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Jazz Tech: How to Crush the Beginner Steps

Any Chicago fans on the floor? The powerful movements of Jazz combine ballet steps with more modern moves, often with African or Celtic influences. If the fancy footwork, big jumps and quick turns don’t draw you in, the countless moments for personal expression will.

Because Jazz is a more acrobatic style of movement than most, be sure to warm up and stretch before practice, especially the hips and chest, which often produce isolated movements. Speaking of movement, let’s dive into your first Jazz steps!

Jazz Square

This iconic move is often the first one taught to beginners, because of its simplicity. Don’t be fooled though – there’s plenty of ways you can “Jazz it up” (I couldn’t help myself).

  1. Start with feet in a demi-plié position (knees slightly bent), with feet hip width apart.
  2. Step forward with the LF.
  3. Cross the RF in front of the LF.
  4. Step back with the LF.
  5. Step back with the RF to your original position.
  6. Practice starting the square with the RF, continuing with the opposite feet from above.
  7. Now, try alternating feet by pressing into the floor without weight on the last step of the square, then stepping forward with the same foot into a new square.
  8. Variation one: Add a ¼ turn, by rotating toward whichever foot begins the square. For example, if you started with the LF, turn ¼ to the left.
  9. Variation two: Add a drop on the crossing action by sinking into the knees and bending forward from the hips, righting yourself on the next step.
  10. Variation three: Try “running” through the step by dancing on the balls of your feet, making little “hops” from one step to the next. Let the momentum carry you through!


The chasse helps us use the floor to propel ourselves, and to prep for jumps. “Chasse” literally means “to chase”, referring to the way one foot chases the other as you move.

  1. Begin with knees softly bent and toes turned out, hip width apart.
  2. Step to the side with either foot.
  3. Close the second foot to the first foot.
  4. As the second foot closes, pick up and step in the same direction to create a skipping motion.
  5. Practice this action traveling to either side, and forward and backward as well.
  6. Now try closing the back foot more than once, to create multiple skips in the same direction.
  7. Variation one: Add a sharper lifting of the knee on the front foot as the back foot closes to create a “popping up” action.
  8. Variation two: Add some height to the skipping action by sinking slightly deeper into the knee of the first foot, and pushing off as the back foot closes (your feet should leave the floor just before the back foot closes).

The Layout

This exciting and dramatic move is often featured in posters to show off the energy of Jazz dancing. Take your time with this one, and pay attention to what your body is comfortable with!

  1. Step forward on a soft knee, with toes turned out.
  2. Keeping the back foot on the ground, let the upper body bend backwards, as far as you are comfortable – if you can touch the floor with your head, great!
    1. Ease any pressure on your back by lengthening up through the spine and the crown of your head.
  3. Add a sweep of the arms, sending them downward and behind, up towards your ears. Don’t sweep upward, as this will ruin your jazz line.
  4. When you feel comfortable with the arch, sweep the back leg forward and upward as your body goes back – again, the higher the better.
    1. Keep a soft bend in the standing leg.
    2. Let the upper body counter balance the sweeping leg – you shouldn’t feel you are falling forward out of the step.
  5. Variation one: Instead of sweeping the leg, bend and raise the knee before extending to create a powerful “kicking” motion.

Parting Tips

  1. Don’t sacrifice technique and placement for height and extension. It is far better to start shallow and comfortable until you are engaging the correct muscles, then gradually push it as you grow stronger.
  2. Jazz requires considerable strength, flexibility, and balance to do well, so spend some time doing Pilates or other exercises to improve your control.
  3. In particular, spend extra time toughening your legs, to prevent the standing leg from buckling during moves like the layout.
  4. As I mentioned earlier, one of the best things about Jazz is you can add you own styling to the moves. Watch videos of Jazz greats like Bob Fosse, Jack Cole, and Katherine Dunham for inspiration.



How to do a Jazz Dance Layout



About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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