dancer brandon oneal wearing all black striking a jazz pose in front of an orange brick wall

7 Essential Jazz Moves To Help You Improv

Key Points: 

  • Many dancers have been taught to improvise during contemporary classes, but when it comes to other styles of improvisation, it’s easy to feel like you don’t know where to begin. 
  • We teamed up with Saleemah Knight for the essential jazz dance moves every dancer should know to help boost their improvisation confidence in jazz.  
  • Head to the CLI Studios YouTube Channel to learn “Spank The Baby,” “Attack Annie,” “Truckin’,” “Al & Leon James Triplet,” “The Charleston,” “The Applejack,” and “Shorty George” from professional dancer and dance professor Saleemah E. Knight.

Have you ever been at the end of a jazz dance class, ready to give the combo your all one last time, when your teacher says, “Okay! This time improv for the first 2 counts of 8!” and suddenly you find yourself frozen? We’ve definitely been there!

It’s easy to feel like you’ve forgotten every jazz move you’ve ever learned when faced with a section of improv in class – but we’re here to help! We teamed up with dance professor and choreographer Saleemah E. Knight for a quick confidence boost when it comes to jazz dance improvisation.

Jazz Moves That Every Dancer Should Know

1. Spank The Baby

Saleemah E. Knight demonstrates the "spank the baby" dance move at cli studios in front of a purple wall.

A must-know for jazz dancers! Explore polycentric movement and find a groove in this classic jazz move.

2. Attack Annie

Saleemah E. Knight demonstrates the "attack annie" at cli studios in front of a purple wall.

A cool yet energetic move that requires the whole body. Find internal and external rotation of the knees while swinging the arm in a quick circular motion. Find internal and external rotation of the knees while swinging the arm in a quick circular motion.

3. Truckin’

Saleemah E. Knight demonstrates the "truckin dance" at cli studios in front of a purple wall.

You’ve probably found yourself dancing this before! Alternate between your right and left legs while pointing your finger in this classic hopping step.

4. Al & Leon James Triplet

Saleemah E. Knight demonstrates the "charleston" at cli studios in front of a purple wall.

Don’t be afraid to add your own style in this jazz dance move! Move from parallel to turned out position as you cross your legs in a single, single, double, double pattern.

5. The Charleston

Saleemah E. Knight demonstrates the "al & leon james triplet" at cli studios in front of a purple wall.

Discover bucking and winging movement in a basic Charleston stepping pattern while swinging your arms during this energetic dance. Next, find velocity by adding in a chasse and a scuff at the top!

6. The Applejack

Saleemah E. Knight demonstrating the "apple jack dance" at cli studios infront of a purple wall.

Start this quick move with a smooth jump and snap before swiveling your hips in a backward stepping motion. Feel free to get creative with the direction!

7. Shorty George

Saleemah E. Knight demonstrating the "apple jack dance" at cli studios infront of a purple wall.

Move your body as one group in this classic step. Make an asymmetrical shape with your arms and legs while taking alternating steps.

Next time you’re in jazz class, know that you are fully prepared to take on the improvisation section of the combo. Head to the CLI Studios YouTube Channel to try some of the moves above.

If you want to continue training with Saleemah, check out a few of her classes in our on-demand library!

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