Why Do Foreigners Find More Value In Jazz Dance Than Americans?

I've been invited to teach in St Petersburg, Russia on three occasions.  First in 2005, when I created my piece Love Come Quick for the Kannon Dance Company.  Then in 2012 when I lectured at the Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art and created another lyrical jazz dance for the Kannon Dance Company.  And just now in January 2016 when I was invited to teach and choreograph for the Boris Eifman Dance Academy and the newly opened LaDuca Broadway Dance Center.  For the Eifman Academy students I created a theatre jazz dance piece to the song On Broadway.
In each visit I have been overwhelmed by the interest by the Russian dancers in jazz dance, jazz music, and its history.  More than that, I've been astounded that their interest in jazz dance, historically and also to its perceived value in dance education and creativity, is far higher than what is given in American dance circles, and certainly in American academic dance curriculums.

In American dance schools we see jazz dance diminishing in popularity and esteem.  Contemporary and competition dance has grown and taken attention from jazz dance.  Also, jazz dance is now seen to be a part of "theatre dance" and not a subject to be explored on its own.  Interest in jazz, as in jazz music, is nearly extinct - in the American society where jazz dance was actually born.

Yet in Russia, the Boris Eifman Dance Academy, school of the world famous Eifman Ballet, is adding jazz dance to its curriculum for young and aspiring professional dancers as they recognize the energy, dynamic subtlety, nuance, and rhythmic sophistication of good jazz dance.  They state that, to train a dancer for today's melting pot dance world,
its not enough to only train in ballet and contemporary.  They see the benefits of jazz dance, and they seek to add it to their daily class curriculum.  And that is why I was invited to teach for a week at the Eifman Academy, and then two days at the LaDuca Dance Center.

When I tell the Russian curriculum directors the lack of value of jazz dance in America, they shake their heads in amazement.  They don't understand how we cannot see the value of the training, and also not honor this dance form that was born in America and is a truly American expression.  They see it as America's folk dance, and are stymied as to why American's do not seek to honor their own heritage in dance.

All I can say in response is that the American dance school for ages 7-18 is now completely controlled by pop music, television dance shows, and dance competitions.  The entire emphasis is on the student demonstrating ability, to therefore show "worth" - and also for the student to receive accolades and fun experiences.  The training has little to do with tradition, exploration, and personal creativity.

Americans are losing out on a great dance resource, when they dismiss good jazz dance (and I emphasize "good" jazz dance, not cheesy pop routines with big grins and jazz hands).  The movement style of jazz dance is not only a great entity on its own, but it is a wonderful addition to ballet and contemporary training, in making the complete dancer. American teachers, who are often beholden to pre-formed student expectations, do a great disservice in not making jazz dance a valued part of a young dancer's training.

Just as an example, here is a video link to the
On Broadway piece I created for the Eifman dancers.  They are ages 12-14, and have never had a jazz class.  Just strong ballet, gymnastics, ballroom, contemporary, and a smattering of hip hop.  Yet these dancers learned this piece in just 8 hours of rehearsal, and look at how amazing they look as dancers due to absorbing a jazz dance way of movement and responding to music.

But the biggest shame is that dance educators from other countries see the value of jazz dance while we don't.  I hope that American dance educators will soon open their minds to the vast benefits of quality jazz dance training, and make jazz dance a subject of serious study and inclusion in dance curriculums.