“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, one of the 3 most famous flappers, helped popularize the flappers bobbed haircut.
Colleen Moore, the star of the silent screen who personified the jazz-age flapper flapper. She became one of the most fashionable (and highly-paid) stars of the era and helped popularize the flappers bobbed haircut.

 

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 Moore expressive faces in 1920's silent movies
The quintessential flapper girl Colleen Moore. Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag. Publicity still for The Desert Flower (Irving Cummings, 1925)

 

Colleen Moore famous flapper outfit in 1920's
“The chief difference is that the flapper has more ambition, and there are now more things for her to wish for, and a greater chance of getting them too!” - Colleen (from a 1922 Chicago Daily News article by Glady Hall)

 

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"

Clara Bow, one of the 3 most famous flappers, represents perfect flapper face and figure. Big - eyed, baby - faced flapper image.
The "It" Girl, flapper Clara Bow. The 1920s actress became a new kind of down-to-earth Hollywood idol. Her film It established a female archetype that’s still with us.

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).

Clara Bow, perfect flapper in a vintage dress, Hollywood 1920's
Clara Bow, famous actress, "known as the screen's perfect flapper", who rose to stardom in silent film during the 1920s and successfully made the transition to "talkies" in 1929.

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"

Louise Brooks, flapper with famous bobbed brunette hair style
This particular photograph of flapper Louise is one of 16 different poses in the famous "speckled dress" that were taken by George P. Hommel about 1927.

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.

Luoise Brooks one of the 3 most famous flappers in burlesque dress dancing for ziegfield follies
Flapper Icon and female Sex Symbol Louise Brooks started her career as a charleston and burlesque dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway.

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):

https://youtu.be/PLjovB5b374

 

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")

 

References:

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:

History of major classic jazz dance steps

Secrets of Charleston 20's 

 

Written by Martina Maddalena

Co-writer and editor: Ksenia Parkhatskaya

Solo Jazz dance has gone through many changes over the years, but learning the origins of the classic and popular solo jazz dance steps is key to growing as a jazz dancer. Here I give a brief overview of the history of some of the most popular and still used solo jazz dance steps.

Jazz is an African - American dance form that has West African roots. Knowing the roots and history of the solo jazz dance steps is important not only in terms of appreciation of the culture and it's creators, it will also help you discover and embody your solo jazz dance movement on a deeper level, so you understand the “why” not just the “how”.

Learning the vocabulary of classic Solo jazz dance is essential if you would like to "speak" the language of the style. It will then allow you to be able to create, grow, invent and improvise in solo jazz dance and to jazz music and its related styles. Improvisation is the identity of all jazz dance.

Groove Walk or Walking with a groove

African - Americans “refine all movement in the direction of dance - beat elegance. Their work movements become Solo jazz dance movements and so their play movements; and so, indeed, do all the movements they use every day , including the way they walk, stand, turn, wave, shake hands, reach, or make any gesture at all” (“Steppin’ on the Blues”)

Groove walk is an essential building block of solo jazz dance. Pretty much any step you do, you do with the bounce and groove. And it is already enough to start dancing to swing and jazz.

You will discover that many steps are, in fact, just a groove walk with a certain “spice” like twist of the feet or knees or with an accent, that are composed or looped (check out fall of the log, suzy Q, cross step, etc).

Polyrhythm’s in Solo Jazz

When groove walking you can experience one of the main components of African And African American black dance traditions - polyrhythm. Your body is vibrating in 4/4 feel, pulsing and bouncing to every beat. You step and produce rhythm in your feet only half time on 1 and 3. And a final touch is a snap on back beat on 2 and 4!

Author Welsh-Asante lists seven "senses"• of African dance that must be present: polyrhythm, polycentrism, curvilinearity, dimensionality, epic memory, holisticness and repetition. (African Dance: An Artistic, Historical, and Philosophical Inquiry, p.212)

To sum up, polyrhythm is created when several parts of the body produce different rhythms simultaneously. This sense can be related to all and every single step in solo jazz dancing.

