“Flippant flapper, trim and dapper, naughty, haughty, chic man-trapper. All together now, boys, ‘Has she got IT? Well, I guess. Clara! Clara! Yes! Yes! Yes!’ ” - The Akron Beacon Journal from Akron, Ohio
Flappers made huge leaps forward in economic, sexual and political freedoms for women. Colleen Moore, Clara Bow and Louise Brooks were the 3 most famous flappers in Hollywood in 1920's. They inspired the change for generations of young women to come, of how women were perceived and how they could act.
Thinking about women in America in the early 20s, we tend to immediately identify them with the iconic character of the flapper. Flapper brings up the image of slender women in short, straight dresses, long beaded necklaces, and bobbed hair, drinking gin and dancing the Charleston 20s. As Joshua Zeitz says, the flapper was most certainly a type, a “caricature”, one part fiction and one part reality, with a splash of melodrama for good measure.
The flapper is the symbol of the “modern” woman, who breaks out of the rigorous criteria of the Victorian Pre-War female model. She is claiming economic, political and sexual freedom enjoying the pleasures of life, dancing in the night club and listening to Jazz music. Flappers became the main cultural and historical trend of the Jazz Age. They were widely discussed in newspapers and magazines, sometimes critically and sometimes glowingly. There were flapper cartoon characters, flapper-themed songs, and plenty of cheeky slang was entering the public lexicon. And, of course, the new youth culture was a hot trend in Hollywood-land films.
The 3 famous flappers on silver screen
Flapper culture was arguably big business for Hollywood right up to the end of the Jazz Age. Hollywood in turn certainly had a major influence on flapper fashion and popular pastimes. You can’t help wondering whether films were imitating real-life flappers, or whether flappers were modelling themselves after what they saw on screen. The “flapper film” genre developed from 1920. With the film “The Flapper” starring Olive Thomas ( until 1929 when Clara Bow played her last flapper role in the Dorothy Arzner film The Wild Party (Ross 2000), testifies the pervasiveness of this figure in the imagination of the time.
“The flapper has charm, good looks, good clothes, intellect and a healthy point of view”- Colleen Moore.
Colleen Moore, "The Perfect Flapper"
Colleen Moore, born Kathleen Morrison in 1899, was the first sensational famous flapper on screen. She took her first step in Hollywood at age 15, and began her career during the silent film era. The turning point in her career came with a story called Flaming Youth (1923), which had been a scandalous, best-selling novel about “neckers, petters, white kisses, red kisses, pleasure mad daughters, and sensation craving mothers.” Colleen wanted the role of wild daughter Patricia Frentiss badly, so with the help of her mother she overhauled her screen image. Gone were the long curls, her mother cut her hair into a Dutch bob.
Colleen got the role in "Flaming Youth", and with it, she created a new screen type– the emancipated young girl who defies convention. She defined the Roaring Twenties with her bobbed hair, short skirts and rebellious nature. As F. Scott Fitzgerald later wrote, “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble.”
Clara Bow, "the ultimate flapper"
Second of the 3 most famous flappers is Clara Bow. Miss Bow has never left the American and Western cultural imagination: she is perhaps the diva who more than any other has decreed the eternal charm of the flapper. There is something vital that conquers in her presence. It is the spirit of youth. She is a rampant Young American, the very symbol of being a flapper “(Clara Bow, Running Wild, Stenn 1988: 48).
Bow’s appeal had many facets. The writer Elinor Glyn describes ‘It’ as warmth, charisma, vivacity and apparently effortless charm. And in that sense, Bow was undoubtedly an It Girl and appealed to both men and women. There hasn’t been another one like her. Not only did she have the perfect flapper face and figure, she also radiated fun and excitement and spontaneity. On-camera, she was irresistible. America fell in love with on screen image of Bow because of her big-eyed, baby-faced beauty, but also because she was carefree, energetic, self-assured and breezily independent. Off-camera, she was 100 percent real at all times. (Deborah Kennedy about Clara Bow).
Having “it” means having a natural sex appeal, a vital magnetic force that attracts people. With “it” you conquer all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man and Bow had it!
The turning point of her career was in 1927, when she starred in the silent movie “It”, playing the part of Betty Lou Spence. “It” turned Clara Bow from an up-and-coming movie actress into the biggest movie star of the 1920s who in the process became a film legend as a result of “It”.
Louise Brooks, "sex symbol flapper"
She had that crisp pageboy bob, she had those strong, straight eyebrows, unlike the coy arches of her contemporaries. She was so slender and fit she seemed poised for flight. The most extraordinary things happened to her in her best films, and instead of visibly reacting and telegraphing emotions, she acted as the instrument to transmit them to us. (Review: "She doesn't act. She does nothing. Rogert Ebert)
The 3rd famous flapper figure on our list is Mary Louise Brooks. Louise Brooks was an American Jazz Age icon, Hollywood actress and dancer. Her innocent eroticism, along with her pale beautiful features and bobbed brunette hair, her rebellious temperament, her witty jokes and bold sincerity made her both a film icon and a symbol of the disdainful flapper of the 1920s.
She started her career as a dancer, she was the youngest member of the Denishawn Dancers. Joining the troupe and traveling to New York City to pursue a career in dance at just 15 years old. After an argument, she left the company and found employment as a chorus girl in George White’s Scandals and as a semi-nude charleston and burlesque dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies in New York City. While performing she came to the attention of Walter Wanger, a producer at Paramount Pictures, and was signed to a five-year contract with the studio.
After starring in a few Hollywood productions she moved to Berlin, where Georg Wilhelm Pabst hired her for the role of Lulu in "Pandora’s box". Lulu embodies the myth of the fatal woman: sensual, provocative, fearsome in her amorality but at the same time, like the spirit of the earth, an instinctive and immediate purity, natural in her quintessence. An authentic flapper in its essence!
Check this Documentary about Louise Brooks (minute 18.02 you can see some Charleston 20s dance):
How did 3 symbolic flappers change the image of a woman?
