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Lyrical Jazz: Unveiling the history and traits of the dance style

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

Learn about other styles of jazz in our post 7 Jazz Dance Styles


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Lyrical jazz is a breathtakingly beautiful dance style that blends the fluidity and grace of ballet with the high energy of jazz. With its emotional expressiveness and storytelling, lyrical jazz has become a beloved genre. This post will explore the history of lyrical jazz, its pioneers, and contemporary choreographers who have contributed to its evolution. We'll also examine the difference between lyrical jazz and lyrical dance, as well as its characteristics and why it is such a popular and highly regarded dance style.


Hallmarks of lyrical jazz


Lyrical jazz is a dance form that embodies the soulful essence of jazz, grounding itself deeply into the earth with a wide stance and low base of support. The dancers' bodies stretch and elongate in unexpected ways, forming unusual lines that captivate the eye and stir the soul. Every movement and gesture conveys emotion and meaning, creating a dance that speaks to the heart and eyes. It is a celebration of the human spirit, a testament to the beauty and power of movement, and a journey through the depths of the soul.


Defined by flowing, graceful movements, strong technical skill, and emphasis on musicality and rhythm, lyrical jazz often conveys a narrative or theme through fluid, sweeping movements and intricate footwork. Dancers must possess the strength and flexibility of a ballet dancer, the fluidity and control of a contemporary dancer, and the unusual lines of jazz, resulting in graceful, powerful, and precise movements.


Performing to music with a slow or moderate tempo, dancers synchronize their movements with the rhythm and melody, creating a seamless, flowing performance that is captivating and mesmerizing. Lyrical jazz requires a high level of technical skill, as well as the ability to connect with the music and convey emotion through movement. It is a dance style that speaks to the heart and soul, celebrating the beauty and power of movement, and the connection between body, music, and spirit.


Difference between Lyrical Jazz and Lyrical Dance


While lyrical dance, also known as contemporary lyrical, emerged in the 1990s as a fusion of jazz, ballet, and modern dance, lyrical jazz has been around since the 1970s. It was born out of a desire to combine the technical precision of jazz dance with the expressive, emotional qualities of modern and contemporary dance. Early pioneers of the genre include Lester Horton, Luigi, Bob Fosse, Jack Cole, and Alvin Ailey.


While similar in style, lyrical jazz and lyrical dance have some distinct differences. Lyrical dance, also known as contemporary lyrical, is a dance style that emerged in the 1990s as a fusion of jazz, ballet, and modern dance. The style is characterised by its fluidity, emotional expressiveness, and emphasis on storytelling.


The History of Lyrical Jazz


Lyrical jazz is a relatively new dance form that emerged in the 1970s. It was born out of a desire to combine the technical precision of jazz dance with the expressive, emotional qualities of modern and contemporary dance. The style was pioneered by choreographers such as Jack Cole, Gus Giordano, and Luigi, who created a new vocabulary of movement that blended the best elements of jazz and ballet.


Over time, the style evolved to incorporate more elements of contemporary dance, including floor work, partnering, and improvisation. Today, lyrical jazz is a popular style of dance that is taught in many dance studios and is often performed in competitions, showcases, and concerts.


Early pioneers of lyrical jazz


There were several choreographers who were early pioneers of lyrical jazz:


Lester Horton: He was a modern dance choreographer who incorporated elements of jazz and ballet into his choreography. His dance technique, known as the Horton technique, emphasized the use of torso contractions and fluid, flowing movements, which are characteristic of lyrical jazz.


Atticus Dobbie - Modern Horton Technique Solo


Luigi: Luigi Faccuito was an Italian-American jazz dancer and choreographer who was known for his innovative approach to jazz dance. He developed a technique called the Luigi Jazz Dance Technique, which combined elements of ballet, modern dance, and jazz dance. His style of dance was characterized by its fluid, graceful movements and its emphasis on musicality.



Luigi Jazz Dance Innovator at 70 years young

Jack Cole: Jack Cole was an American choreographer who is often credited with developing the first true jazz dance technique. His style of dance was characterized by its use of isolations, contractions, and stylized movements, which are all elements of lyrical jazz.


Alvin Ailey: Ailey blended elements of modern dance, ballet, and African dance to create a style that was fluid, expressive, and emotional. His choreography was known for its storytelling, often exploring themes of African American identity, spirituality, and social justice. Ailey's lyrical jazz style emphasized the use of the body as a tool for expression, with movements that were both graceful and powerful. His innovative approach to dance helped to establish lyrical jazz as a distinct style, and his legacy continues to inspire dancers and audiences around the world.


These choreographers were all instrumental in the development of lyrical jazz, and their work continues to inspire dancers and choreographers today.


