An Insider's Guide to Jazz Classes in Chicago

December 31, 2004

With blends of crisp technique, delicious rhythms and smooth notes of modern and ballet, the Chicago jazz dance scene offers a selection of eclectic styles and classically formed techniques. Chicago has become a training ground for both concert and commercial jazz dancers, and the mix of styles influenced by the city’s many professional jazz companies make classes both diverse and unique. Most classes detailed here are offered year-round; check with individual studios for schedules.

Lou Conte Dance Studio

1147 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60607


If you’re a modern dancer who loves jazz, or a jazz dancer with a penchant for modern, try Jazz IV, led by former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago member Jeff Hancock. The class moves at a rapid pace suitable for advanced preprofessionals. Be ready for ballet-infused center work and swooping modern dance weight shifts. The class also hits on core skills of jazz dance—quick chainés, stylized battements and series of multiple pirouettes.

Eddy Ocampo’s Jazz IV
class centers on the jazz-release technique, with which Ocampo trains dancers to be dynamic, to use correct technique and also to take risks and break away from the traditional aspects of jazz. Call on your stamina to master Ocampo’s fast and intricate (or, at times, slow and lyrical) combinations.

The goal of Jazz III taught by Sarita Smith Childs, (a renowned Chicago modern and jazz dancer), is to provide an evening class for professional dancers between gigs and for students who have worked their way up through Jazz I and II. After an intense center ballet barre, you’ll execute jazz choreography infused with Horton and Graham modern techniques.

Wilfredo Rivera’s Jazz II
class incorporates dance of many decades and genres, including swing, Latin and modern. The pace is suitable for the intermediate dancer and will emphasize the ballet base of jazz. The class touches on core jazz elements such as isolations, parallel positions and stylized combos.

Giordano Dance Center

614 Davis St, Evanston, IL 60201


Attention jazz dance purists! Head straight to Jazz I-II, Giordano jazz dance style taught by Lizzie MacKenzie. Gus Giordano, one of the godfathers of American jazz dance, modified traditional ballet exercises to create movement that is alternately sharp, linear, isolated and smooth. His technique is codified with a unique vocabulary. Don’t expect a strong modern dance influence like in many other Chicago jazz classes.

For Giordano jazz with a modern twist, however, look to Jon Lehrer’s Jazz IV, which starts with a modern-based warm-up followed by stretching and Giordano-style pliés, tendus and center work. Rise to the challenge of Lehrer’s high-level adagio and athletic floor combos. He uses diverse music with unusual rhythms, and his choreography reflects the contemporary feel of the music.

Joel Hall Dance Center

1511 W Berwyn Ave, Chicago, IL 60640


Joel Hall
, director of Joel Hall Dancers, created his own technique, urban jazz, which is a fusion of ballet, modern and street dance. His Advanced-Professional class begins with a whopping 500 crunches and sit-ups and is designed to increase overall strength and flexibility. Hall views American jazz as a mix of cultures, so his combinations have Caribbean, African and Irish influences. Joel Hall Dancers company member Kirby Reed now teaches this trademark class and builds upon Hall’s standards. Enjoy strutting your stuff when class ends with an attitude-filled session of jazz walks across the floor.

Vanessa Truvillion
adds flair to Hall’s principles of urban jazz in Jazz II-III. The class is fast-paced, fun and appropriate for an intermediate/advanced level dancer with a background in ballet and modern.

Jazz II
taught by Kirby Reed is a blend of jazz, modern and African, and is appropriate for intermediate and advanced dancers. Be ready for intense stretching and combinations that fuse the isolations and agility of hip hop and jazz with the control and emotion of modern and lyrical. Brain challenge: You’ll need to pick up combinations quickly and concentrate on proper technique and alignment to make it through this fast-paced class.

Note: Level I is not the beginning level at this school; introductory classes are labeled “beginning” or “basic.”

Jump Rhythm Jazz Project

Class locations vary; visit website for details.

The Jump Rhythm Jazz Technique is based on rhythm, so your goal for the evening will be to reveal the musicality inherent in the movement. Taught by Glenn Leslie and Jodi Kurtze, the class trains dancers to move with the entire body and differentiate between sharp and smooth movements. The guiding idea is to use your hands, head and voice in addition to your legs, so be prepared to sing the rhythms out loud. The technique is the backbone for the professional dance company, the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, and was developed by its artistic director, Billy Siegenfeld, whose movement style has been likened to that of Fred Astaire. Classes are open and suitable for dancers of all levels.