Colleen Moore, Clara Bow and Louise Brooks were 3 of the most famous flappers, powerful female sex symbols, in Hollywood. They are the flapper women who inspired generations of young women, who started imitating their looks, their sexual appeals and independence, their self reliant behaviour and aptitude. These flappers were greatly idolised by young females who began to believe there was more to life than being a housewife or stay at home mom.
Young females showed society that they were capable of becoming independently strong and making decisions on their own. Adolescent females knew that when they changed their lifestyle, they would be portrayed and perceived differently. They knew changing their lifestyle and ideology was the only way to gain equality even if society did not readily accept the change. It is worthy to note society did not seem too fond that flappers depicted the lives of young females who were independent, rebellious, and unfazed about how they were perceived.
The flapper, despite her notorious frivolity, was also a version of the “new woman,” who fought for independence, equality in marriage and pay and a political voice.
How these 3 famous flappers decided to approach life and change their own image became the starting point of a revolution, a milestone of what will be later called ”feminism”. Flappers receded from American life after the Great Depression pulled the plug on all the revelry. With the rise of feminism in the 1960s they enjoyed a bit of a revival, but were remembered largely for their racy fashions and short skirts that were a symbol of sexual liberation.
Feminists had an understandable, get-down-to-business side that was fiercely at odds with the flappers’ devotion to a prolonged adolescence. A flapper cheerfully called herself a “girl,” whereas feminists disdained the word as an insult. Linda Simon, author of “Lost Girls: The Invention of the Flapper”, claims that women of the Roaring Twenties had a lot in common with today’s millennials. Many young feminists embrace the flapper’s sassy, independent spirit of seeming to play at adulthood, and are perfectly comfortable referring to themselves as “girls”.
“Flapper styles may be relegated to costume museums, but the flapper spirit lives again after a hundred years” (from "Lost Girls: The Invention of the Flapper")
Clara Bow: Runnin Wild by David Stenn, 1988
Lulu in Hollywood Brooks, L., 1974,New York, Alfred Knopf.
Lost Girls: The Invention of the Flapper by Linda Simon
Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz
Flappers and Philosophers by Scott Fitzgerald
About flappers and Hollywood:
Flappers. Women's independence.
Silents Are Golden: Flapper Culture in the Films of the Roaring Twenties
Fabulous Flappers of the silver screen.
Dive at work: working girls and strong women in American silent cinema. The case of Clara Bow, the "It Girl"
A portrait of: Louise Brooks
Colleen Moore: The Girl Who Personified the ''Flapper'' of the 1920s
Clara Bow. The original "IT" girl
History of dances in 1920's:
Written by Martina Maddalena
Co-writer and editor: Ksenia Parkhatskaya
If every time before going on stage you feel nervous, have performance anxiety, or are even ready to call the whole thing off, and you want to conquer this feeling, here are my thoughts.
The 3 basics
I have been performing on stage since the age of 6. Many people around me, my students, colleagues and audience think at this point of my life as an experienced dancer I should be calm as a buddhist entering the performance space. But every time I go to stage I am physically tortured by performance anxiety. It absolutely doesn’t matter if it’s a big one in front of 50 000 people or a little demo in front of 20 people. However with the ideas I share with you in this blog post I’ve learned to control and reprogram my performance anxiety.
Firstly, before we dive into some very beautiful and deep ideas, I’d like to quickly outline some basic tips that can help you feel confident and be less stressed before the performance.
Here we go:
- Be ready for whatever you are about to do.
Prepare and practice a lot. Know your choreography, steps, words, have your music, shoes and all other bits ready. Just eliminate from the list this big chunk of stress.
- Project a bright process and result.
Imagine yourself having the best moment ever when you will be doing your thing on stage, feel that joy. This moment will never repeat again therefore it’s precious. Play in your “imagination screen” in your head how you are having the most wonderful show, the performance of your dream… it’s your time!
- Take care of yourself.
Make sure to sleep well and enough before, stretch, eat well and just as much as needed for you. Be in good shape.
Those first three points would make a big difference. However I’d love to share some of the deeper and more fundamental thoughts. To break free from the dark net of performance anxiety, doubts and worries weakening you, blinding your eyes, making your stomach go wild, let’s dive into the question of what is that feeling exactly, why is it there and how to tame and reprogram it.
Surf the excitement
I remember my first teacher of dance always told me, that “to feel butterflies” before the performance is actually good. It means you care about what you are doing, it’s excitement. I was confused because excitement is supposed to be wonderful feeling, but I felt bad, small, my whole being shrank and my thoughts were sporadic. The feeling of excitement in fact is balancing on the thin line between two oppositely charged states and actions:
- Bright side of excitement, adrenaline that calls “Yay, Let’s do this thing!”
- Dark side of it which is fear, anxiety and nervousness that says “Oh gee, I wish it would all be over now and I could just relax”
Just acknowledge those two faces of this feeling.
Realising that anxiety and fear is created in you and by only you, that it doesn’t exist outside of your head and body, can help you “surf” this feeling and get more control over your state.
What is your message? or deal with your Ego
Why are you so afraid and nervous? Maybe the reason is Ego. We think too much about ourselves. How will I look? What if the people don't love me? Will I do great? Will I be cool? and so on and so on. Me, me, me, me, me. The dance, music is a language. The same language that English or Spanish is. And we use it to say something, create stories. With any language we can say something beautiful and inspiring or something meaningless, useless and terrible. We choose what we say. Dance, music and any other art form is the same language. What are we saying with it? What are you saying with your dance?
This was one of the most powerful thoughts that really shifted the whole story of performance anxiety for me.
What am I dancing for, what am I transmitting?
I come out on stage in front of people who are right at this moment spending their time to listen to me, to hear, see, feel what I am about to deliver. Are they interested in looking at me worrying about me, seeing me trying to show them how cool I am? Is that really worth the time of both parties? Or maybe we can have a more nurturing for each ones story.
- the emotion you want to deliver
- the music you want to open up for people
- the fresh idea of moving to this or that music
- the story of one’s relationship if that’s a dance in a couple
- or maybe you actually have a drama story, character in a dance, deliver that story
Sometimes I cannot verbalise what is my message in fact, it’s more of an intuition of what I am about to share.
