Point of Departure: Jazz, Dance and Improvisation

By:
Professor Melanie George
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While art-making examined through the lens of democracy can be an exercise in totalitarianism or dictatorship, improvisation provides an entry point for the performer and observer, allowing multiple responses. The soloist’s role is elevated to one of active citizenship, from performer to composer. This notion reflects historian, Carl Becker’s view that democracy’s “… fundamental assumption is the worth, dignity, and creative capacity of the individual, that the chief aim of the government is the maximum of individual self direction…” The dance ‘citizen’ should be given an opportunity to engage, dialogue with, and personalize the work. The end goal is to cultivate individual responses. If democracy involves the free exchange of ideas and power derived from the people, then its artistic embodiment is improvisation.

Jazz music, and by extension dance, is widely accepted as a uniquely American and democratic art form. Jazz dance choreography and education have strayed from the rich relationship between jazz music and dance. The roots of jazz dance are social, a scored response grounded in individuality. The improvisational approach to ‘riffing’ on movement mirrors the jazz music composition model; individual interpretation is encouraged, and improvisation, as a vehicle of virtuosity, is expected. While the contemporary jazz dance model promotes virtuosity, often, its means is via codified vocabulary. Style and individuality are sacrificed; athleticism is emphasized over artistry. As dance critic Clive Barnes comments, “…the improvisational skills of dancers are generally no match for jazz musicians… it would certainly be fascinating if this last perilous barrier between jazz and dance could be surmounted.”

The format consists of a 20-minute lecture on the relationship of jazz dance and music and the roles of creator, performer and observer and a 40-minute, interactive session where workshop participants will improvise with jazz movement vocabulary and repertory. Movers of all abilities are welcome.


Keywords: Jazz, Dance, Music, Improvisation, Democracy
Stream: Arts Education
Presentation Type: Workshop Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Professor Melanie George

Assistant Professor, School of Theatre and Dance, Kent State University
Kent, Ohio, USA

Melanie George is a performer, choreographer, writer and teacher. Ms. George received her BA in dance from Western Michigan University, and her MA in dance and Graduate Certificate in Secondary Teaching from American University. Her choreography spans many genres, including works in concert dance, theater, musical theater and voice. Her performance history includes Dance Nonce Dance Company, Boris Willis Moves, the first annual Detroit Electronic Music Festival and the CBS broadcast of the 2002 Kennedy Center Honors. Ms. George has an extensive teaching history, including administrative and instructing positions with American University, The Roeper School for the Gifted and Talented, and the Washington School of Ballet. She continues to conduct research on the topics of minstrelsy, metacognition and interdisciplinary arts education, and jazz dance history and pedagogy. Ms. George supervises the dance education program at Kent State University.

Ref: A06P0388