Posted by Content Manager, August 26, 2011 | Category: The Ailey Extension
The Ailey Extension
With more than 35 years of experience dancing and teaching classical jazz technique, Sue Samuels is a sought-after instructor who has worked with a variety of stars from the stage and screen, including Brooke Shields, Irene Cara, and Melba Moore. We spoke to Ms. Samuels about her background and the expertise she offers in her intermediate Broadway jazz class.
Photo by Melissa Hamburg.
What exactly is Broadway jazz? Give us some examples of what the movement style is like.
Broadway Jazz is a classic jazz dance style that’s performed from your center with clean strong lines emanating from the hips and chest, using isolations of different body parts in sequences. This dance style has been popularized because it’s a fun form of movement that allows for individuality. Dancers are given movements to express emotion that directly coincides with a musical or theatrical concept. Broadway jazz has been influenced by decades of vernacular and social dances with broad musical influences, so there’s always a great variety within the style when it comes to each class.
What are some well-known films or theatrical productions that have featured the technique?
West Side Story, Mamma Mia, Memphis, Chicago, How to Succeed in Business..., A Chorus Line, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, My Sister Eileen, and Kiss me Kate to name a few.
Jazz at the Ailey Extension. Photo by Kyle Froman.
Walk us through a typical class. Who ideally should sign up for the course?
A typical class begins with a jazz barre warm-up using both strong jazz lines and concepts, such as parallel position, as well as some ballet philosophies, such as holding and working from your center. Then we move to the floor for stretching and strengthening sequences with me as an accompanist on the conga drum. Afterwards we perform jazz isolations working each body part separately and then putting some of them together. We also work on specific technique moves like jumps, turns, and kicks in the center and/or moving across the floor. We usually end the class with fun choreography featuring elements that were practiced earlier.
The beginner class is best for those who don’t have much prior dance knowledge or are unfamiliar with jazz dance but would enjoy training in the form. It’s also a great class for singers and actors who are interested in dance training to further their careers on stage.
The intermediate level is best for dancers with technical proficiency and experience, including those who are training for their professional careers. Anyone who is interested in improving their body awareness, movement skills, and overall health would benefit from these classes.
What has been the significance of Jazz-based movements for you personally? How has studying and teaching the technique affected your growth as an artist?
Coming from a classical ballet background, I found that doing isolations with the movements allowed me to show more emotion overall in my dancing. Also, turning in plié gave me a different feel with my balance and expanded the different possibilities when it came to using movement across various levels. Studying, performing, and teaching this technique has allowed me to grow beyond my capabilities as a classical ballet dancer while opening the doors to opportunities to travel the world.
I’ve had my eyes opened to the wide range of movements used in jazz, like American tap and Indian techniques. Many movements are taken from the world travels of my forebears in the field of jazz: Jack Cole, Matt Mattox, Jo Jo Smith, and Katherine Dunham. Broadway jazz technique continues to thrive throughout Europe, Asia … all over the world.