But what if I am just dancing and not having a dance “theatre show”?
Let me tell you my story. In the beginning of my Jazz dance life I did a lot of character dance shows (chicken, cowboy, archetype of a woman, puppet, doll, gangster, orphan etc). Every time before the show I was on fire getting into my character. My only worry was to deliver my story.
Later on I started doing quite a lot of performances, demos based on simple improvisation. Just me as myself, not a character, in my normal clothes, not a costume, expressing music with my dance. It felt really different. I started to worry to be good, to succeed, to wow people, to be better than someone else, to be appreciated and loved. And the anxiety to fulfil all those fear - requests really threw me off my axes. I had to reset this relationship with myself and remind myself of why am I dancing, what am I saying with my dance language. I think about it before each demo. It gives me power to be brave and daring when I dance, it puts me outside of myself, it takes away the need to be perfect, to be best, because this though is beyond Ego.
Giving is beyond Ego.
Is the dance performance and competition really about the “fancy moves” or the Ego? Does anyone in fact really care about “fancy steps” or your Ego? Will it actually make a difference? Only if that serves a stream of a message.
Performing just for the Ego and the “fancy steps” is demanding love and appreciation from the people rather than giving something to them. Movement for the sake of the movement is maybe more about sport. I do believe we have more to give when we talk about music and dance, the Arts and Entertainment.
Something even bigger, the arts are not here for the arts they are here as a mean of bringing people together and communication.
I think it is especially relevant for the popular culture of swing and jazz, the form of arts and entertainment formed and developed by people for people and not by elite art group for itself. Think about it, it’s the mean of communication, it’s the magma connecting the people, who find this communication valuable and important.
Get in the “zone”
To deal with the performance anxiety, which is as we discussed above the thought of “me” and “how am I looking” I as well turn to acting technique.
The great Konstantin Stanislavski, Russian theatre practitioner, the creator of the acting system described a state of “being in the zone”.
By being in the zone we understand being in the moment, character, space and circumstance of what you are doing.
The moment when we are not “in the zone” that is when we start to think about all the other useless things like how do I look, do they like me, am I doing this right, etc. Those thoughts are followed by getting physically blocked, having some parts of the body, muscles actually being locked. Actual muscle tension is when instead of, say 200 muscles, you will have only 90 functioning properly•, the rest will be semi contracted (i.e. you will find your neck or back tight or blocked, not free and available for movement). Being in the zone as well means being here and now.
If you are about to perform:
- get into the “vibe” of your show (i.e. lyrical, theatrical, rhythmical, playful, moody etc.)
- set your mind on the character if you have it
- tune into your music
- “arrive” emotionally to the place where you will do your dance…
- think of your “perspective”, what are you about to say, what are you about to do with your show. … in other words, get in the zone.
•this is just an example and not a medically specific data.
Connect with your “inner animal”
Anxiety and fear is something that brings all our being in the head and locks us in the mind castle. We loose the connection to the floor, our body, breath, surroundings. Fear disconnects us a little from reality and traps in the mind that worries and projects failure.
Reconnect with your body:
- shake and stretch
- feel your toes “grabbing “ the floor and feet standing firm on the ground
- feel the weigh of your whole body, especially in your belly
- connect to the gravity
- feel big, expanded, ready and brave to embrace the stage space and further
Deep breathing helps get into the body. Connect to your inner animal and wait to feel the sparkle in the eyes!
There were few performances in my life where I felt I became immensely big, like I actually went out of the borders of my physical body. Those were the shows with the biggest audiences for me 2 000 - 50 000 people like at “Violon Sur Le Sable”, Cork Opera House, I Love This Dance, WBF. My energy was stretching out far giving me freedom to occupy all the space on stage and almost “have it in my arms”. When the eyes of so many people were on me and I was so connected to my inner animal, I knew it’s the time to fly and spread the energy west, east, north and south to give the best performance I could.
Have a good one!
Whenever I am about to perform, standing on the side of the stage, these are the thoughts and sensations that are running through me. I breath deeply, connect to my body and shake it a bit. Always remind myself why and am I here and what am I about to say or deliver with my show, dance. I feel my weight on the ground and the readiness, that thirsty “animalistic” sparkle. I do it every single time before performing to settle my energy in the right way almost automatically.
As a closure I would like to say that; if you have performance anxiety and every time you are about to perform you are extremely nervous, - you are not alone. It’s normal to feel that. The truth is you are putting yourself out there in front of others. Certainly it can be scary and vulnerable. In some sense it’s good to “feel butterflies” a little bit, as long as they are the sparkles of bright excitement, means you care for what you do 🙂
Written by Ksenia Parkhatskaya
Here are 6 major tips and ideas that will help you work towards a wholesome solo jazz dance choreography rather than create just another combination of some classic jazz steps rearranged in a different way. To make sure that each decision in your choreography is a choice and you are saying something with it it is important to think of this tips.
"The Art of Starting or The Magic of Inspiration"
When we talk about creating choreography in solo jazz dance, or creating absolutely anything, there is always a presence of the Mysterious and Charming Angel of Inspiration. I think nowadays there is quite a sober attitude to the magic of inspiration as the main source of any creation. I really like the quote from composer John Williams, who created scores for Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones:
The romantic notions of how inspiration comes are just that - notions. Composing music is hard work. Any working composer or painter or sculpture will tell you that inspiration comes at the eight hour of labour, rather than as a bolt out of a blue
Another idea concerning inspiration is from the famous Russian writer Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol. I noticed this when I was very young. He spoke about how every day he would sit in front of a white piece of paper. He would sharpen his pencil almost as a ritual to get into the “zone” and think, wait, until the idea or a phrase came, to write it down. The key here is to actually start doing whatever you decided to create. Come to the studio, take a brush, sit in front of the piano….
The art of making a choice
When you go into the creation process on your solo jazz dance choreography you will face one big task - making a choice. Making a choice can be the hardest thing on earth if you have no idea of what is the end picture. Equally it can be quite exciting and enjoyable if you know in which even approximate direction you are going and what you are trying to say.
The creation process is the process of cutting and editing to limit the choices even more in order to use only what is best fitted to the end picture.
