Jazz Is For Dancing

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By: Megan Morian
1/28/09

As I sat last night watching Danny Harper play at Churchill Grounds (which you, too, should do on Tuesday nights) I realized that I wanted to dance. I wondered why this amazing live music I was getting to listen to was not being played somewhere where folks could move as the music was telling them to do.  Jazz is inarguably pleasant to dance to, no matter how fast or slow the tempo and no matter loud or soft the song and instruments. We hear it in our fancy restaurants as background music, sometimes in elevators, in small venues, and sometimes in concert halls. Am I the only one who feels like she should be dancing when she hears this music? Certainly not.

So, why doesn’t anyone dance to jazz anymore? It did begin in clubs, brothels, and bars, after all. In the early 1900s, “ragtime” developed in the deep South and kept everyone moving to the tune. Soon, this music developed into full-blown Jazz and Swing, eras in which you were the odd one out if you weren’t dancing. We are obviously fighting an impulse when we do not dance to music that was originally intended to be entertaining, society melding, and body moving.

This dancing to Jazz happened in the clubs, in the streets, in the homes, and pretty much anywhere it was played. Was Atlanta ever home to any of this, you might ask? We sure were. In the mid 1900s, “Sweet Auburn Avenue” was home to the Royal Peacock Club and the Top Hat Club, where musicians sang and played and the audiences danced. Later on down the line, up until recent years, the attitude was the same in this place. One could sing, play, and dance to jazz there. Despite its National Landmark status, the jazz clubs there are no more than a whispering memory today. What happened? Sources attribute it to general lack of interest and upkeep.

There must be some truth to the thing if I, a modern white girl bred on rock and pop who has never known anything about jazz or its classic, soulful roots, know that we should be dancing to it. I know you feel it, too. The only way to introduce the dance back into the music is to ask for it ourselves. Next time you go see live jazz, ask if there is room to dance, and then do it. If there isn’t, suggest it. Relaxing at a table and watching artists play the trumpet or the saxophone is all well and good… but the truth is that it is not how it was intended to be. I feel that the only way to truly enjoy jazz besides playing it is to physically swing, twirl, and step your way across a dance floor to it, the way it was done in the very beginning.

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