PureDWTS Guest Blog: The Basics Of Contemporary And Jazz

What an awesome new Guest Blog by Kaitlyn!! Being Kaitlyn has trained in Contemporary and Jazz, she thought she’d go over the basics for us….especially since Dancing With The Stars has been reaching for other kinds of dancing styles besides ballroom these past few seasons and since some of the couples have had to do a Contemporary dance during week 1. So, without further ado, below is Kaitlyn. She also has some fun questions for us to answer at the end. 😉 Ok, read on…

The Basics Of Contemporary And Jazz

Most of us regular viewers of Dancing with the Stars are familiar at this point with the basics of each of the 10 dances and the few that they add in once in a while (Argentine Tango, Salsa, Mambo, ect). I spent 15 years as what we like to call a “studio dancer”, meaning that I trained and danced competitively in ballet, contemporary, jazz, hip hop, ect (think Dance Moms minus the yelling and screaming and having dancers pinned against one another), so I’m actually more familiar with the new “regular” dances that they’ve added, contemporary and jazz, than I am with the ballroom dances.

For my guest post, I wanted to cover the basics behind each of these genres and give you some examples of different types of each and what a great piece looks like. I was originally going to try to pull pieces that weren’t from So You Think You Can Dance for examples, but it became a bit challenging. In most pieces that you’ll see of competitive dancers, they will be dancing as a group rather than as partners. Because of that, I decided to use some SYTYCD so you can see how the dance is done with partner work and then throw in another group piece just for your own entertainment ☺

Contemporary is a form of dance that has emerged more recently than other styles. It’s more of a combination of modern and ballet with touches of jazz. Contemporary is a lot about the unpredictable. You never know when something is going to suddenly stop and start, when you’ll see rises and falls, or changes in speed. Contemporary is of course about the technique and having the right lines, the flexibility and leg work, and the turns.

Most importantly with contemporary, it’s about the emotion and the story. Now a day with SYTYCD and DWTS, they like to tell us in the pre-dance packages what the story is going to be about, but the beauty of a contemporary piece is being able to understand the story just from watching the dance. It’s not about what you can do technically; it’s about how you can make someone feel. I think that’s why I enjoyed Kellie and Derek’s freestyle so much. In their package, it focused on how they created the dance, but when you watched the routine you could feel the story they were telling.

The first dance I chose for an example was from Season 9 of SYTYCD with Chehon Wespi-Tschopp and Allison Holker. This was choreographed by Stacey Tookey and is a great example of the unpredictable. I honestly didn’t like Chehon until this piece and of course Allison can just do no wrong.

The next dance I picked was from Season 8 of SYTYCD with Sasha Mallory and Kent Boyd. I’m usually not a huge fan of Tyce Diorio because he tends to be hit or miss with a lot of his work, but this was a huge hit. Christina Applegate said it best when she was judging that night (she’s an actress, but a huge advocate for the dance world and a trained ballet dancer) “There have been girls in this competition who can développé and pitch to the side and do 20 pirouettes and land perfectly … and I don’t care. You put your finger against a wall and you break my heart.”

Finally for contemporary is a group piece from Shaping Sound Dance Company, founded by Travis Wall, Teddy Forance, Nick Lazzarini, and Kyle Robinson. I saw them when they were on tour in Boston last year and it is one of the most incredible dance shows I have ever seen. The entire show was so well thought out and diverse and kept me on the edge of my seat. The lead female in the piece is Jaimie Goodwin who danced the box piece with Derek. Make sure you keep watching to the end because the 2nd half is my favorite.

Jazz is such a diverse type of dance. Example: week 2 of season 16. During this week we had 3 jazz dances and each song lent itself to a different type of jazz dance. Kellie and Derek had a contemporary jazz, Jacoby and Karina had Classical Jazz, and Andy and Sharna had Pop Jazz. Jazz is a very high-energy dance that focuses a lot on syncopated rhythms with a variety of kicks, leaps and turns. I didn’t pull a video for contemporary jazz, but it has a softer feel than most jazz songs, but still has a lot of sharp movements and a high energy to it.

Pop Jazz is what you would see for a lot of back up dancers for musicians. Most of these pieces are to current pop music and are usually pretty hard hitting. I picked Jeanine Mason and Brandon Bryant on Season 5 of SYTYCD, which is choreographed by Laurieann Gibson who was Lady Gaga’s choreographer for an extended period of time.

I love more of a classical jazz that focuses on the beginnings of the style…namely, Bob Fosse. This is really where jazz all began and how it became more of an outside the box kind of dance. Fosse consists of turned in feet, jazz hands and very specific type of movement. This piece is a modern day twist on Bob Fosse with Melanie Moore and Marko Germar from Season 8 of SYTYCD, choreographed by Mandy Moore (who did a lot of openings for DWTS in Season 17).

Finally for jazz, I have included this dance from SYTYCD Canada with Jordan Clark and Christian Millette, which was choreographed by Sean Cheesman who has also done some work for the US version. This isn’t really a type of jazz, but it’s more on the sexy end, which you tend to see a lot these days (maybe not on DWTS). Jordan is beyond incredible and you can really see her jazz technique in this piece.

In this day and age, all styles of dance are starting to become a lot more combined. You’re more likely to see a dance with all of these styles mixed together. Choreographers are becoming lot more liberal and lending the movement to the music they hear rather than staying specific within a style. When I was competing myself, one category that we used a lot was “Open”, which means that your piece doesn’t really fit into any category exclusively. One dance that I LOVE that reminds me of this is “Dirty Orchestra” choreographed by Kate Jablonski. There is ballet, hip-hop, contemporary and jazz and it’s such a great example of fusion.

I’m personally back and forth about whether or not I like these new styles being included on DWTS. This is a ballroom dancing show so it’s odd to see them try to break outside of what’s worked. It’s also challenging to see pros who are mainly only trained in ballroom try to teach someone when they’re not as trained themselves. On the other hand, I love to see pros that know what they’re doing in other styles (Derek and Sharna mainly for me and sometimes Mark) step up the game of DWTS and give us something that we’ve never seen before. I also like to see pros having a bit more freedom so they don’t feel obligated to stay within the rules all the time. In the end I like seeing these on the show, I just wished they held off until later in the season to include them (like Salsa and Argentine Tango).

Let me know how you feel about contemporary and jazz on DWTS. Do you think it’s too much for the dancers or do you enjoy something new on the show? Do you see them adding any other styles of dance in the future? Do you have any other dances that you love in these styles that don’t include our pros/troupe? (If so, no links in the comments!) And of course, let me know if you have any questions about these styles!