Jazz dance is a lot wider-ranging than you might think. Within it, there are dozens of stylistic subcategories painting each style in different shades and stemming from different histories. Let’s dive in!

So What is Jazz Dance?

With its dynamic movement and fast-paced rhythms, jazz dance has evolved into various sub-styles, each with its unique flair and jazz dance moves. It’s difficult to nail down a conclusive definition of jazz, as it borrows from everywhere. One unfamiliar can broadly think of jazz as having the more high-octane energy and explosive moments of hip hop, while firmly rooted in the structured, technical steps of ballet. 

From the street dance-inspired beats of Jazz Funk to the fluid emotionality of Contemporary Jazz, each style embodies the spirit of jazz and brings something fresh to the table. Let’s explore some of the most popular styles of jazz and the history of jazz dance in its various iterations:

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  1. Street Jazz / Jazz Funk: 

Street Jazz, also called Jazz Funk, is a fusion of jazz dance and funk styles. It incorporates elements of hip hop and street dance. Jazz Funk is known for its highly athletic movements, intricate footwork, and hip hop-esque isolations. You will notice an absence of the more conservative ballet-derived technique found in other jazz styles, replaced by hip hop technique. 

  1. Afro-Jazz: 

Afro-Jazz combines traditional African dance styles with elements of jazz. It is often characterized by its use of traditional African steps, syncopated beats, and improvisation. Afro-jazz may tell a story or convey strong emotions through dance, making it a powerful and engaging style to watch.

  1. Broadway Jazz: 

Broadway Jazz draws inspiration from staged theatrical dance and combines it with traditional jazz dance techniques. It is known for its dynamism, physical storytelling/dance mime, and use of props and costumes. Broadway jazz often features dramatic movement and very character-forward expressiveness, delivering a narrative through dance. Bob Fosse and Jack Cole may be the most famous pioneers of Broadway or Theatrical Jazz. 

  1. Contemporary Jazz: 

Contemporary jazz merges old-school jazz with modern fluidity. It borrows from ballet, lyrical, and modern dance to create a unique style rooted in traditional technique. Contemporary jazz often features smooth, flowing movements, emotional storytelling, and ballet turns and jumps with a twist. 

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  1. Commercial Jazz: 

Commercial Jazz is highly structured, featuring sharp and attention-grabbing movement. There is a lot of overlap with Street Jazz/Jazz Funk, both pulling from hip hop stylings. Commercial Jazz can be found everywhere in pop culture, as you may glean from the name, being the style of choice for many pop and R&B artists in music videos and stage performances. 

Jazz Shoes & Jazz Dance Wear

In dance, your tools matter. Find the right jazz shoes for you: lace-up vs. slip-on, higher vs. lower top, black vs. beige – all from reputable brands, find adult jazz shoes here and children’s jazz shoes here! And in terms of dancewear, you can never go wrong with All That Jazz Straight Leg Jazz Pants or a classic Capezio High Waisted Short. For ultimate support and comfort on top, try Bloch’s Core Adjustable Strap Cross Back Bra


Jazz dance is a diverse and dynamic style that continues to evolve and innovate. Studios will often offer not only general jazz classes, but specialized classes in each specific jazz sub-style, giving you the chance to contextualize the differences on your own body and find your favourites. Looking for more? Explore the evolution of jazz through the decades in our blog A Brief History of Jazz Dance