Today’s lyrical jazz choreographers


Lyrical jazz has produced some of the most well-known choreographers in the world of dance. These choreographers have contributed to the evolution of the style and have created some of the most iconic pieces of lyrical jazz.


Travis Wall - Wall is an Emmy-nominated choreographer and dancer who rose to fame on the reality television show "So You Think You Can Dance." He is known for his emotionally charged and innovative choreography that seamlessly blends elements of contemporary and jazz dance. His work has been featured on Broadway and in major dance companies, and he has received multiple awards for his contributions to the dance world.


Mandy Moore - Moore is another "So You Think You Can Dance" alumna who has become one of the most sought-after choreographers in the entertainment industry. She has choreographed for film, television, and stage productions, including the Broadway musical "Burn the Floor." Moore's lyrical jazz choreography is known for its fluidity and emotional depth, and she has won several Emmy Awards for her work.


Mia Michaels - Michaels is a veteran choreographer who has worked in the dance world for over 30 years. She has created works for dance companies, music videos, and television shows, and she is particularly known for her work on "So You Think You Can Dance." Michaels' lyrical jazz choreography is characterized by its storytelling, musicality, and unique movement vocabulary.


Yanis Marshall is a French dancer, choreographer, and teacher who has made significant contributions to the world of lyrical jazz. Known for his unique style of choreography that blends elements of jazz, contemporary, and high heels dance, Marshall has created several iconic pieces that have gained worldwide recognition. His work often incorporates intricate footwork and powerful, emotive movements, highlighting the expressive potential of the genre. He has taught and performed all over the world, inspiring countless dancers to explore the boundaries of lyrical jazz and pushing the genre to new heights. His contributions have helped to cement lyrical jazz as a vital and dynamic form of contemporary dance.


Sonya Tayeh - Tayeh is a choreographer and director who has created works for dance companies, Broadway shows, and television productions. Her choreography is known for its athleticism, intensity, and emotional power, and she often incorporates elements of contemporary and jazz dance into her work. Tayeh's contributions to the dance world have earned her numerous awards and accolades, including an Emmy nomination for her work on "So You Think You Can Dance."


Stacey Tookey - Tookey is a Canadian choreographer who has worked in both the commercial and concert dance worlds. She has choreographed for television shows, music videos, and live performances, and her lyrical jazz choreography is characterized by its sensitivity and emotional nuance. Tookey's work often explores themes of love, loss, and human connection, and she has been recognized for her contributions to the dance world with numerous awards and nominations.


Australian modern day lyrical jazz choreographers


Stephen Tannos: Stephen Tannos is a renowned Australian choreographer and dancer who has made significant contributions to the lyrical jazz genre. He has choreographed for various television shows, music videos, and live performances. He is known for his unique style, which combines contemporary and jazz techniques.


Marko Panzic: Marko Panzic is an Australian dancer and choreographer who has contributed significantly to the lyrical jazz genre. He has worked on several television shows, including So You Think You Can Dance Australia, and has choreographed for various music videos and live performances. He is known for his emotional and powerful choreography, which often tells a story


Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is an Australian choreographer and dancer who has made significant contributions to the lyrical jazz genre. She has choreographed for various television shows, music videos, and live performances. She is known for her intricate and technical choreography, which often incorporates contemporary and jazz techniques.

Kelley Abbey: Kelley Abbey is an Australian dancer, choreographer, and director who has contributed significantly to the lyrical jazz genre. She has worked on various television shows, including So You Think You Can Dance Australia, and has choreographed for several music videos and live performances. She is known for her high-energy and dynamic choreography, which often incorporates elements of jazz, hip-hop, and contemporary dance.


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In conclusion, lyrical jazz is a dance style that emerged in the 1970s, combining the technical precision of jazz dance with the expressive qualities of modern and contemporary dance. This style is characterised by its emotional expressiveness, storytelling, flowing, graceful movements, strong technique, and focus on musicality and rhythm. While similar to lyrical dance, lyrical jazz incorporates elements of jazz dance, while lyrical dance incorporates elements of modern dance. Lyrical jazz is a popular and highly regarded dance style due to its emphasis on emotional expression, musicality, technical skill, and versatility. It has a rich history of pioneers, such as Lester Horton, Luigi, Bob Fosse, Jack Cole, and Alvin Ailey, who helped establish the style and inspire generations of dancers and choreographers. Today, dancers and choreographers like Travis Wall continue to evolve and push the boundaries of lyrical jazz, creating new and innovative works that keep the genre fresh and relevant.


Want to learn about other styles of jazz? Read our blog post '7 jazz dance styles'

 

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