Latin jazz is a fusion discipline. It combines jazz dance techniques with Latin music and rhythms, meaning traditional jazz dance is transformed into something more sensual and closer to Latin styles of dance like meringue and salsa. Latin jazz dance is often open to interpretation, especially with the rise of modern jazz dance, which is highly creative and innovative. Anything from conga beats with a jazz melody to Louis Armstrong mixed with Cuban rhythms can be considered Latin jazz. Breaking this fusion dance into its components can help explain it in its entirety.
Jazz dance became popular in America in the early 20th century, as European and African-American dance styles mixed. In the 1940s and '50s, an influx of Latin American musicians arrived in the U.S. and Latin music began to meld with the jazz dancing popular during the era. During this period the mambo, now a form of dance in its own right, emerged from the fusion of Latin music and European technique.
Traditional jazz rhythm is usually syncopated, meaning accents are placed on the parts of the beat that wouldn't normally receive the accent-usually the second half-in Western music. In addition, the accents are irregularly dispersed and the rhythm is swung, meaning note values change slightly, in order to depart from the written rhythm. However in Latin jazz the rules change slightly. Latin music is very focused on rhythm and percussion instruments and the basis of most rhythms is the "clavé," a rhythmic pattern played in 3/2 or 2/3 with accented offbeats. However, when the rhythm texture develops, Latin music may add accents on the traditional beats as well.
Jazz dance is a combination of African-American and European dance styles. From African dance jazz technique pulls torso movements, and from European dance the style draws on traditional folk and social dances, as well as ballet. Jazz dance diversifies after basic levels into street dance, Broadway choreography, swing dance, ragtime jazz and many other styles. Latin jazz dance shares technical elements with these styles, including sensual body movements and tap and ballet steps mixed with stricter social dance forms from both Europe and Latin America.
New York City in the 1940s was a hotbed of creativity in the Latin jazz scene. Composers and musicians like Israel Lopez, Dizzy Gillespie, Mario Bauza and many others were instrumental in creating this new form of music and dance. Tito Puente, perhaps one of the most famous Latin musicians alive, was first a dancer and later helped pioneer the mambo style of music and dance.
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