Another insightful though on making choices. We might think that when we create choreography that we have an infinite amount of possibilities and option. It might frighten us or vice versa excite. But that is not the truth. As Jonathan Burrows writes in "A choreographer's hand book", we can only do what we can do and we can't do what we can't do. Very simple idea though so unusual and insightful to think that in creation we are already limited in fact. This idea help to manage how I work with my body and with my skills. Similarly help me in how I envision the choreography and how much I decide to push the boundaries or not.
Below I am going to describe in great detail 6 tips on how to on how to create a choreography in solo jazz dance. Although I number each idea and present it in a linear way in this blog, it's important to mention that it doesn't really happen linear when I work. The thought process and direction of attention described in each stage can overlap and happen in a moment. What is important, is to think of these point, ask yourself related questions to make sure that each decision in your choreography is a choice.
1. Analyse of the music
Composing of any art form relies on the same processes. In some sense it is a task of making choices, which is the hardest task of all, I think. From the world of body movement, we chop and cut and choose until we refine what fits the best way to our idea. By making choices I mean the process of narrowing down and limiting your options that will lead you to harmonic and wholesome piece. To help make choices when creating a choreography in solo jazz dance we can use our intuition and creative sense or if those are sleeping - guidelines.
Stage I: Make a general overview of a song
Majority of the time I start with the tune for my solo jazz or any other choreography. I hear a song that inspires and moves me, that makes me want to dance. If you are starting with the music as well, to create a routine or a simple choreography, first of all pick and analyse the structure of your tune. I will give an example of how I work with standard jazz tunes.
- listen to the tune a few times;
- figure out what’s the form. If it’s jazz, blues, something else
- get to know your AABA form or any other form AB, ABC, ABCD etc;
- figure out the solo parts:
- how many solos
- what instruments are soloing
- how long is the solo (ex. over 1 form or more)
- are solos purely for 1 instruments or is there a dialog of 2 or more soloists
- do musicians trade 4’s
- are there any other fills, shifts, bridges
I'd love to give the example of my latest choreography Broad Way, because the memory of creating it is so fresh. The structure of the tune “Broadway” by Oscar Peterson is AABA, it’s a jazz tune. I have the “head” melody of AABA, then guitar solo with some lovely piano fills over 2 AABA forms. Then piano solo over 2 full AABA forms, AAB and then back to the “head” A part, looping the last 4 bars three times for the ending of the tune.
Stage II: Make an Emotional Analysis of a jazz song
Sense your jazz tune from the “emotional” point of view:
- what’s the VIBE (dramatic, funny, lyrical, etc)
- what’s the COLOUR of the tune (dark - light or maybe it has a specific color as well). I like how by feeling or seeing the color in your imagination you can evoke certain emotions. That can help in choosing the pace of the dance, the costume.
- what is the MOOD (in what mood does the song put you, which mood does it create; for instance melancholic, enthusiastic / driven, joyful, preoccupied, humorous, romantic, mellow, etc.)
- what is the DEVELOPMENT of the tune: where is the up and down of the energy and drive; where is the main point from which the tune takes off (or maybe it doesn’t really take off and go on the same level of the intensity?)
When this thought process happened, you know your tune, you have your mood, you can go into the details.
To me, the first association with the tune for my solo jazz choreography “Broad Way” choreography was “orange sunrise”.The bright color, bleeding on to the grey world. Fresh, free-spirited awakening feel of the sunrise. The joy and tenderness of the beginning of the new day. Combining with the feel of the movement that I wanted to use, inspired by my studies in Senegal. The image of the sun rising on the horizon, that image that one can see in the painting of African savannah. The image that I saw every morning in Toubab Dialaw, waking up at 6 am and stretching, greeting the sun, preparing for the day of classes in Ecole Des Sables. So the keywords are orange, sun, beginning, awakening, tenderness.
Stage III: Go into the Specifics of the jazz tune
When you are diving deeper into your tune, ask yourself if there are any particular interesting RHYTHM BREAKS that the drummer does, maybe you can learn it, scat it and create the dance move exactly to that rhythm.
A great inspiration for the footwork, phrasing and rhythm are RIFFS. Notice where, how many, what kind of riffs you have in a tune - maybe you can visualize them in your dance.
In the tune “Broadway” by Oscar Peterson you can hear a very strong riff / melody played by the piano in the “head” in all A parts. Listen to the first AA (B) A (00:10 - 00:51) and the very last, closing A (04:04 - till the end). I learned the melody and dancing it. I find riffs fascinating, powerful and groovy.
Listen here to "Broadway" by Oscar Peterson . Listen and feel are there any particular licks or runs that are catchy and strong.
In my “Broad Way” solo jazz dance choreography there were tons of them for me. Just to give a few examples:
1:07- 1:11 - those hanging notes, swinging brushes of movement. As you can see I really love to give adjectives and / or verbs to what I hear that helps me find the right voicing or movement;
1:42 - 1:50 - a wonderful repetitive run of guitar licks. Staying on one little phrase for a certain time can be really powerful;
2:46 - 2:54 & 3:24 - 3:42 - are one of my favorite moments, 2 parts of intensifying runs. A repetition and persistence of sorts:
One of the most powerful rhythms to me are PAUSES. Pay attention if there are some significant pauses in the melody, complete silence, breaks. What are you going to do with them is an artistic choice at each one.
The universe of the CONTEXT can open many doors to your search for the language you will use, costume, mood, story. Investigate if there is any interesting BACKGROUND OR STORY about the tune. Possibly it signifies an important event, describes the story of a person, move or action. If the tune represents a musical era or change of musical tradition, a way of playing you can implement it in your dance.
When you compose a part of the SOLO ask yourself which way does the soloist choose to play his part, what is the musical approach:
- has he chosen to be discreet in his playing;
- does he create a fountain of notes and tricks;
- did he invade with huge drops of chords;
It’s always interesting to dive into the state of the musicians and imagine his body movement. When I hear a certain musical phrase, I imagine did the pianist gently touched the keys as a raindrop or slammed them with a fat tension chord. Then I would listen deeply if he or she chose to play a phrase with loads of space spreading the notes to resonate or he decided to attack the phrase with a lashing rain of triplets. And then I myself as a dancer can choose to support, mimic or oppose it. Sometimes just enough to grab the feel, sentiment and use it, not necessarily dancing the exact solo part.