•There are characteristics that I describe in full in the brief history of Black dances and senses of solo dance. Senses make up the integral composition regardless of geography or theme. Characteristics refer to the qualities of the dance itself.

Stomps in Solo Jazz

One of the most beautiful percussive solo jazz steps. As we discussed previously the body position and the intention in black dances is directed to the earth. There is no better movement than stomps to represent that connection with the ground.

“Many (African) dances are directed towards earth, acknowledging its function as a food source, but also as a resting site for their ancestors. Both nourishing food and wise ancestor knowledge feed the individual and the group; accordingly, the feet are used to maximise and emphasise the relationship between humans and the earth. Flat feet are used to shuffle, stomp, brush, graze to otherwise embrace the ground with the entire foot. Many times, when the foot is lifted, the emphasis is to return the foot to the ground as quickly as possible, maintaining contact with the earth.” (“Hot Feet and Social Change: African Dance and Diaspora Communities”)

 

Kick Ball Change

In the blog post on the brief history of Black dances I talked about Syncopation & Swinging 8th note as the fundamentals of Solo jazz dance. Swinging 8th note is a name of the rhythm and it has many names and shapes in solo jazz dance. The rhythm is one, the shapes are many. Kick Ball change is one of them and is one of the most commonly used shapes in many African and Black American dances.

Propulsive rhythm is one of the characteristics of the African-American dances. It is most important to hear and keep the beat (meaning the strong note, the pulse), but it is equally important to be able to embellish it and play with it. Kick Ball change step allows you to do that. Equally this step is a beginning of more complex footwork like Shorty George, Apple Jacks, Half time break, scissor kicks and so on.

Solo Jazz dance steps & their names

Next we will be moving on to a more choreographed footwork. A step is already a little sequence, a little choreography. It is always very interesting to look at the origins of the step as well as their names.

Names of African derived dances and steps are "speaking". Some of the steps carry names of the animals that they were imitating (Camel Walk), some carry the name of the creator (Shorty George), some just reflect the specific action (Shim Sham Shimmy).

Back in the days when there were no schools where you could go learn some tap or solo jazz dance. People were dancing on the street, practicing at homes, back stage or in the back yards. Each one was searching and creating for their own unique style and shapes. It was essential for a black dancer to be unique and recognisable, for that was the only way to get a gig or win a competition. It was a matter of getting paid and surviving.

Most of the time you would not want to teach anyone your step exactly for this reason. In fact, like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson did, you would protect your “signature” steps by “trademarking” them and shaming copycats.

demonstration of important black dance culture representatives in America
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, an African-American tap dancer, actor, and singer (1878 - 1949) The Billy Rose Theatre Collection, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Sometimes dancers would teach you their step and they would make sure you remember that it was their step, their name. That was the way they and their legacy could be remembered.

Here is how the great African American tap dancer and choreographer Cholly Atkins speaks about the steps and their names in "Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins":

“Years ago, you could sit up and look at the chorus lines, all the dance steps that they were doing. Eventually somebody would come along and lift one of those combinations out and make a dance out of it, like The Suzie - Q or the boogie woogie. I think that’s how trucking’ came about. Now, trucking’ could have originally been a step that some choreography or producer saw a kid doing on the street. Maybe it didn’t even have a name first. On the other hand, some dancer in the chorus could have made it up. Most of the time we couldn’t trace exactly, where these authentic jazz steps and dances originated. It’s clear that they have evolved as a part of black dance styles. But all we really knew was that they were here!”

demonstration of important black dance culture representatives in America
Cholly Atkins and Honi Coles. Charles "Cholly" Atkins (1913 - 2003) - an African - American tap and jazz dancer, choreographer.

Solo Jazz dance step 1 - Tackie Annie

Tackie Annie or Tack Annie is a step that was originally a tap dance step executed with brushes, shuffles and taps.

There are plenty of stories about the name origin of this typical authentic jazz move.

