I’m working on a solo jazz routine these days, and it’s been a fairly challenging process. Although some of my favorite dancers are male – Skye Humphries, Berry Brothers, Al Minns & Leon James, and the list goes on- I find myself primarily going to female dancers for inspiration on this one. I’ve compiled a list of clips for your reading entertainment below, including some words about what I find interesting and/or inspiring.
Btw, if you are looking for a resources on historic female jazz dancers, then check this out.
The Dixie Dinahs, 2013
This is what it looks like to nail a modern day chorus girl routine. This performance succeeds on several levels, but mostly it does so because the choreographer wisely keeps the movements clean and the tone light-hearted. With so many dancers on the floor (I counted 16), I’d say that’s a smart approach. It gives the audience time to digest all the shapes and poses of each dancer, a few sprinklings of comedic variety, and the different group formations. This is a solid routine, packed full of charm and energy, and makes me smile a lot.
A little side note before we continue. Jospehine Baker, civil rights movement activist and first black female to star in a motion picture, started off as a chorus girl.
Laura Glaess, 2012
This one has male dancers in it, but as far as I know, Laura was the choreographer and had originally set out to make this her solo routine. I heard something to the effect that she felt the song grew too big for her somehow, requiring more energy than she thought she could deliver on her own*. Laura’s dancing is so strong in this piece, and I mean that in several ways: her perceived body tone is strong, her lines are sharp, her energy is unfailing, and her breaks are crisp as all get out. Laura’s style here doesn’t come naturally to me, so this is a good motivator to play around with some ”stronger” stylistic choices. So far I’m liking the results.
*I haven’t spoken to Laura directly about this piece, so please feel free to correct or clarify anything I’ve said in the comment section.
The W Project, 2012
This is a favorite of mine. There are many elements I want to touch on, but to start, I just adore the stage split between skirts and pants at 0:18 – it kicks off the routine with a memorable and fun moment. At 0:48, they move into two lines with the back line facing forward and the front line facing back. On the far end, the dancers are doing one type of styling, the ones next to them another, and the center dancer is doing her own thing. This moment is nice because it’s a simple idea with a few levels of complexity, giving the routine a clever signature. Admittedly I’m a sucker for a good circle choreo, and theirs at 1:27 is real charming and makes use of natural and easy transitions. The recurring theme at 1:02 and 1:45 is adorable. Bonus points for the time step at 1:55 – another thing I’m a sucker for! No, really. I can glow on and on about this performance. It’s very much in the style I like and there is so much variety to take in. It makes me happy and excited to work with ladies from my own city. Nice work, Canada!
Gina Helfrich, 2006
Nearly 7 years has passed since this was filmed and Gina may kill me for gushing about it publicly now, but this has some serious heart and personal style. One of my favorite parts is the opening “uh”, heard loud and clear through the microphone. Then there’s that windmill arm at 0:18. Overall, I admire how musical it is and if I didn’t know Gina already, I would know from watching that she’s a badass who doesn’t take any shit. It’s just how it comes across to me. This reminds me to aim for movements that come naturally to me and to try not get lost in the editing process.
Silver Shadows, 2008
This Silver Shadows routine blew my mind when I first watched it. I was new to the Lindy scene at the time, and I honestly didn’t even know what to make of this. I had so many questions.. is it solo jazz? African dance? Why aren’t they wearing shoes? I enjoy how they integrate their individual solo moments into the rest of the choreography. This is one of those pieces that grabbed my attention early on. I still watch it occasionally on my own and share with other dancers as well. I’m still aiming for this level of groundedness, openness, and expression in my own dancing. The other thing I like is the strong female thing. While they are wearing skirts, have their hair long and free, they aren’t prissy. I tend towards prissy, and it’s something I don’t always admire in my own dancing. So I keep coming back to this for ideas.
Sara Deckard, 2012
I am in awe of Sara Deckard’s dancing. There is an unpolished quality to this routine and it’s downright fabulous. Her movement style – loose, fun, free – is pretty much unattainable in my own dancing. Whenever I teach a class on solo jazz, I always mention Sara’s dancing. I say something like this to my students: “There are many ways to approach solo jazz, some of which I cannot teach you because I simply can’t emulate them well enough. Go look up videos of Sara Deckard.” I particularly like the traveling forward move she does three times at 1:18. While the choreography includes a grab bag of classic elements, it has a specific personality and is surprisingly inventive throughout. It’s a masterpiece in my mind.
Here’s a link to a Youtube playlist I put together for the purposes of this post. I didn’t write about all the videos in the playlist and I’ll probably be adding more in the future. Furthermore, I’ve left out many inspiring solo jazz dancers such as Sharon Davis, Giselle Anguizola, and Frida Segerdahl - so don’t miss out on those either!