You can see in this little section guitar is playing lots of notes but I chose to step halftime, because the phrase for me was about the low key and preparation for something that’s about to come, so I prioritised it. Watch here: 1:52 - 2:00
2. Visualise choreography as a whole
There was a time when I started creating my own showcases when I was doing it like a Lego construction. I would just build it step after step, eight after eight, using all the vocabulary I have got in my bucket until it’s all used. This was my dance childhood and to be honest I do not consider that a choreography. I would more likely call it a routine.
A choreography to me is something bigger, that has an overall thought, perspective, refined language, chosen image, symbol and etc. The first piece that I created in a different manner was “Four Women” (song by Nina Simone). It grabbed me with its ritualistic repetitiveness, almost a mantra- like melody and the strong story. That is when for the first time I envisioned the whole frame of the piece from the beginning till the end, distinguished the parts and imagined the language I would use for each part in order to underline the differences and at the same time support the common ground. Once this work of envisioning the whole piece was done, then I went inside into each part to find the movement and rhythm.
In the song “Four Women” there is a strong narrative, a story of four different black females. To tell that story in the movement I used the cue from the lyrics and chose to dance the piece facing 4 different directions, for each woman:
Aunt Sara(h) - facing the audience with my back
Safronia - profile to the right supporting the words
Sweet Thing - profile to the left
In suspense, transition before the last story of Peaches, who to me was a representation of all the female characters in the song, I chose movement in a circle uniting the first 3 female characters.
Peaches - facing front to the audience
For instance, this choreography of mine, “S T A G E S” had already a very clear development and dramaturgy in the song “Shiny Stockings”.
It had clear ¾ part followed by 4/4, repeating this way twice. ¾ feel carried a sort of explorative mood, where 4/4 part, in contrast, had this confidence. Then the tune goes into double-time feel, that brings excitement and playfulness. After it jumps into a powerful drum section, that has this ritual, madness and challenge feel that takes over the dance and movement to bring it to a higher level. It goes to acceptance and then drops to a slow peaceful jazz feel, where you are swimming in comfort. The final part of the tune is the free-spirited improvisation, where you are in full control and you do not need the beat to carry you through and show you the way. You are the beat itself. Once I heard this and saw the mood of the dance developing through my movement and emotions, I could compose within each part, but the frame and the full development was there.
Envisioning the whole piece, even if you are not sure about the end or start helps you to create perspective, development, and unity without it looking like a broken mosaics of elements stuck together. It helps you create a framework within which it’s easier to work on details. It limits your choices, which is a good thing.
I like to watch my choreographies in my head, in my imagination screen. There you can do anything and you can direct as well.
3. Use improvisation as a way of choreographing in solo jazz dance
I love to start with the improvisation. Sometimes it’s just an improvisation, sometimes I have a specific task for myself depending on the tune. I always film my improvisations so that after the rehearsal I can take a look at the videos and see what speaks to me, which parts I like in order to keep them for future development, or maybe none of it is there yet and I would need to keep searching. With the pieces that I like, I start forming, sculpting and making it mine. By the way, I do not always start from the top. Sometimes there is a part in the middle of the tune that I feel and hear and ready to choreograph. I go with the flow. It doesn’t have to be chronological.
For "Broad Way" my first few improvisations were with a task to use as much traditional African movement as I can. Then I found some moments that really felt groovy and with the music and used it in the choreography.
Improvisation helps me compose with big brushes rather that mili meter by mili meter of steps. It as well helps me avoid being too “mathematical” and predictable for myself. But to go with the feel, mood, color, musical phrases that vary.
4. Find specifics for your solo jazz choreography
Many of the methods I use now are actually to avoid the “mosaic” and “step-based” ways of choreographing (ie. to use all the new steps you know), in other words again to limit your choices. Step-based, mosaic dance pieces all look very similar. Just some groovy stuff put together and that’s it. And if you raffle the steps maybe you can make 10 more routines out of it. That doesn’t interest me. How to make one choreography different from another. Find the specifics for each one, the language, the core. Examples of the specifics:
- Compose a piece of 16 eights and then use only that material for the whole piece. Mix and match it, change rhythms, rotate, bring it up or down...but use only it. Many world class 1h contemporary pieces are based on a short movement sketch that is expanded with different tools.
- Make the core of your choreography for instance step variation (ie. make the fall of the log the star of your dance and play with it in all possible ways throughout) . So many benefits to this one. You will open the door to your own curious and innovative laboratory. Your piece will become more personal and creative if you will start playing around and with your "focus move" instead of using tons of others steps.
- Your specific might hide in using directions. All you do for this or that reason you do it using 360 space.
- It can as well be a a choice of a certain specific and constant quality (ie. fluid, soft, robotic, angular, rigid, sporadic, etc)
Think of it, it’s like songs. There are only 12 notes but how many different songs there are and what makes one song differ from the other… - the chord progression and the key. It’s a limitation of sorts.
5. Search for emotional movement
In my teachings of solo jazz dance I juxtapose emotional movement and physical movement. Physical movement is just an action of the muscles and body. It does not carry any other layer. Emotional movement carries a lot of information around the physical movement about the environment, mood, energy, intention and so on.
Create the environment and situation or a task for yourself. All of a sudden you will see how from that seed of context the new world with it's rules, qualities, colours and characters will grow in your imagination. The great Konstantin Stanislavski, the creator of the method, the technique for actors, taught the difference between an EMOTIONAL & PHYSICAL MOVEMENT. Physical movement is generic. For instance, if I ask 10 people in the room to lift their hand, they will all lift the hand in almost the exact same manner and way. Emotional movement carries a little story - the intention, the purpose, the reason, - all of which create the emotional state. So the magical question is “WHAT FOR?"
Experiment with the emotional movement
Make a quick experiment: you are going to lift your arm, just before ask yourself “what for am I going to lift my arm?” and quickly answer with a VERB (i.e to greet a friend, to touch the sky, to catch a fly, to grab a mosquito, to say goodbye etc…), then right away do the action.
