knowledge of what they are expected to do (31). Throughout the 1920s, jazz music and dance became desirable to the greatest majority of citizens in America (Guarino and Oliver 28). Such people appreciated it as a superior form of art that encouraged people to share ideas. During this same period, many women became empowered and guided to pursue new opportunities in their respective communities. This development created a new scenario whereby more female citizens began to engage in various economic activities. Such a move resulted in better relationships between men and women in different parts of the United States.

Another notable influence of Jazz dance on America’s social norms was that of fashion. Before the end of the 19th century, women were required to cover their heads while men used to wear decent clothes in the eyes of their masters. The emergence of jazz resulted in new fashion styles, thereby changing the expectations of all citizens in this country. According to Hill, jazz dance was a new opportunity for people to fight for their freedoms and get rid of Jim Crow racial segregation (35). Because of the power of jazz music, acts of oppression and prejudice that had remained common in this country became things of the past. However, such changes in social norms would not occur without a prolonged fight and protest against racial inequality.

Impact on American Culture

The evolution of Jazz is something that has impacted American culture in various ways. In terms of history, this form of dance has led to new ideas of studying past events and empowering people to fight for their rights (Guarino and Oliver 29). The focus on inequality and injustice as the leading themes in jazz has encouraged societies to transform their historical developments and succeed in a country that has been riddled with increased cases of bigotry and inequality.

From a social perspective, Jazz has over the years influenced fashion trends and cultural relationships in America. For instance, many women began to dress decently and engage in new economic activities, including music and dance. The popularization of jazz led to the urbanization of many African Americas and Latinos in this country. Its popularity attracted many potential artists with diverse backgrounds. Consequently, the Harlem Renaissance would eventually become a reality, thereby encouraging Americans to embrace the arts more than ever before (Guarino and Oliver 29). Consequently, more people in this country would start to view the issue of discrimination from an informed perspective.

The political implication of jazz is something that many sociologists, political scholars, and researchers cannot take lightly. For instance, the invention and proliferation of this music genre triggered the development of the Harlem Renaissance and the subsequent Civil Rights Movement (Hill 36). Such issues forced American society to start treating African Americans and other minority groups with decorum. This genre encouraged more people from such races to embrace the power of music and share information with each other.

The word “New Negro” emerged whereby African Americans were right to fight against oppression and Jim Crow segregation (Hill 30). New laws and policies would later emerge to allow women and minorities to engage in political activities, including voting. The revolution and upheaval experienced from the 1920s encouraged American leaders to start attending to the demands of African Americans (Jones 238). This development would eventually empower them to achieve their potential. What this analysis indicates is that the impact of jazz on American culture is something that developed due to numerous influences revolving around enlightenment and the desire to fight against every form of unfairness.

Conclusion

The above discussion has revealed that Jazz dance emerged as a primitive African American genre. However, this style eventually appealed to individuals with diverse backgrounds, thereby becoming an integral part of the United States culture by the year 1950. It encouraged many people to start thinking about the issues they faced in the country and identify evidence-based strategies to deal with them. Such developments and ideas made it possible for different minority groups to start fighting for their rights in the United States. In conclusion, the completed paper has acknowledged that this kind of social dance has been studied as a form of social movement that was aimed at transforming the lives of African Americans and ensuring that they’re realized their potential.

Works Cited

Corbett, Saroya. “Katherine Dunham’s Mark on Jazz.” In Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches, edited Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver, University Press of Florida, 2011-2012, pp. 89-94.

Guarino, Lindsay, and Wendy Oliver. “Jazz Dance Styles.” In Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches, University Press of Florida, 2014, pp. 24-30.

Hill, Constance V. “From Bharata Natyam to Bop: Jack Cole’s “Modern” Jazz Dance.” Dance Research Journal, vol. 33, no. 2, 2001-2002, pp. 29-39.

Jones, Carlos. “Jazz Dance and Racism.” In Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches, edited Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver, University Press of Florida, 2014, pp. 231-239.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Jazz Social Dance and Impact on American Culture." June 4, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/jazz-social-dance-and-impact-on-american-culture/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Jazz Social Dance and Impact on American Culture'. 4 June.

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