“Steps were normally given their names either in connection to the imitation source (animal for example) or association of the move or after the person who created them and did them better than anyone else. Shorty Snowden made up the Shorty George , and "a shuffle step known as the Tack Annie was by a pickpocket named Annie"
- “Dancing, a Guide for the Dancer You Can be”

In “The World of Earl Hines”, Earl Hines, American jazz pianist, acknowledges that in Chicago during the mid - 1920s there was a woman named Tack Annie. She had a couple of girlfriends who looked after her. It appears that Tack Annie was the roughest woman he had ever seen in this life, so tough that it took several man to hold her down" (Dance, The World of Hines, p.35)

According to Harri Heinila, a Harlem jazz dance researcher, tap dancers Leonard Reed and William Bryant, who choreographed the Shim Sham, got the Tack Annie from a tap dancer called Jack Wiggins who did a thing called ‘Pull it’. He used to say to the audience: "Do you want me pull it". The answer was usually "Yes!".

Once he was performing to the audience, where was also his girlfriend Annie. Jack said those words again and added: "Annie next step may be tacky, but I gonna do it for you!"

 

Solo jazz dance step 2 - Fishtail

One of the characteristics of West - African tradition is animalistic imitations. You can definitely see it in many moves. Fishtail is one of them. The rich verbal vocabulary of vernacular black jazz dance movement as well often reflects the movement character and body usage, and in the face and hands. Look at the names of the steps such as Wing, Stomp, Fishtail, Black Bottom, Snake Hips and so on.

You can see Al Minns dancing fish tail in "The Spirit Moves" series:

Solo Jazz dance step 3 - The Charleston

Read the full article on History of the Charleston.

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

The craze of the 20’s went into full swing when the choreographer Elida Webb Dawson, African- American dancer and choreographer at the Cotton Club in Harlem, introduced the Charleston in Runnin' Wild (1923) - an American black Broadway musical comedy show. Her set of movements was accompanied by “The Charleston” tune by James P. Johnson and Cecil Mack. The characteristic Charleston beat, which James P. Johnson said he first heard from Charleston City dockworkers, incorporating the clave rhythm.

During “The Roaring Twenties'', Josephine Baker, famous black American dancer, introduced this dance to European audiences.

Charleston step has it’s eras and it changed with time and place. It started as a step with twists in a lazy sort of way , then transformed into a crazy wild kicking move.

Here is an alternative thought to the origins of The Charleston step and dance from Cholly Atkins from "Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins"

“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. That’s what I was always told. But see, this thing is really complex because of all the interweaving and overlapping that happened. There was so much cross fertilisation from one venue to another - from the street , to the theatre, to the dance hall, to the nightclub. /…/ All of those dances came right out of the authentic jazz and were choreographed for stage”

Solo Jazz dance step 4 - Fall Off The Log

"Fall off the log (falling-off-the-log / falling off a log)- twisting movement consisting of shuffles and the alternate crossing and recrossing of one foot over the other, the body leaning sideways - "Brotherhood in Rhythm"

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. Falling off a log imitates this actual process of the falling.

Solo Jazz dance step 5 - Suzy Q

Susie Q, Suzie Q or Suzy-Q 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

You can see Suzie Q performed by Al Minns, Pepsi Bethel, Leon James, Ester Washington, Sandra Gibson in The Spirit Moves film:

Solo Jazz dance step 6 - Camel Walk

"The dances of the enslaved population were often named and choreographed after the movements of animals" - (Ring Shout, Wheel About)

Camel walk is one of them. It is a solo jazz dance step that is closely resembling the knock - kneed gait of a camel.

Solo Jazz dance step 7 - Boogie back

Here is an amazing solo jazz dance step that has several layers to it. You can make it with loads of body movement and vibration and as well try to swing it by adding the already familiar kick ball change, swinging 8th step. The intention of the step is toward the ground, the earth or to the feet of other dancers, to support the fire and energy in the jam circle or cypher.

 

Solo jazz dance step 8 - Shorty George

The Shorty George, a signature step of Lindy hop and jazz, was named after an African -American jitterbug and Lindy hop dancer “Shorty” George Snowden (4 July 1904 - May 1982) in the 1930s. He could do this step underneath his partners legs.

Shorty George Snowden, the creator of Shorty George solo jazz dance step and his partner Big Bea.