Did you notice, how the physical action turned into emotional action with no words needed. Repeat this several times and change the answer to the question, meaning change the intention. The more you do it, the more start to inhabit the situations with more details. For instance, where are you, who are saying good bye to, do you like this person, are you going to miss him or you are happy they are going away, is is a quick good bye or a long one, when are you going to see them again , etc.
I use emotional movement when I dance any dance form and solo jazz included. Sometimes my subconsciousness and muscle memory bring out interesting ideas without me even thinking. Other times I find them to make my dance my own story and create a different feel, world, impression. I do believe that physical movement by itself in the arts is boring. The dance step for itself can be just a flashy moment but that’s all. When the movement carries something more, even if you can’t put it in the words, it’s much more intriguing and curious.
6. Plan your tension curves
Tension curves are the most essential component of the storytelling in any art form: beginning - development - conflict - suspense - resolution (- post finale). Most often used in narrative forms of art, the idea of tension curves & overall dramaturgy can still be present and powerful in dance.
In the case of the majority of swing dancers, we choreograph to an existing tune. If the tune is good and has a beautiful overall dramaturgy in itself we just need to open ears, listen to it and use it. But not all the tunes have it, not all of them have curves of moods, a relationship of tension and release, resolution and so on. That is where we need to be more creative. Simple tools for choreographing the emotional tension can really bring your piece good development, for instance:
- big moves - small moves;
- energetic part - easy/ slow/ relaxed part;
- busy/ noisy part - still/ quite part;
The idea of the dance piece is travelling through curves of drops and lifts. Contrasts that are getting bigger and more dramatic this way. Creating overall dramaturgy is so precious to me and it's something I try to consider in all the pieces I do.
Remember, repetition is good
Sometimes we are scared to be boring if we repeat the same things within the choreography several times. We should eliminate that fear. Listen to swing or jazz tunes. Things get repeated all the time! All the A sections of the AABA form or famous and beloved by everyone: riffs.* What will we do in the swing without repetitive phrases in music!? They give us several chances to unite with the musicians and “hit” the right moment with our move. And only because they repeat 3, 4, 5 times we can have an opportunity to catch it and surf on the wave of musical heaven.
I was like that at the beginning of my composing journey. I wanted to put all the steps I know to make it exciting. And then I read somewhere that you need to repeat a step, a thing, at least 2 -3 times so that viewer can actually acknowledge and process it. Have you ever noticed how during the jams, competitions or shows, the biggest applause is happening when a dancer, musician repeats, sits firmly on a move/ note and drives it like a groovy, fundamental steady Ferrari. Once again, no need to use all the vocabulary you know in the world out of fear to be boring.
•Riff if a repetitive phrase that is often played by the horn section as a support for the solo. It creates a strong groove, helps to develop and to swing the tune.
For instance "Broad Way" I repeated the whole junks of all the A parts of the "head". I wanted them to be recognisable and clear as the melody. I call those moments " coming back home". After a journey of the whole choreography, I came back to my "home" dance phrase. As well a repeated many other moves for several bars (learning from Oscar Peterson) and following his phrasing.
These are some of the ideas and methods I use when I work on creating a solo jazz dance choreography. Sometimes I would leave this knowledge out of my studio if I an in a state of flow. I would invite the method if I am stuck in my creative process. It’s good to keep learning and be curious in order to approach each new choreography from a new angle, with a new vision. For me, it’s essential to keep developing, challenging and surprising myself within each new choreography. To create a new character, be in a "new for me" mode. I would style each one and say something with it. The more you develop, the more your choreographies do as well!
Next time you create and feel like you are creating the same jazz routine over and over again, follow these 6 tips. They will guide you to new territories. Equally they will help you create choreography that is not a generic lego constructed of moves, but actually a wholesome piece.
To learn more about improvisation, solo jazz dance and dance in general with Ksenia Parkhatskaya consider signing up for Secrets of Solo online dance classes. You can check subscription plans here.
My students very often are interested if I practice solo jazz dance: what, how and how often.
I am a solo jazz dancer, that’s my life, love and profession. Oh yes, I practice. It’s the best way to discover things and improve. I practice solo jazz dance physically and mentally. As often as I can. Normally I work on the weekends: jazz festivals, swing dance festivals, dance intensives. That leaves me 2 - 3 days during the week when I dedicate 1-3 hours per day for my self-practice. Love it! I can develop new ideas, do some new exciting stuff, just be always in form. In addition, I go to other dance classes: afro, tap, house. It is a practice as well. That gives me a gigantic source of inspiration and a different point of view! In this blog, I share some general practice tips with you.
Before I thought that practice can happen only when you are in the studio, physically dancing. Though mental practice is a way as well. Watching videos, listening to music and rhythms, imagining yourself dancing this or that way is a great way to improve. They say that mental practice is almost as effective as physical.
Let’s talk about some general practice tips for physical practice for I am sure we all can do the mental part very well :
Book a space, schedule your solo jazz dance practice!
When you are self-employed it’s so easy to change your mind. One second ago you want to practice, another second you see it’s sunny and decide to go out for a swim (well. if you are in Barcelona like me :). When you book a studio, schedule it, will be harder to change. Usually, I book or find a studio. Sometimes I do it at home. But the act of dedicating time and going somewhere for a specific amount of time where you can do nothing but dance is motivating and organising to me. Number one of the general practice tips.
My solo jazz dance practice plan looks like this:
- Warm-up & get in the zone
- Little improvisation to get in the mood and feel my body
- Do the task• (will talk about that below)
- Finish with improvisation
- Quick cool down / stretch
I come to the studio and start by warming up. Maybe 10 -15 min will go just for stretching and feeling my body. Where am I today? What body am I working with for the next hours? Some days you are more stiff or tired than other days. It’s good to take this in consideration and to respect that. I have my own little selection of exercises for warming up, I am sure like every dancer. I make sure to breathe deeply while stretching to warm up from the inside. Put on my favorite tunes to get in the mood always helps.
