Dress Code for Jazz
If fashion choices are interfering with your ability to see your jazz dancers clearly, consider a stricter dress code. It made a big difference for me.
When I took a ballet class with several of my jazz students and saw the technical problems that were glaringly obvious in their black leotards and pink tights, I wished that I could see the corrections as clearly when they were in my jazz classes. Evidently, some dancers were hiding slightly bent legs under sweats and alignment issues under loose-fitting tanks.
Since I taught an advanced jazz class whose students came straight from ballet, I tried an experiment. I told them about my epiphany and asked them to begin wearing their ballet leotards with black shorts to my class. Initially they weren’t excited, but they complied. My ability to see corrections improved drastically.
The following year I taught the same students. Since they no longer took a ballet class that preceded the jazz class, I modified the dress code—shorts and a leotard or sports bra. I gave them the sports-bra option because many of them hated wearing leotards. Although some students chose to stick with leotards, others found that wearing a sports bra improved their ability to self-correct because the alignment of their ribcages and use of their abdominal muscles were more visible.
A few parents questioned the studio owner about the modesty of the sports bras. She responded that seeing small corrections was crucial at this point in their child’s progress and that this new rule wouldn’t change the policy of choosing modest costumes for performances.
An amazing thing happened. The lower-level teens saw what the advanced classes were wearing and started following the dress code on their own. Their technique improved as much as the advanced dancers’ had. I couldn’t believe it!
We have all watched our students do a combination that is flat—no highs or lows, just a string of technical tasks. How do we get them to discover the dynamic landscape of any ordinary classroom combination?
Asking students to find steps or parts of a ballet combination that could be performed with a different dynamic quality than they normally would do requires them to understand the natural qualitative differences in the vocabularies of petit allegro (small and fast), adagio (slow and controlled), and grand allegro (large and fast). It also encourages them to consider the dynamic options possible for each movement even within the constraints of the musical construct. This is particularly important because it hints at the concept of individual performance style and musicality.
Let’s say we are working on a ballet pirouette combination that is performed to a luscious waltz. Rather than the students getting lost in a three-quarter rhythmic flow for the duration of the combination, have them approach a series of passé relevés with a petit allegro–like attack. They may discover a port de bras sequence in which they can tap into an adagio mind-set and imbue it with more fullness. A series of waltz and châiné turns may be identified as the grand allegro portion of the combination, and the students can put more spatial push into it.
This exercise can help students perform even familiar classroom combinations with more dynamic versatility.
I employ this technique in modern class as well, using ballet vocabulary to identify different categories of movement. In addition to helping them better define movement qualities, this helps all my students understand how ballet serves their dancing, making ballet class useful and relevant rather than, as some seem to think, archaic and pointless.