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What Is Jazz Funk Dance?

A current industry favorite, jazz funk has quickly become one of the most popular dance styles. But what exactly is this style, and where did it come from? Here we’ll explore the meaning of jazz funk and its relation to other forms of dance.

Influenced by Hip-Hop Dance

Jazz funk can best be understood as a cultivated form developed in studios as a response to the organic popularity of hip-hop dance and music. As hip-hop gained popularity, its moves and beats started to distance themselves from their spontaneous origins in New York City street styles as it gained further access into music clubs and commercial television. A great demand was created for more codified and precise moves which would be used by producers and choreographers in the emerging commercial dance market around street styles. Sometimes called “street jazz,” jazz funk is defined by its distinctness from hip-hop dance in the minds of the genre’s purists, while carving out a massive niche for itself in the music videos and stage productions of the 1980s.

Bigger and Broader

Jazz funk is not an offshoot of either the jazz or funk musical genres. It came into being as an art form when choreographers saw the movements from the new world of hip-hop and merged them with elements of style from the world of dance at large. These contributions came from tap, ballet, jazz and swing dancing, and the posing theatrics of the Los Angeles LGBT street dance called waacking. Because of its associations with street style dance and hip-hop, jazz dance is sometimes mistaken for hip-hop dance. But it’s a much different creature, one whose hybrids and mutations were designed with big commercial productions in mind. Think of the difference between swing dancing in a club versus a full cast musical with sets and costumes. That’s the evolution of jazz funk. The best way to understand jazz funk is to visualize a broader more commercialized form of hip-hop dance that freely borrows from many different styles of large dance production.

From MTV to the Classroom

Seen everywhere there’s an urban influence on a big budget pop setting, jazz funk has a natural appeal to “diva” sensibilities. Music videos by Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, and Gwen Stefani have all featured jazz funk dance choreography. In a sense, it’s a more precise and scripted form of dance than hip-hop, with isolations, body rolls, swoops, and tight footwork dominating its choreography. And similar to ballet, there can be background dancers who draw the eye to the main stars in the center of the action. There are also studios and classes which specialize in jazz funk dance moves, exercises and stretches, and choreography and production. Freestyle does exist in jazz dance, particularly in studio and exercise classes, but it isn’t strictly fundamental to the genre. A great example of jazz funk dance in a prominent commercial setting would be the Fly Girls from the early ‘90s television show In Living Color.

YouTube and Beyond

Because it is so ubiquitous in big pop productions, jazz funk enjoys popularity among amateurs and YouTubers who seek to copy and build upon the moves they enjoyed watching in their formative years. Its evolution continues into the 21st century, where it retains a massive hold in fashion and pop productions worldwide. Jazz funk is a lyrical style of dance, perfect for storytelling and projecting emotional depth. It’s exciting and suggestive but without the kind of vulgarity that would undermine its mainstream appeal. It is designed to have broad appeal while still having a kind of magic and thrill in its execution.

Jazz Funk on CLI Studios

Find your rhythm and power with beginner through advanced jazz funk classes taught by choreographers like Brian Friedman, Bobby Newberry, Blake McGrath, Nika Kljun, and more! Start to explore this style’s mix of jazz technique, contemporary influences, and hip-hop grooves in beginner through advanced classes that will help you level up your dancing. You can get started with a 7-day free trial when you head to clistudios.com.

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