If I’m being honest, my journey to becoming jazz dance teacher is a long and somewhat complex one. I started taking jazz dance in addition to other dance styles as a kid, but in my pre-teen years I was terribly self-conscious and uncomfortable with the showmanship and dynamic movement involved. I went on to pre-professional ballet study with just intermittent jazz classes in high school. As a college dance major, jazz dance was not big part of the curriculum at my school, but I did have the opportunity to study and perform with some great jazz dance teachers. This reignited my love of the form and renewed my confidence to pursue it, although I remained focused on ballet and modern dance in my performing career.

Once I started teaching seriously, I recognized the need to quality jazz dance education in the studio setting. I tried to expand my jazz dance knowledge by taking a course with the National Dance Education Organization’s Online Professional Development, reading as many jazz dance books as possible, following jazz dance companies and practitioners on social media, and checking out other jazz dance resources like tutorials and documentaries – a blog post on those will be coming soon! For now, I want to share some of the jazz dance books that have been transformative in how I teach jazz dance that tries to honor the Africanist roots and aesthetics of the form, while also recognizing its evolution over time.

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If you are a dance teacher, choreographer, dance student, or dance parent interested in learning more about jazz dance, I highly recommend the jazz dance books in this list! These are a few of my favorite books on the history, style, and aesthetics of jazz dance. These jazz dance books can help you develop a new (or renewed!) appreciation for the roots of the form, assist you in developing a jazz dance curriculum or lesson plans, and help you embody the jazz dance aesthetic and style in your dancing.

Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches, Edited by Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver

This is by far my favorite jazz dance book, and the one I most often recommend to people who are looking for thoughtful discourse about the history and current practice of jazz dance. It is truly comprehensive, covering the roots of jazz dance, what makes jazz dance “jazz,” its evolution over time, other styles that have evolved from jazz dance, and current practice and issues in jazz dance. It is great for jazz technique, dance history, or dance appreciation courses, as it is broken down into easily digestible chapters including overviews of some of the major figures in jazz dance. If you want a renewed appreciation for the roots and legacy of jazz dance, and context for current jazz dance styles and practices, I highly recommend this book!

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Jazz Dance: The Story Of American Vernacular Dance, By Marshall Stearns and Jean Stearns

The study of jazz dance must include its origins in Black American vernacular dance. It is important for all students and teachers of jazz dance to know the roots of the genre so that they can embody its style, musicality, and dynamics. This seminole book traces the roots of jazz dance to African dance, music, and aesthetics, looking at jazz dance in it’s authentic form before it became intertwined with ballet and modern dance techniques to become the studio jazz form we know today. It is an important read for jazz dance students and teachers!

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Comments on Jazz Dance, By Bob Boross

I had the honor of taking a class series with Bob Boross several years ago, and was so impressed by his extensive jazz dance experience and knowledge. Every exercise was contexted in jazz dance history and often with his personal experience with the master teacher or choreographer who created or inspired it. In this compilation of his writings on jazz dance, he covers legends such as ack Cole, Bob Fosse, Matt Mattox, Frank Hatchett, Michael Owens, Lynn Simonson, Donald McKayle, Eugene Loring, Danny Buraczeski, Billy Siegenfeld, Graciela Daniele, Paul Draper, and more. The book offers great insight into jazz dance history, philosophy, and aesthetics.

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Beginning Jazz Dance, By James Robey

If you are looking for a resource to help you put together a jazz dance curriculum or lesson plans, this book is a great place to start. Robey offers a comprehensive look at basic jazz dance concepts, body positions, and steps, breaking them down in a way that os easy to incorporate into your class. This book is a good primer for new jazz dance students or their families as well as jazz dance teachers, as it introduces the history, artists, significant works, styles, and aesthetics of jazz.

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Jazz Dance Class: Beginning thru Advanced, by Gus Giordano

This is another good book to reference if you are building a a jazz dance curriculum or lesson plans. Written by Gus Giordano, this book walks you through the fundamentals of the Giordano style using illustrations of his signature exercises and terminology. Covering beginning through advanced jazz dance technique, this book can be a help tool for jazz dance students or teachers who want to understand and embody the Giordano style.

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Rooted Jazz Dance: Africanist Aesthetics and Equity in the 21st Century, Edited by Lindsay Guarino, Carlos R. a. Jones, and Wendy Oliver

This newly released jazz dance book, hot off the presses in February 2022, is on my must-read list! I am a big fan of Guarino and Oliver’s work (see above), and the contributors to this book are some of the biggest names in jazz dance today. I think it will be a helpful book for those looking to include authentic and vernacular jazz dance styles in their classes. From the book description: “Rooted Jazz Dance brings together jazz dance scholars, practitioners, choreographers, and educators from across the United States and Canada with the goal of changing the course of practice in future generations. Contributors delve into the Africanist elements within jazz dance and discuss the role of Whiteness, including Eurocentric technique and ideology, in marginalizing African American vernacular dance, which has resulted in the prominence of Eurocentric jazz styles and the systemic erosion of the roots. These chapters offer strategies for teaching rooted jazz dance, examples for changing dance curricula, and artist perspectives on choreographing and performing jazz. Above all, they emphasize the importance of centering Africanist and African American principles, aesthetics, and values.”

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The Essential Guide to Jazz Dance, By Dollie Henry and Paul Jenkins

This is another jazz dance book book on my to-read list! From the description: “From its African roots to our present-day global dance community, the jazz idiom has afforded a cross-fertilization with all other artistic, cultural, and social representations within the arts industry, providing an accessible dance platform for dancers, teachers and creatives to enjoy both recreationally and professionally. This guide offers a practical and uncomplicated overview to the multi-layered history, practices, and development of jazz dance as a creative and artistic dance form. It covers the incredible history and lineage of jazz dance; the innovators, choreographers, and dance creatives of the genre; specifics of jazz aesthetic, steps, and styles; a detailed breakdown of a practical jazz dance warm-up and technical exercises; creative frameworks to support development of jazz dance expression and aesthetic; performance and improvisation; jazz music and musical interpretation; and finally, choreographing and creating jazz works.”

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Frank Hatchett’s Jazz Dance By Frank Hatchett, Nancy Myers Gitlin, Nancy Myers Gitlin

This is an older book (published in 2000) that I still haven’t read – but intend to this year! Frank Hatchett is a true legend of jazz dance, and his pedagogy and style influenced generations of jazz dancers. This book looks like a great addition to your collection if you want to include Hatchett’s approach in your own jazz dance classes. It is another good book to reference when you are building a jazz dance curriculum or lesson plans, or if you are a jazz dance student who wants to learn more about Hatchett’s style. From the description: “A unique blend of energy, expressiveness, individual interpretation, and physical conditioning, VOP is the hot style of jazz dance that’s captivating dancers and audiences alike. Frank Hatchett–one of the most well-known, influential teachers and choreographers in the world–coined the term VOP while teaching his students how to accent a step and stylize a movement. Since that time, VOP has become synonymous with Hatchett’s style of jazz dance. …Frank Hatchett’s Jazz Dance gives you a behind-the-scenes look at Frank Hatchett and his exciting style of dance, with an in-depth look at what VOP is and where it came from.”

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Want even more books on jazz dance? Check out all of the titles available on IndieBound.org here:Shop your local indie bookstore

What are your favorite jazz dance books? Please share in the comments so I can add them to my reading list! 

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