So you think you know what jazz dance is?
People's conception of jazz dance often falls short of the reality. It's not the clichéd "jazz hands" dancing of TV sitcoms, but an art form with a multitude of layers. There is no one look or sound to it: It is influenced by the times while still maintaining a link to its past. And one way dancers and teachers keep pace with those developments is through the Jazz Dance World Congress, whose 17th-annual gathering takes place Aug. 1-4, at Point Park University and elsewhere around the city.
Founded by jazz-dance icon Gus Giordano in 1990 and co-presented by Giordano Dance Chicago and Point Park, the congress brings together dancers, teachers and jazz-dance enthusiasts from around the world. Events include performances, classes, panel discussions and more — all in celebration of the American art form of jazz dance.
"My father was always a dreamer, and it was his vision to elevate the level of jazz dance," says JDWC artistic director Nan Giordano. "I think the congress has done that, and he would be so pleased that is still going forth [after his death] with that vision."
Pittsburgh's own rich jazz history — from the music of George Benson and Lena Horne to the work of dance great Gene Kelly — makes it an ideal place to display that vision. And the diversity of jazz dance will be displayed during the congress's Jazz Dance World Festival, a series of nightly public performances at the Byham Theater. Performers will include some of world's leading jazz-dance companies: Philadelphia's Koresh Dance Company; Japan's Masashi Action Machin; and Mexico's Cuerpo Etereo Danza Contemporanea. Also appearing will be locals including Pittsburgh's August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Point Park's Conservatory Dance Company.
For its part, Giordano Dance Chicago (which includes Point Park grads Rachael Lynn Berube and Ashley Rockwood) will bring to the festival six works that span the spectrum of jazz dance. They include Christopher Huggins' explosive "Pyrokinesis," ballroom spectacle "Sabroso" and the caffeine-fueled "Jolt."
"These are exciting shows," says Giordano. "You don't have to be a dance aficionado to be thoroughly entertained."