The Evolution of Modern Jive

Modern jive is really a conglomerate of dance styles and as such it is open to many changing influences. Go to a Modern Jive or Ceroc competition and you will see routines danced that look like anything between partner hip-hop and contemporary jazz ballet.

I’m often asked, “where is the ‘Jive’ in all of this. Traditional Jivers know that the unique skipping tripple step of Jive is nowhere to be found in modern jive. Commonly they say that it looks more like Salsa. In some ways this is very true. Salsa moves with little vertical rhythm. The hips roll in order to keep the head fairly much at the same height. The rhythm is expressed through the horizontal movement of the hips and legs and the shoulders neck and head remain isolated. Jive, on the other hand ‘bounces’ distinctly with the rhythm vertically and therefore needs a much faster pace. If you try to bounce to 115 Beats per Minute – you’ll find that it’s just too slow and you have to wait between each bounce. It feels very awkward. In many ways this is why we need Modern Jive (which is not jive at all) because we have very little music in the radio charts that is fast enough to jive to.

The influence of West Coast Swing has served to increase this gap between Modern Jive and Traditional Jive even though it sees the reintroduction of a tripple step (I believe). When you watch a couple dance west coast swing, you notice that the rhythmic punctuation is most obvious in horizontal movements, pauses at the end of the “slot” and the staccato finishes to spins and travels. The pause has become very prominent as a means of musical interpretation and rhythmic emphasis. Usually it is accompanied by some small non-foot movement, a shimmy or a body-roll until the couple resume travel and footwork together after the cadence. It looks great – but you will find that if you’ve been dancing Modern Jive for some time, it is a new world of techniques that are mostly foreign to you.

So what are you to learn? What is the right style to adopt? I have found myself asking this question as I dance and teach. Where is it all headed, where are the fads and what elements will stay with us?

I watched a routine last Saturday night performed by my old teachers John and Carolyn Woodman. They danced to a slow version of “Halo” and they danced beautifully. Carolyn’s arms are flowing and graceful – which is not a common element in some of the new influences mentioned and I feel that it is missed. It doesn’t eliminate strong punctuation or rhythmic interpretation.

The routine was full of dips and clever pattern work flowing smoothly inside musicality. There were hardly any body rolls or cute little gyrations – the music didn’t lend to that anyway. The overall mood was romantic and with a graceful dignity and pride.

On the other hand I have watched with great interest and delight as couples danced a totally differnt spin on Modern Jive. Playful, cute, fast and even cheeky. The most important thing about your style is that you enjoy it and that you let it evolve organically in ways that give the lead to the music. The more you let the music move you, the more inventive you can become and the more fun you will have. There’s no limit on what you can do or what is technically right or wrong – so enjoy the diversity.

Many of our older videos here demonstrate a very “straight” interpretation of Modern Jive. Our style has shifted a lot and will continue to do so. That doesn’t make those moves outdated by any means! The moves, and the style that is overlayed on those moves are two very different things. So much so, that I have seen moves that I have taught danced with such a different and creative style that I hardly recognised them. That in itself is an excellent quality of Modern Jive. Enjoy.


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