Snowden was an acclaimed dancer at the Savoy Ballroom. The story is interesting. George Snowden was a short man, only about 5 feet tall and he had quite an impressively tall dance partner called Big Bea It was their “thing”, the feature. They really crafted their dance art around his height. George would jump in a split to have Big Bea turn under arms.

Shorty is often given credit for giving Lindy Hop its name. After Charles Lindbergh's (known as "Lucky Lindy") as the newspapers said "hopped" across the Atlantic, there was a charity dance-marathon in New York City in 1928. A reporter saw Snowden break away from his partner and improvise a few steps. "What was that!?" he asked. Snowden thought for a few seconds and replied, "I'm doin' the Hop...the Lindy Hop". And so the name stayed. (source Savoy Style)

In jazz dance only when the film production became more popular the forms and style started to be documented.

Solo Jazz dance step 9 - Applejack

Apple Jacks, Applejack (dance) is a jazz dance step developed in 1940's

“Applejack (1930s–1950s) liquor, especially bootleg liquor, so called because apples were used as the main ingredient. Applejack n. (1950s–1960s) all-purpose tag name for dances” (Juba to jive: the dictionary of African-American slang, p.10)

 

Solo Jazz dance step 10 - Half Break

Rhythm break steps are certainly a characteristic of the African dance tradition. In Tap and jazz half break is a step on 4 beats and starts on a backbeat. Break steps are the ones that are normally performed at the end of the jazz phrase or form, to seal or finalise the phrase. The success to perform this step is release. Remember, the great African American composer Duke Ellington said "In jazz we don't push it, we let it fall". Keep it in mind when doing ball change, which is a swinging 8th note. To syncopate it needs a drop. All the rhythm break steps want to gravitate to earth.

Solo Jazz dance step 11 - Full Break or T.O.B.A break

Another name for this step is T.O.B.A. break. T.O.B.A. break was a part of Shim Sham live choreography created by Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant around 1927. The break is an 8-count step and therefore carries a “second” name “full break”.

T.O.B.A. stands for Theatre Owners Booking Association. It was a black vaudeville circuit that developed and promoted black talent and catered to black audiences in the 1920's. Among black dancers the acronym TOBA was read as “Tough on Black Actors”.

Here is Chester Whitmore, American dancer, musician and choreograoher, protege of Fayard Nicholas (of the Nicholas Brothers), showing and talking about versions of T.O.B.A break:

Solo Jazz Dance steps as improvisational “break”

“Improvisation, for the black idiomatic dancer … is the key element in the creation of vernacular dance. From the 19th century cakewalk through the Charleston of the twenties and the Lindy hop of the thirties and forties, Black dancers inserted an improvisational “break” that allowed couples to separate at various points so that they could have maximum freedom of movement” (The Routledge Dance Studies Reader, p.232)

It is important to mention that couple dances are a derivative from the European tradition in African American dances like cakewalk, Charleston, Lindy hop, shag, foxtrot, etc. There doesn’t seem to be any tradition of close embrace dances in west Africa. Dancing apart allows for the better dialog with the music.

However through improvisation, experimentation and imitation the early African - American inventors of the Lindy hop created a style that was uniquely their own, finding room for improvisation and exploration in a couples dance. While also allowing lots of space for break aways and solo moments to express your individuality fully.

This emphasis on solo dancing also becomes essential when we speak about Jam Circles and Jams, where dancers are encouraged to enter a circle of people, and dance at usually a very fast tempo to show their virtuosity, style and individual expression, again rooted in the African traditions of ring shouts and circles.

"Ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it"

No matter what steps you are doing the most important in jazz is style, musicality and personality. "Ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it" as the famous song goes. Jazz is an alive organism, it call for innovation, freshness and creativity. Knowing classic steps, their roots and origins is essential to move forward.

"A good dancers is the one who converses with music, clearly hears and feels the beat, and is capable of using different parts of the body to create visualisations of the rhythm" (Steppin' on the Blues, p. 15)

To me this video of Albert (Al) Minns and Leon James partying just says it all. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to own the party like these two incredible African American dancers.

