How to Jazz Dance: Moves for Beginners

Jazz dance throws the rule book out the window. Adapted from African American styles of dance in the late 1800s, jazz dancing focuses more on expression than it does on rigid choreography and routines. African ritual and celebratory dances from the 17th century are the foundation of the jazz style we know today.

Howcast makes it easy to learn how to jazz dance with an extensive video tutorial library taught by professional instructors and choreographers. Our free video lessons are great for both beginners and advanced dancers! With easy to follow and simple instructions, you’ll be dancing in no time.

The Charleston

Named after the famous harbor city in South Carolina, The Charleston had peaked in popularity between 1926 and 1927. It burst into mainstream pop culture when it appeared in the Broadway show “Runnin’ Wild.”

Today’s version of the Charleston is highly versatile, as it can be performed solo, with a partner, or with a group. The style lends itself well to improvisation and creativity too! Even when performed solo, The Charleston remains a social dance, as it is still often danced with groups in Lindy Hop and Swing communities.

The primary step pattern resembles a natural walking movement but is performed in a fixed place. Dancers swing their arms backward and forward—moving the opposite leg along with the arm. For instance, as the right arm pivots forward, the left leg moves forward. Point your feet at an angle as you extend your legs.

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Swing Dancing

Between the 1920s and 1940s, Jazz music took on a new face: swing. From this popular new genre of music came the swing dance. This period is even known as the Swing Era, which tells you how popular this dance was!

There are many variations of swing dancing, including the Lindy Hop, Balboa, Collegiate Shag, The Charleston, and more. Most of these dances were influenced by African American and jazz culture.

Swing dancing paved the way for Disco, Country Line Dancing, and Hip Hop. There are still groups today that practice social swing dancing, and there are many special events held around the dance style. Learn how to swing dance with our free video tutorials!

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East Coast Swing

A genre of swing, east coast swing was developed by dance studios in the 1940s and heavily based on the Lindy Hop. The instructors who created the style felt that the Lindy Hop was a bit too advanced for their beginner students, so they made necessary adjustments to make it more suitable for all levels. As east coast swing was designed to be easy to pick up for beginners, it’s a great style of Traditional Jazz dance for anyone to learn!

East Coast Swing goes by many different names, depending on the region. Eastern Swing, East Coast Lindy, American Swing, Lindy, Single Swing, Triple Swing, and Jitterbug. Compared to the West Coast Swing, the East Coast Swing is a more rotational dance style, whereas the West version is a slotted dance. They are both performed in a social setting.

Depending on the particular instructor and region, the basic single step of the East Coast Swing is either “rock step, step, step” or “step, step, rock step.” Either way, the rock step starts on the downbeat. Let’s get swinging!

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Jive

Inspired by the African American style of jazz in the United States during the 1940s, jive became a popular mainstream dance style. Influenced by the early forms of swing dancing and the jitterbug, it’s a Latin style of ballroom dance that has a lively feel to it.

Jive is compared to Rock n’ Roll Dance, but unlike Rock n’ Roll, it includes a syncopated chassé in the choreography. Jive includes a few specific dances, like swing boogie, the boogie woogie, and more.

Danced in pairs, the male partner will lead the basic six-step count. It consists of a rock step on counts one and two--with the left foot moving back and the right foot replacing. Chassé to the left on counts three and four and then to the right on counts five and six. Now your jiving!

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Tap Dancing

Perhaps one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable styles of dance, tap dancing became extremely popular during the Vaudeville era. Dancers use shoes with tiny percussive instruments on the bottom, to create rhythm while performing. Tap is both a solo and a social dance style.

Tap dance has many cultural influences, including Spanish, Irish jigs, traditional African, and English clog dancing. It’s not precisely known when Tap Dancing was created, as there is evidence of its origins in both the 1700s and the mid-1800s.

Performers highly improvise during a tap dance routine. It can be danced to the rhythm of a song, but it can also be performed a cappella without music, which is unique to this style of dance.

Along with ballet and other jazz dancing forms, tap is one of the most taught styles in dance schools and classes. It’s fun and entertaining for everyone to learn, it teaches improvisation and discipline, and it helps students develop their rhythm—especially if they’re performing a cappella.

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Can’t Stop Dancing?

We hope you’re having fun with video series on how to jazz dance! For even more great dance tutorials, check out our main How to Dance page, or discover new styles in our guide on the most popular types of dance.