Set a task!
Once I am warm I go straight away to practice tasks. Some important things while practicing, that I learn from other great people: musicians, dancers, artists. Kenny Werner made a big change in my life with his lecture on practicing in jazz. It's more 1h+ but it's one of my top lectures on jazz. Here is the link: A Master Class in Jazz Performance and Creativity with Pianist Kenny Werner
Here are some of them I always use or try to remember as a guide:
1. Have a focus in your solo jazz dance practice
I find it quite important to set the goals of my solo jazz dance training in advance. I book my studio for ca. 2h usually. It’s not much time to allow to bounce off the walls and do nothing. When you practice alone, clearly you are the only one who is in charge. If you don’t set up a task/ schedule/ timing, no one will. Be your own boss! The best way to practice is to limit yourself and not to practice everything. Practicing everything, in the end, is not practicing. You work on something small and that significantly improves the overall dance.
Here are some of the common reasons/ tasks for personal training that I use:
- Practicing/ remembering choreography
- Composing something (be in sketches or a new chore or a little routine)
- Working on rhythm, time signatures
- Working on something new; be it movements, style etc..
- Working on quality
- Practicing dancing to different speeds
- Practicing improvisation.... etc.
Define what you want or need to do, set the goal/ task and time! For example, Practicing/ remembering choreo or a few of them, reviving overall choreos, 1h. Or working on time signatures, get sketches for new choreo in 3/4, 1.5h.
2. Don’t judge/ punish yourself for not standing up to your expectation immediately
This one I need to remind to myself quite often to be honest. One day the things flow and everything works. The other day, you can’t invent anything, all you do seems to be boring, you can’t even make a proper turn and not stumble. It’s ok. Accept and move on. Maybe make the practice that day short and go have a tasty coffee with a friend. The word immediately is important here. If you have a solo jazz dance practice date with yourself regularly, say 2-3 days a week for 1 - 2 hours, you’ll see the improvement! It’s just not possible not to improve! Regularity is the key.
3. Play! Make solo jazz dance practice a game
That is super important! If the practice is something boring and hard you will simply never practice. Make it your personal playground. For me, I don’t have to put much effort into making it a game. I love to dance so much that simple action of moving my leg to music makes me happy.
Here is a video of my practice.
Hope these were useful general practice tips on how to practice solo jazz dance! And what's your experience with practicing? Would be happy to read your comments.
I will continue with Part 2: How to practice improvisation in the next blog post.
Written by Ksenia Parkhatskaya
World renowned 20s Charleston and solo jazz dancer Ksenia Parkhatskaya presents her special online dance course "Secrets of Charleston 20s". With over 40 lessons and 2 hours of content you will discover how to do the 20s Charleston in the convenience of your home.
What is 20's Charleston?
Read the full article on History of the Charleston dance.
The Charleston dance had possibly the greatest influence on the American culture. Enslaved Africans brought it from Kongo to Charleston, South Carolina, as the Juba dance, which then slowly evolved into what is now known as Charleston. / ../ In African, however, the dance is called Juba or the Djouba. The name Charleston was given to the Juba dance by European Americans
- (Africanisms in American Culture, p.52)
Many scholars attribute the creation and the spread of the Charleston dance to Gullah / Geechee culture and the boys from the Jenkins Orphanage Band.
It is considered that The Charleston dance was "officially" shown in public in the all Black Africa - American Broadway musical "Runnin' Wild". Elida Webb Dawson, African- American dancer, was the choreographer for the show. Her set of movements was accompanied by “The Charleston” tune by James P. Johnson and Cecil Mack. The tune had a very characteristic Charleston beat, which James P. Johnson said he first caught from southern musicians and dancers from Charleston city.
The Charleston became the international craze, when African American performer Josephine Baker introduced the Charleston dance in Europe during her Parisian tour “Le revue negre”.
Where to learn how to dance 20's Charleston?
You can find a local swing dance or solo jazz dance school where you can ask for 20s Charleston solo classes. Another way, which can be more convenient in some ways is to learn how to dance with online classes. Ksenia's Secrets of the Charleston 20’s is an online course on how to learn the famous 20s Charleston in 8 chapters, 40 videos and almost 2 hours of high quality online content.
The course is taught by a sensational dancer, who made her name in dance though her Charleston performances, Ksenia Parkhatskaya. Dancing since 6 years of age, Ksenia came to fame through her signature Charleston choreography on “So You Think You Can Dance” in Ukraine (invited to the show as a participant from Russia). She soon rose to be one of the most viewed dancers on the internet with over 200 million views.
A dance artist, choreographer and performer Ksenia has created many short dance films and clips inspired by flapper character and 20s Charleston dance style.
Trained in competitive ballroom dance in Russia and competing on a regular basis for 9 years, Ksenia is more interested in performance and creation. Though in a spirit of solo jazz and Charleston battles and races, she occasionaly participated in swing dance international competitions, placing first.
Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance classes are a chocolate box of dance steps, movement tricks and technique tips. You will for sure enrich your pockets with good basic vocabulary as well as dizzy flash steps that will insure your greatness on the dance floor. You will discover some of my step variations and get inspired by the immense world of creativity that jazz in general brings. And all of it will settle the best way in your body with a seasoning of some useful technique secrets.
The Secrets of 20s Charleston series cover a wide range of levels: from beginners to advanced dancers. Beginners can learn basic steps and techniques, improvers can enrich their vocabulary and learn some flash steps and advanced dancers can get new ideas, steps variations and refine their style.
I picked the best of what I know and love about 20's Charleston and combined it with my dance experience and general dance approach. Above all I value the individual voice in any art form. That is why I am sharing my way: my personal twist on original steps plus steps I created myself as well as ideas I have developed over the years
What is inside Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance course?
Secrets of Charleston 20’s online dance course is build around moves and famous footwork. There are 7 chapters, inside which you will have several dance classes with progressive variations of this specific step.
For example let’s take a look at Chapter V: Basic Step Variations. In the first video I will break down the absolute basics of the charleston step and start with the variation #1. Then you will have 3 more videos with 3 different variations. And then the last video of the chapter will be a demo - me demonstrating how to dance those steps to the music and mixing them.