 

As always this is a brief summary of some classic Solo Jazz Dance steps, there is so much to learn so get reading on the resources I citied below.

When you are learning solo jazz dance online, or taking online jazz dance classes, this is fundamental to your learning, and can only help to improve it. I know you may ask Ksenia is this necessary? or Ksenia is it more important I spend time on my dancing than learning? For me they come together, learn to dance online, then read books on the train, and practice in the office or near by. Take local classes nearby. All of this will help you on your journey to becoming an amazing solo jazz dancer!

 

Sources:

  1. Steppin’ on The Blues The Visible Rhythms of African American dance by Jacqui Malone
  2. Ring Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery By Katrina Dyonne Thompson
  3. Hot Feet and Social Change: African Dance and Diaspora Communities edited by Kariamu Welsh, Esailama Diouf, Yvonne Daniel
  4. Tappin’ at the Apollo: The African American Female Tap Dance Duo Salt and Pepper By Cheryl M. Willis
  5. Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins by Cholly Atkins, Jacqui Malone
  6. Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches edited by Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver
  7. Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance By Anthea Kraut
  8. African Dance: An Artistic, Historical, and Philosophical Inquiry edited by Kariamu Welsh-Asante
  9. The Routledge Dance Studies Reader edited by Alexandra Carter, Jens Giersdorf, Yutian Wong
  10. Meaning in Motion: New Cultural Studies of Dance by Jane Desmond
  11. Africanisms in American Culture edited by Joseph E. Holloway
  12. The Jazz Cadence of American Culture edited by Robert G. O'Meally
  13. Juba to jive: the dictionary of African-American slang by Clarence Major
  14. THE SPIRIT MOVES: A History of Black Social Dance on Film Screener  by Mura Dehn in 3 parts:
    1. Part 1 Jazz dance from turn of the century 'til 1950 (44 min.) 
    2. Part 2 Savoy Ballroom of Harlem, 1950's (34 min.) 
    3. Part 3 pt. 2: Postwar era, 1950-1975 (40 min.)

Written by Ksenia Parkhatskaya

Researched by Ksenia Parkhatskaya

Edited by Ksenia Parkhatskaya

Discover how to improve your solo jazz dance with 3 essential habits. Learn how to improve and help you refine your solo jazz movement and style.

1. Film yourself, film yourself, film yourself

The great Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in their latter years would spend large parts of a studio budget on months of pre-production and filming of dance rehearsals. They knew that only through watching themselves back on camera could they see how their movements and dance actually looked. At times Fred Astaire would insist on having three cameras filming him from three different angles while dancing. That allowed him to see what the best angle for the movements and the best viewpoint for the dance was. Both of them had the experience of watching themselves back on tape and in so many movies. They could learn more about themselves and perfect their dance: style, lines, and angles.

Fast forward to 2020 and we can all do this, practically for free, yet take it for granted. So here’s my first advice:

Go buy a simple tripod or gorilla clamp for your phone and record your practice sessions

Why is it important to film your solo jazz practice?

Be your own coach

It is wonderful to have a private Solo jazz dance class, to be tête-à-tête with the teacher in a dance room. You can always rely on that he/she will make notes on what is working and what not and will help to make adjustments. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. Some of us are lucky enough to practice alone in a dance studio with mirrors, though some only have space in the living room with no mirrors. Even with a mirror, you don’t see a true representation of the movements you are actually making (not the ones you think you are making).

It’s very hard to look at yourself from the distance in this scenario, to see yourself from the outside. Simply start a new practice habit, film yourself and review it later.  Be your own coach. If you are learning solo jazz dance online this is especially important.

Discover your strengths and weaknesses, to improve your solo jazz dance

From my own experience, I can tell that I improved so much from being my own dance mentor. After each practice, I have the same habit. I go for a little ritual. I take a coffee on a square next to my home and watch the videos of my practice. Even though I was not always happy when I saw the videos, it taught me a lot. Certainly watching the playback taught me throughout the year to accept myself, to love myself and my movements more. It also helped me improve how I worked with my face and arms. I used to have this black depressive look on my face while I concentrated so hard. I went through the acceptance phase and together with it started to learn more about what makes my dance mine, what are my strengths, how I can improve and control every part of my body from my face, to my fingers, to my toes and arms.

