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Traditional Jazz Steps

This is an excerpt from Beginning Jazz Dance With Web Resource by James Robey.

Traditional jazz steps derive from historical jazz dance styles. These steps include weight shifts and elevations combined with characteristic body positions and arm gestures. In this section, they are presented in historical order, starting with the oldest. Often, traditional jazz steps are recycled into new dance styles. As you explore these steps, see whether you can recognize aspects or even the whole step in current dance styles.


Flick Kick

  • Flick kick: a kick performed by lifting a knee while bent, extending the leg sharply, and then bending it again on the way down. This step can be done small, medium, or large.

Self-Check

  • The extension should be sharp, like a flicking motion.
  • Keep the supporting leg and the spine straight.


Cakewalk

  • Cakewalk: a leaping kick forward that begins with a small leap onto one foot while the other leg flick kicks and is then immediately repeated on the other side. This step is often done with the torso leaning slightly backward.

Self-Check

  • The extension should be sharp, like a flicking motion.
  • Keep the supporting leg and the spine straight.
  • Leap immediately after the flick kick onto that same leg to repeat on the other side.

Did You Know?

The cakewalk was a popular dance tradition among slaves on plantations in the 19th century. White performers appropriated the step and presented it in minstrel shows.


Sugar

  • Sugar: starts with the feet in jazz second position and weight equally on both feet. Change weight to the ball of the left foot and pivot to the right on the ball of the left foot until the left toe is pointed to the right. At same time step on ball of the right foot with the toe pointed to the right. Reverse. The step can be done on a straight leg or with knees bent, on the balls of the feet, or on the whole foot.

Self-Check

  • Let the hips switch from side to side but keep the torso facing front.
  • Stay on the balls of the feet and stay with the music. Try changing tempos.


Charleston

  • Charleston: a step forward on one foot, small flick kick forward with the other foot, step back with the free foot, and then touch behind with the original foot.

Self-Check

  • For variation, try the 1920s flapper version by replacing the flick kick with a touch forward, turning the feet in on the upbeat, and turning them out on each step and touch.
  • To try the 1940s Lindy hop version of the Charleston, do a low flick kick forward with the left while making a small hop on the right. Make a small leap on the left while doing a low flick kick forward with the right and then hop on the left. Do a low flick kick to the side with the right foot, step back on the right foot, and finish with a ball change back front with the left foot and then the right foot. Repeat. Try reversing feet.


Shorty George

  • Shorty George: a step with the knees together, stepping slightly forward on one foot while swinging the knees and hips to the same side as the stepping foot with the heels barely off the ground. Repeat to the other side and in sequence.

Self-Check

  • The Shorty George was named after jitterbug and Lindy hop dancer "Shorty" George Snowden in the 1930s. He could do this step underneath his partner's long legs.
  • Make this step fun. Find your own way of doing it and don't try to be too correct.


Crazy Legs

  • Crazy legs: a step donewith the knees bent and a forced arch on both feet. On the "and" count, both knees open up as weight shifts to one foot. On the "a" count, both knees return to the original position. The step was popularized in the 1940s in the Lindy hop.

Self-Check

  • This step should create the comical effect of the legs looking as if they are made of rubber.
  • Stay off the heels the entire time.


Scissor Step

  • Scissor step: a small leap onto one foot while extending the opposite leg to the side with the heel touching the floor and then doing a ball change underneath yourself, leading with the extended leg and repeating on the other side.

Self-Check

  • The flexed foot is the one that does the ball of the ball change on the way back in.
  • After the coordination and sequence of the feet are consistent, work on staying with the beat.


These jazz dance students are performing the scissor step, a quick footwork step that requires the coordination of a small leap, a touch, and a ball change.
These jazz dance students are performing the scissor step, a quick footwork step that requires the coordination of a small leap, a touch, and a ball change.

Learn more about Beginning Jazz Dance.