Music for Class: Jazz with a Twist

Danny Buraczeski's rhythmic music suggestions for jazz class

There's a distinct signature in Danny Buraczeski’s movement. Sure, it’s classic jazz, but the torso twisting, sometimes angular, often musically syncopated details provide his own spin on a foundational technique. "Jazz dancers are essentially stylists," says the Broadway dancer turned JAZZDANCE company founder, who is now a professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “As a teacher, what elements of style do you have to offer your students? That’s the key to jazz technique itself."

Several forms influence Buraczeski's riff on jazz foundations. He says that his own footwork takes ideas from the way tappers use each plane of their feet to create sound, and Doris Humphrey drop swings inspire his use of the released torso. Ultimately, he sees that each jazz combination is driven by the ebb and flow of the music, which he uses as an outline for exercises and choreography. "My whole class is based on rhythm and speed, syncopation and polyrhythm," he says.

It's important to Buraczeski that each class includes a history lesson, tuning into the backgrounds of the music and the artists who made it. "Jazz is really about America—its society and history," he says. "I'm trying to introduce the students to their own heritage." DT

 

Artist: The Dick Hyman Trio

Song: "Misterioso"

"I want to start the beginning of class with something not rhythmically complicated. This version of the song is more regular and melodic than the original and great for opening roll downs. It has a nice, weighted feel that helps dancers sense a connection to the ground.”

 

Artist: Brandon O. Bailey

Song: "Superstition"

"I found this artist on NPR, which I listen to for new music all the time. This is a fantastic harmonica cover of the Stevie Wonder song. It’s so earthy yet up-tempo. With my Jazz I students, I like to use some funk because there’s no ambivalence about where the downbeat is. We deconstruct syncopations because it’s crucial that they understand jazz’s African-American polyrhythmic influences."

 

Artist: Milt Hinton

Song: "Jon John"

"I have about 35 songs that I use for pliés. I’ll use one track for a couple classes and then change it. Doing the same exercise to different music allows dancers to explore different principles within the exercise specific to the sounds and feelings within each song. This is what I’ve been using lately, but I’ll change it up with anything from Ella Fitzgerald to Stevie Wonder."

 

Artist: Blind Boys of Alabama

Song: "Hush"

"This is great for swings because there’s such a rhythmic and soulful rise and fall in the music, so that dancers can also rise and fall when they change their weight. At this point in class, I’m trying to get them to use all the sides of their bodies and not ignore their backspace and diagonals. Plus, this gospel music is so rich emotionally. I like to see how the music influences them, whether it’s this gospel song, true swing music or something more contemporary."

 

Artist: The Manhattan Rhythm Kings

Song: "Happy Feet"

"I like to stick to a stock of introductory combinations for my first-year class. This is all about the 1920s and the Charleston. It lets students actually become the music and hit every accent. And that’s the fun part about being a dancer." 

 

Photo: SMU students in Buraczeski’s Umbra (by Kim Ritzenthaler, courtesy of Southern Methodist University)

News
Layeelah Muhammad, courtesy DAYPC

This summer's outcry to fully see and celebrate Black lives was a wake-up call to dance organizations.

And while many dance education programs are newly inspired to incorporate social justice into their curriculums, four in the San Francisco Bay area have been elevating marginalized youth and focusing on social change for decades.

GIRLFLY, Grrrl Brigade, The Alphabet Rockers and Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company fuse dance with education around race, gender, climate change and more, empowering young artists to become leaders in their communities. Here's how they do it.

Keep reading... Show less
Teacher Voices
Getty Images

I often teach ballet over Zoom in the evenings, shortly after sunset. Without the natural light coming from my living room window, I drag a table lamp next to my portable barre so that the computer's camera can see me clearly enough. I prop the laptop on a chair taken from the kitchen and then spend the next few hours running back and forth between the computer screen of Zoom tiles and my makeshift dance floor.

Much of this setup is the result of my attempts to recreate the most important aspects of an in-person dance studio: I have a barre, a floor and as much space as I can reasonably give myself within a small apartment. I do not, however, have a mirror, and neither do most of my students.

Keep reading... Show less
Music
Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.