Filming yourself while dancing is the fastest step to seeing where your weaknesses and strengths are.

Additionally, reviewing practice videos taught me to improve a lot of elements in my solo jazz dance and in my swing dancing And Lindy hop. For instance, for a long time, I was unhappy with the work of my arms and palms. They were dead, not expressive and most of the time in a fist position. Noting that on the video and wanting to change helped me develop different ways of practicing and focusing on just that element of my Solo Jazz dance.

Here is an example of one of my personal practice sessions. Here I work on another element that I always wanted to improve - rhythm dancing. I created a task for myself to use swinging 8th note as much as I can.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B6ptpu0FHxV/

Take the first step towards your own style in solo jazz dance

As much as making a video of my dance practice helped me to see the potential for improvement, it can also help us find our “diamond”. That thing that is so unique to only you, that makes you different and makes you you,  - your strength. It is precious to recognise your strengths.

We are all very good at going to a dance event and judging others. We have an incredible ability no matter what level of the dancer we are to see the faults in others and recognise them: “oh he’s very stiff”,  “she keeps repeating the same moves”, “he is off time”, etc. Equally, we can see the good things: “wow, his footwork is so precise”, “her arms are like wings” or “he just delivers the dance so well!”. This means we inherently understand for ourselves what we like and don’t like in dance.  It’s easy, so let's make a practice habit of it when we work on our solo jazz and let’s use it to our advantage.

Film yourself, watch the recaps and give yourself an honest review of your dance movement and how you would like to see it improve.

Ask yourself...

Simply doing this does not mean it will improve, but you will know what you need to work on. Ask yourself, what is the ideal image of yourself on the dance floor or stage? What are the key things in your solo jazz dancing you need to improve and what habits do you need to develop them? Next, practice to work on the element you chose to improve again. By making it a practice habit, you can go deeper into this process and advance. This will open a path of refining your style.

If you really want to add focus, and intensity to this system, plan on releasing your practice video online. When we are learning solo jazz dance online, and taking online solo jazz dance classes we feel alone and safe. This is great, but sometimes a bit of judgement can be good, to help you focus. Nothing will make you focus, and try to refine and improve your dancing more than this. Anyone that follows my Instagram page @secretsofsolo will see how many practice videos I release. What people don’t know is, that for every video I release, there are 20 others that I don’t release.

practice videos

In some small way, these are mini-performances, and knowing that I will release the video puts me in that mindset. Which is the exact mindset you need, to push you to improve your dancing, and ask the hard questions.

2. Set goals and time limits before practice

Online solo jazz dance classes are great, and I really believe Secrets of Solo is an amazing way to learn solo jazz dance. But it has one downside. Although I have done everything to create a system to work through, I can’t tell you when to start each day, or how to frame a practice session.

What is so great about a live class is you arrive, you warm-up, work on something, and most importantly it ends. Usually, the class ends with a recap and the teacher saying “great job, see you next week”. You don’t get this in online learning, and although subtle, this difference is essential. Here is how my online learning used to go. I’d open a video, try a few moves, realize it was difficult and maybe give up. How sad is that! I'd love to emphasise on how important it is to leave each practice session with a sense of growth, a sense of development no matter how small. As Tony Robbins says “The fastest way to happiness is growth”

The fastest way to happiness is growth

Prepare for the next practice

No one will give you that “great job” with online learning, and online dance classes, so you have to do it yourself. So here's a little advice on habits. Before you practice, even the day before, open up some videos, find a move, or choreography, or frame you like, and set an intention. “Tomorrow I will spend 30 minutes learning this one thing” or “Tomorrow I will learn that thing” (with no time limit, instead of goal setting). At the end of your set time, no matter how the practice went, say “Well done, you came and practiced” to yourself, and feel good about it. And that’s the key, you will leave the dance session feeling like you did something. There is nothing else you need to do.

