Shiftless Shuffle

Jazzcotech’s ‘Shiftless Shuffle’

A fleet of ‘foot soldiers’ win a battle for the Soul.

Londoners – and those living in England’s capital city for any length of time – are increasingly expected to (co) exist in a state of fear and isolation. At a time when austerity, terror-anxiety, job insecurity, and socio-economic chaos threatens to turn us into little more than battered, bruised, and barely-functioning ‘tax-batteries’, social dancing may – once again - offer some respite.

This is where ‘Jazzcotech’s ‘Shiftless Shuffle’ – a full day of great jazz music and interactive jazz dance in an inclusive, friendly East London club environment - comes into its own.

‘Social dances’ are generally intended for participation rather than performance (although there are certainly competitions for all forms of dance). What sets ‘jazz dance’ apart, however, is that the novice is able to share the dance-floor and - by extension - their own individual physical expression with the more seasoned and accomplished practitioners. As long as there is respect for the ‘rule of floor’ (space), the two are able to co-exist, and interact, quite happily. This ‘artistic egalitarianism’, in turn, perpetuates a sense of sharing, camaraderie and mutual support that those living in The Capital seem to be crying out for, right now.

That’s not to say that ‘the novice’ shouldn’t seek to learn some basic moves before entering the dance space. Like all dances, ‘jazz’ has its own physical language, and no amount of boundless (a-rhythmic) enthusiasm can make up for a lack of understanding of at least a few basic steps.

This is where Christiana Hennecke’s pre-show dance-class comes in.

She offers insight into - and tutoring for - some basic postures, balance adjustments, and steps necessary for the fledgling jazz mover.

Starting off with a light stretch and body-loosening, she broke down some simple moves in an easy-to-understand, conversational manner, before showing how these moves could be combined and employed within any given (jazz) music.

After the 1-hour class, people began entering the club space for 5 hours of intense music and movement. The spirit was one of friendliness; customers were quick to acknowledge each other with smiles, handshakes, kisses, and/or hugs.

Jazzcotech’s website proclaims, the practitioners “… are influenced by Tap, Funk, Soul, Jazz, Boogaloo, Disco, Break Dance, Contemporary, Salsa and Lindy Hop. And although [artistic director] Perry [Louis] has developed a very distinct JazzCotech style, he nevertheless encourages his Dancers to express their moves in their individual ways.”

As a result of this ethos, a series of ‘communions’ appeared to take place on the ‘floor’, the dancers using the eclectic music - including melodious Soul, Horn and Bass-line driven Jazz-Fusion, James Brown-style Funk, and Afro-Cuban, Be-Bop, Brazilian and Latin Jazz Fusion styles - to explore their own grace (fullness).

Some of the dancers ‘went off’ on their own physical reverie; many seemingly lost in the music, as if ‘communing with the spirits’. Others ‘shared’ their journeys, interacting with others; many of the conversations moving back and forth seamlessly, as the dancers gave and received ‘physical information’, while supporting each other in equal measure. At other times, the dancers took a break, each participant using the opportunity to take in fluid, (oral) conversation, CO2, or just plain inspiration. What is clear is that there was no pressure – no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

And therein lies its beauty; Jazz is a social dance that actively encourages each individual to become more sociable and – at the same time – more individual.

Social dance often comes into its own at times of most socio-economic instability; none more so than that which has its roots in the African diaspora.

Whether it’s the ebullient peacocking of the Jive and Lindy-Hop crowd in ‘30’s New York, the political posturing of urban Hip-Hop in the ‘80s, the physical eloquence of Brazilian capoeira, the sensuousness of Cuban Salsa, the fleet-footed exuberance of Mozambique’s ‘Tofo’ and Caribbean disciplines, or the working-class sweatiness of England’s Northern Soul movement, the abiding spirit is of ‘representation’, ‘communication’ and ‘celebration’.

Modern jazz dance takes its cue – both technically and conceptually – from all of these traditions, by encouraging the practitioner to make each ‘dance’ his or her own.

“JazzCotech are a specialised organisation of Dancers, DJs, Promoters and friends who promote and keep alive the UK Underground Jazz Dance and Music scene. The Music we love is JazzFunk, Latin, Boogie, Funk and Jazz Fusion, and we carry the torch for an original form of Dance that grew out of the UK Rare Groove, Funk, JazzFunk and Jazz Club scene which started in the mid-70s: Street-Fusion-Jazz-Dance. Heavily linked to the Music and its varying rhythm patterns, Street-Fusion-Jazz-Dance is a totally ‘street’ and purely ‘untrained’ style which is also less rigid than other, better known forms of Dance, making it ideal for novices and professionals alike.”

This is the blurb on Jazzcotech’s own website and – based on what I saw of the ‘Shiftless Shuffle’ event, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

This event, seeks to encourage – and celebrate - each and every participant, as they reclaim their own space – in public… to a great music soundtrack.

In these austere times, I would recommend the next session highly.

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