Jazz dance is a form of modern dance which is heavily influenced by the sounds, rhythms, and techniques of jazz music. Like jazz music, this type of dance is highly individual, with an emphasis on showcasing individual skills, and dancers who specialize in it are skilled at improvisation as well as working with other dancers to achieve a desired look and feel. Many regions of the world offer classes in this type of dance, and some very accomplished dancers and choreographers work in this field.
Like the music which inspired it, jazz dance has its roots in the African-American community in the United States. Various forms of jazz dance were being performed as early as the late 1800s, and by the First World War, it had become an accepted and well known genre. This dance form went on to heavily influence Broadway choreography and, in turn, Hollywood choreography, and it has also seeped heavily into ballet and modern dance.
Most talented jazz dancers start out in the field of ballet. In ballet classes, they learn control, skill, and grace, and they tone and condition their bodies for dancing. Once dancers have mastered the discipline of ballet, they can pursue additional training in jazz dancing, which hones improvisation skills, teaching dancers to move with the beat and to riff off each other in performance. Skilled dancers with jazz training can be in great demand, appearing in films, Broadway productions, and dance performances all over the world, with some noted choreographers working in a wide variety of genres, from television commercials to drill teams.
Jazz is known for being heavily syncopated and unpredictable, thanks to its African influences, and jazz dance is the same way. Dancers may be slow, dreamlike, and graceful, or they may move abruptly and sharply, executing fantastic leaps and other feats. As a result, they must be physically very flexible, and very attuned to the music they dance to.
Some jazz dance is heavily structured and choreographed, while other performances build in room for improvisation. In group performance, improvisation must be carefully executed, with the dancers working together so that they do not clash or distract from the harmony of the piece, just like jazz musicians. This form of dance does not necessarily have to be performed to jazz music, although it often is, and it can integrate skills from other fields of dance, like tap; the original jazz dance, in fact, was tap dance, with dancers branching out into other styles only in the early 1900s.