history of jazz
Decidedly Jazz Danceworks
DJD was founded to re-ignite the traditional values of jazz dance. Despite firm roots and a rich history, jazz dance had mostly lost its connections to jazz music and to the vital spirit of the form by the 80’s.
In 1984, Vicki Adams Willis, Michèle Moss, and Hannah Stilwell joined forces to offer a concert dance opportunity to dancers seeking to steward a new era of jazz dance for the world
The Erosion of Jazz
Jazz was born in North America of African and European parents. Its roots live in societies where music and dance are integral to everyday life. The history of jazz is a history of fusions. From the initial blending in the 1700’s of the music and dance of enslaved African peoples brought together with the sailors who transported them to the Americas, to the Spanish influences which took place in the West Indies resulting in Latin-American music and dance, through to the radical shift of the Jack Cole-led 1950’s modern jazz movement – there is a long history of ever-evolving jazz genres.
For many reasons, by the 1980’s the majority of “jazz” dance being taught and performed was not incorporating jazz music as its primary source of inspiration or accompaniment. The resulting movement had lost its groundedness, rhythmic sophistication, and focus on individual expression.
Enter Decidedly Jazz Danceworks
DJD was born to reclaim the spirit of the jazz dance form and evolve the art forward.
The core aesthetic of DJD’s work is African-rooted, and swing-based with Jazz music at its heart. Working with live music every season since 1988, DJD explores and re-mixes the defining aspects of traditional jazz forms with European and Western influences. The Company also gains inspiration from rare, like-minded international guest choreographers, and carefully nurtures choreographic talent within the Company to ensure its future. The DJD style has evolved out of the work of the company’s founding and current artists. As progressive historians, they are purposefully aware of and connected to the African and historical roots and spirit of jazz, as well as committed to the evolution and future of the form.
DJD’s signature style attracts new dancers and collaborators to the Company. DJD’s performances often include the musicianship of notables such as the late Big Miller, Tommy Banks, Mark Murphy, PJ Perry, Jackie Richardson, George Koller, Amon Tobin as well as the cream of regional jazz talent such as Rubim de Toledo, Chris Andrew, Nicolas Fraser, Kristian Alexandrov and ¡Bomba!.
The Calgary-based company has toured extensively throughout Canada and abroad. In 2004/05, DJD premiered excerpts from ¡BULLA! at the Havana International Jazz Festival in Cuba and performed the original dance and music creation in 13 cities across Canada. DJD has toured Canada many times, most recently with Juliet & Romeo in the fall of 2019.
Inspiring the Future of Jazz
Education is a vital component of DJD’s mission to explore, evolve and promote jazz dance. Beyond Calgary’s largest recreational jazz dance school, the Company conducts education outreach performances for kindergarten to grade 12 students, carries out school residencies to provide week-long or longer intense programs, and conducts lectures, workshops, and co-education alliances with post-secondary institutions including the University of Calgary’s Dance Program. DJD’s performances, its school and outreach programs have fostered an ever-growing jazz savvy audience within Calgary, nationally and internationally. DJD invites audiences and students to experience how jazz music shapes movement and feeling, to explore the connection between personal expression and collaboration, and to move.