To become a better dancer you just need to show up and practice, consistently, no matter how short the session

It is not important what level of dancer you are and even if you practice only 10 minutes a day - you will improve. You will be better than yourself who didn't do that. Will it be as much as someone who practices for two hours a day? Probably not. But better than your former self, 100%, and, to emphasise, it gives a sense of growth, a sense of the development,  happiness and a desire to do it again. You will be the dancer you want to be, in just small daily steps.

A wise man doesn’t compare his development in comparison to others but in comparison to the person, he was yesterday.

3. Write down everything you do while practicing solo jazz

We have a great tracking system on Ksenia's Secrets of Solo. It shows what you’ve already learned and gone through and gives a sense of progress. We get our little gold tick after each lesson. For those that don’t know, you get a certificate when you complete a full course. But maybe 8 weeks down the road you won’t remember how a practice session actually went.

Start taking a journal or make it a habit to keep notes about your dancing on your computer.

Take 2 or 3 minutes after each dance practice session for a quick “resume”. What did I practice? What did I learn? Why didn’t it work? Was I distracted, if so why? How can I remove distractions and focus? Did I have a clear intention before the practice? Did I have a goal and did I accomplish it? What’s my goal for tomorrow's dance training?

Tracking your progress

This simple method of tracking and monitoring practice will keep you informed, motivated, and goal orientated. You will be able to look back at any time over the year, and realize “Yes, I did a lot of work, I have improved, good job”. It is exactly this motivation we need to show up the next day, and the next day again. Who wants to go back to the thing that makes them feel bad and lower their self-esteem every day? Though we do have to understand why something made us feel bad during the practice, in order to work on it, we still need to leave each practice session feeling good.

How to improve your solo jazz dance, just do this:

Set fixed-length sessions, with goals, film them and write it down after.

A great habit to improve your solo jazz dance. This way you can become your own coach. You’ll see what you have worked on and you’ll see where you are putting your time. Comes a time when you feel low and like you are not improving, you can go back 3 or 6 months and watch that old training video. When you compare it to today’s one you will see the changes. After all you’ll get that sense of accomplishment that is missing from online dance teaching. It will indeed motivate you to practice, which is the only thing you need to do.

Just small regular, consistent, focused dance practice sessions, with recorded feedback

Finally, if you are a premium member to Ksenia's Secrets of Solo, send me one of those practice sessions and ask me for advice. Personal feedback will help you more than anything to improve your solo jazz dance. What do I think are the key things you should work on? We are all terrified to film ourselves but know that no one is judging you. We are all on the same road, just different parts of it. So someone further down the road will only see themselves five or ten years ago. Doesn't matter if you are a touring solo performer next year, or can now simply bounce in time, as long as it’s an improvement for you.

Written by Ksenia Parkhatskaya

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Become a member of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo

Due to an overwhelming amount of positive feedback to my performances and classes, I have decided to launch a website with online dance courses. Dancers can access these online dance classes by becoming a member. If you become a member, you will get full access to all courses of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo Online Dance Classes. But that's not all!

Why should I become a member?

If you become a member of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo Online Dance Classes, you will get full access to all four online solo dance courses. Solo Jazz 101, World of Kicks, Secrets of Improvisation and Secrets of the Charleston 20s. There is more to come though, and members will get access to any new course as well!

However, there is more. Members get access to Jam Circle, the online community platform of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo. Here you can connect with other dancers, join Q&A sessions and receive personal video feedback from Ksenia herself!

Also, you will have access to private music playlists for all courses. That makes it a lot more easy to practice at home or at a studio.

What if I don't like it?

All membership options have a 30-day-money-back-guarantee. Also, you can cancel your membership at all times. I cannot imagine you won't like it, but if you do, there are ways to cancel your membership of course!

How do I become a member?

Check out the subscription plans here to find the right fit for you. We have multiple options for you to choose from, so there is always one plan that best fit your needs.

 

“Thanks for visiting! I hope to see you at the next dance event, jazz concert or body painting festival. If you have any questions, please contact me right away.”   ❤ —Ksenia

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