Jazz Dance Technique, History, and Teaching Practices

Research trip to California , USA (February, 2017)

With Dr. Sheron Wray, and students from UCI


Jazz Dance Research trip to California , USA (February, 2017)

 The travel cost of this project was supported by the Lisa Ullmann Travelling Scholarship Fund.


My research project involved travelling to the USA for a 3 week period of continued professional development at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). I was invited to study alongside jazz dance specialist, Dr. Sheron Wray, Associate Professor of dance at UCI, and Artistic Director of ‘JazzXChange’ dance company.

The project took place in February 2017 with the aim of studying Jazz Dance technique, and further developing my teaching and choreographic practice. Further aims included advancing my knowledge of Jazz Dance history, its connection to dance forms of the African Diaspora, and effective teaching methods to facilitate learner engagement. To achieve the proposed aims, the project involved observing and participating in technique classes and performances; exploring models of practice; and digitally documenting the learning experience. 

I observed and participated in daily lectures and rehearsals, led by the UCI Faculty. The UCI classes included Jazz technique led by Dr. Sheron Wray; Dance Science with Dr. Kelli Sharp; and choreography rehearsals with Professor Emeritus of Dance, Donald McKayle, and Distinguished Professor Lar Lubovitch. To support the classes at UCI, I engaged in rehearsals with JazzXChange; technique classes at the EDGE Performing Arts College in Los Angeles; classes at the Debbie Allen Academy of Dance; company class with Jazz Antiqua dance company; and watched live performances.

The main classes that I participated in were Dr. Wray’s Jazz technique classes for undergraduate students, and JazzXChange rehearsals. Key features of these sessions were the inclusion/teaching of improvisation, the connection of dance with music, and the incorporation of Jazz dance history. A key component of Dr. Wray’s teaching and choreography is the use of improvisation. Marshall and Jean Stearns highlight that dance in African diaspora “places great importance upon improvisation, satirical and otherwise, allowing freedom for individual expression; this characteristic makes for flexibility and aids the evolution and diffusion of other African characteristics” (1968, 15). Cited in Jackson, p.40, 2001).

Examples of how it was included in the lesson plan, included the use of divergent discovery tasks where learners entered and exited the space exploring movement vocabulary. It was interesting to note that throughout even a short process of this activity, learners deepened their musicality and developed their creativity.