How to use Secrets of Charleston 20s?
Once you have picked the chapter, please go chronologically - the way I placed the videos for you. I thought it through. I have built my explanations and the material within a chapter in a progressive way. "Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves" is an exception. There you get a collection of independent videos, where I teach you flash moves, flaps, slaps and so on.
Where to start in Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance course?
I recommend to start with Chapter I: Twist Recipe for everyone to get your 20's Charleston technique in place, understand how the body works. 20's Charleston is all about twists. Once you get it in your body, success will be guaranteed.
After you practiced Twist Recipe you can go ahead and jump to any of the chapters between Chapter II & V or just follow the order I prepared for you. This will enrich your vocabulary of 20s Charleston moves. Always go back to review Twist Recipe chapter because it is the fundamental building block of the dance and style. Remember, once in the chapter, follow chronology of the videos.
The last 3 chapters are about so called flash steps. For instance, the "Chapter VI: Black Bottom Cow Tail & Chapter VII: Slides Filling" are technically quite challenging. Make sure to first establish your basics before going into technically challenging movements.
"Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves" is a candy box of spicy, eccentric dance moves. You can randomly pick a move from the collection for your practice and include in your dance as a flash step. The dance cannot consist of just flash moves glued together, so make sure to have your ways around first (check Chapters I to V).
Secrets of Charleston 20's Table of Content
Chapter I: Twist Recipe
In this chapter you'll get to know and experience the fundamental building block of 20s Charleston - twists and the Charleston body. You will discover what is a body state, feel, style and posture in when dancing the 20s specifically. And discover the technique and different patterns of the main component of the style, which is twist. Forget that you were ever walking parallel, every step is a twist in 20s Charleston. In a step-by-step manner we will ensure that your twists are fluid and fast.
For me, 20’s Charleston is about sparkling sharpness in the middle of mindless chaos of dance madness. Twist is the way to walk, live and think in 20s Charleston
- Twists & Charleston Body + demo
- Moving around with Twist + demo
- Butterfly Twist + demo
- Side Skippin’ + demo
- Twists & tips
- Twists on Fire
Chapter II: Fall off the log Tricks
In this chapter you will uncover on one of the great 20s Charleston and solo jazz steps – Fall(ing) off The Log. Falling-off-a-log is as well described as a step similar to Buffalo tap dance step but with a leaning pause added). It is a so- called travel step. The main rhythmic idea of the step is accentuating the backbeat on the kick. In that moment the whole body gravitates to the ground. The art of mimicry and imitation is strongly developed in black dances.
What is it and how to bring it to life? Add simple changes like: twisting the step and playing with the type of kick so that the step can travel through era’s – from ragtime to swing.
- Black Bottom Twist
- Double Kick
- Kick Ball Change
Chapter III: Suzy Q
In this chapter you will be introduced to Susie Q, Suzie Q or Suzy-Q and it's variations. It is a vernacular dance step, with a shuffling and sliding step (as well performed in tap) that was introduced at the Cotton Club in 1936. The origin of the name “Suzie Q” is uncertain. There is a the reference to the name in the 1936 song Doin’ the Suzie-Q by Lil Hardin Armstrong.
- How to?
- Swing the 8th
- Break with Shuffle
- Chapter IV: Cross Behind & Triple
- Crabbin’ & Triple Step
- Swing the Triple
Chapter V: Basic Charleston Step Variations
In this chapter you will learn the fabulous 20s Charleston basic step and eccentric variations created by Ksenia Parkhatskaya. Charleston name refers to a few elements: a song, a city, a style of the dance, a dance itself and a step. Nowadays, when we say Charleston basic or basic step when dancing solo in swing dance community, we refer to Charleston step. Charleston step has it’s eras and it changed with time and place. It started as a step with twists in jazz age, then transformed into a crazy wild kicking move in swing era.
Take the Charleston step, for example. We think it came up from South Carolina with its name intact and was introduced in a Broadway show, Running’ Wild.
Cholly Atkins from “Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins”
- Zig Zag Kick
Chapter VI: Black Bottom Cow Tail
The black bottom was a dance that hit America after The Charleston became famous in 1920's. It's a very feminine style with loads of animalistic movements. Cow tail is an animal inspired move, when the cows were stuck in the mud and had to wave their tail to get rid of flies around.
- Cow Tail
- Walking with Cow Tail
You probably have seen one of crazy Charleston video of Ksenia Parkhatskaya where she twirls her leg as a fan in her famous smoking flapper character. That move is a charmer! You can learn it now here with a step by step instructions from Ksenia herself.
- the importance of isolation of upper and lower body
- where is the engine of cow tail
- how to have an infinite cow tail movement without loosing your balance
- how to create perfect 360 circle of a cow tail
- how the knee placement change the world of the cow tail move
- what is a “cow tail cheating”
Chapter VII: Slides Filling
Arguably, the most technically challenging chapter of the course, where you will unlock the beauty and potential of slides and 20s Charleston moves. Make sure to always warm up before and do the slide movement step by step, not rushing into it in order to be safe. Wear shoes that are not too sticky in order not to damage your knees by having too much friction with the floor. Equally, shoes that are too slippery might make it hard to coordinate. Remember, keep you knee in your vision space and you will be fine!
- Twist’n’ Slide
- High Kick Slide
- Back Slide
Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves
This chapter is a collection of individual flapper inspired, fluid and fast flash step as well as concepts of 20s Charleston style such a Silent Movie and exaggerated movement.
- Raindrops + demo
- Black Bottom slap + demo
- Happy Feet + demo
- J.Baker flavour + demo
- Silent Movie concept + demo
Are you ready to push your 20s Charleston dance to the next level?
In this extensive videos series I will be breaking down techniques and steps from the legendary 20s Charleston dance. Each chapter tackles one 20s Charleston topic, and will be showing different patterns, variations and styling within that topic.
Here's an example from one of the Secrets of Charleston 20s chapter "Cow Tail"
Are you interested? Become a member of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo Online Dance Classes!
You can check out all our account pricing options on this page. You can choose one of the three membership options. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us here.