The History of Dance Styles

Lauren Nagamine, Journalist

Dance has not been the same as we now know it. Each specific style has its own history and evolution. Some even date back to the renaissance! Ballet, Jazz, Hip-hop, and Lyrical have all a fascinating history and development.



Ballet originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 5th and 16th centuries. It spread from Italy to France with the help of Catherine de Medici. The Medici family was a wealthy noble family who funded the arts. A century later, King Louis XIV helped to popularize and standardize the art form. In 1661, a major dance academy opened in Paris. After, ballet moved from courts to the stage in ballet operas. French ballet master Jean Georges Noverre believed that ballet should stand as its own art form. He believed that ballet should contain expressive, dramatic movements and that each piece should contain a narrative. This led to the variety of ballet that became popular in the 19th century. Famous ballets like La Sylphide and Giselle were created in the Romantic Movement in the first half of the 19 century. This is the same time that pointe dancing became the new normal. In the second half of the 29th century, ballet became very popular in Russia. The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker were created during this era. The time period valued classical techniques including high extensions, turnout, and precision of movement. 



Jazz dance originated in Africa and came to America via the slave trade. Enslaved Africans would perform moves like the Cakewalk and the Pattin’ Juba on plantations. In the beginning, jazz dancers only danced to blues music with moves like the Charleston, Jitterbug, and the Boogie Woogie. In the 1940s and 50s, it became very popular in ballrooms. This is the same time that it became a studied technique and not just a form of social dancing. Some famous jazz dancers and choreographers include Bob Fosse, Katherine Dunham, Gus Giordano, and Jack  Cole. Now, the style is popular in music videos and dance competitions.



Hip-hop began in the 1960s and 70s in New York. It started with individuals who did not have any professional dance training but had a natural instinct for movement. So, they took dance to the streets. Hip-hop had elements of African dance, tap, and swing. People like the Jackson Five and DJ Herc were major influences on this style. Boogaloo Same invented a move called ‘popping’ and John Cambellock invented ‘locking’. Today, they are two of the most commonly used moves in hip-hop. In the 80s and 90s, Hip-hop became extremely popular. Dancers choreographed more recognizable moves and it became competitive. Hip-hop dancers all around the nation participated in dance battles.



The lyrical dance originated from ‘dream ballet’ sequences on broadway shows like Oklahoma and West Side Story. They portrayed strong emotions and gave the characters more depth. It also has the influence of Russian dance that contributed to the style with the fluidity of the arms and strength of the beck. The Cirque du Soleil made the style very popular and inspired dancers to choreograph acrobatics in their pieces. The style gained popularity in the late 1990s and 2000s with the help of a TV show, So You Think You Can Dance? From then on, lyrical dance has been incredibly popular at dance competitions. 


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