How To

Isolation Inspiration

Watch the beginning of nearly any jazz class and you’ll probably see dancers moving their hips or ribs to the beat of the music. They’re doing isolations, which are movements that involve only one part of the body while the other parts remain still. Dancers most often isolate their heads, shoulders, hands, ribs or hips.

According to jazz instructor and DS advisory board member Bob Rizzo, isolations emerged in the 1940s and ’50s during the birth of jazz dance. At the time, Hollywood and Broadway choreographer Jack Cole was developing a style that borrowed elements from modern, East Indian, Latin and Afro-Haitian dance styles—all of which feature isolations. Matt Mattox, one of Cole’s students, helped outline jazz technique. According to Rizzo, Mattox created a stricter discipline with a very long, set warm-up, in which isolations were a recurring theme.

Today, isolations are generally associated with another of Cole’s contemporaries: Bob Fosse. “In the 1960s and ’70s, Fosse took elements of Cole’s technique and infused his own style,” Rizzo says. Fosse made isolations sizzle with sensuality. During this time, the isolation became more and more popular, and by the 1980s you could find them in almost any jazz class.

You may think of isolations as simple warm-up moves, but they’re an important skill to master—not only for jazz dancers, but also for dancers in nearly any style. DS chatted with dancers and choreographers who specialize in hip hop, ballet, precision dance and contemporary dance about why jazz isolations are so vital.

Contemporary Dance

Sidra Bell, choreographer and artistic director of Sidra Bell Dance New York, says isolations teach dancers how to use specific body parts, which they can then combine in complex ways. “A contemporary dancer must to be able to do one action with one part of the body and a totally different movement with a different part of the body,” Bell says. For example, a dancer might circle her hips while raising her shoulders. “Being able to coordinate different actions together comes from the ability to isolate.”

Precision Dance

If you dream of joining the Rockettes, brush up on your isolations. “Isolation is what gives you precision,” says Jacki Ford, former Rockette and the “Jax” half of Jo+Jax dancewear. When you’re in a line of 36 dancers in a massive theater like Radio City Music Hall, every little detail on each dancer has to match—down to your hands, fingers and even where you’re looking. “Isolations help you learn that specificity and how to keep the rest of the body still.”

Hip Hop

“Isolations are the backbone of what I do,” says Chadd Smith, also known as Madd Chadd, a member of the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD). Chadd, who specializes in robotic popping, says isolations are crucial for hip-hop dancers because they teach control. When isolations are taken to the extreme, as in Chadd’s mechanical style, they make dancers look almost superhuman. “It really catches the eye because it looks like you’re seeing something that’s not possible.”

Ballet

Barette Vance, a soloist with Pennsylvania Ballet, studied jazz before she began training at the School of American Ballet. She says mastering isolations has helped her thrive in contemporary ballets like Robert Weiss’ Messiah, Matthew Neenan’s As It’s Going and Val Caniparoli’s African dance-inspired Lambarena. “In classical works, you’re very upright and your body moves as one,” Vance says. “In contemporary ballets, the movement is more isolated. You might move your hips and then your ribs.” Having that versatility, Vance says, is particularly helpful for ballet dancers who want to work with a variety of choreographers.

 

Tips from the Pros

“When isolating the head, be careful not to tip your head back more than two inches, to avoid straining the cervical vertebrae. Keep your shoulders square when isolating the rib cage from side to side. And make sure you’re in demi-plié when isolating your hips.” —Bob Rizzo

“Think of creating pictures with your movement. Each picture has to be crisp.” —Jacki Ford

“Start from a place of relaxation. Tensing up can hinder and prevent the body from being able to break itself down into smaller parts and

isolate.” —Sidra Bell

Ashley Rivers is a freelance writer and former DS intern. She is currently researching tap history through a writing fellowship at Emerson College.

Dance News
Photo by Jayme Thornton

Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.

Keep reading... Show less

Future Star winner Basia Rhoden (courtesy Starpower)

The second round of 2017 Future Star winners showcases more dancers with singular talent and ability. We're thrilled to celebrate their success!

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Screenshot via YouTube

Look out, 'cause here they come!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Ballet BC's Alexis Fletcher says experimenting with structured improv can make you more comfortable with risk. (Michael Slobodian, courtesy Ballet BC)

The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.

But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?

Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.

Keep reading... Show less
Erin Baiano

If you're in need of a piece that's both trendy and sophisticated, look no further than this Só Dança crop top. Featuring elegant long sleeves, a high neckline, and a delicate lace trim, it's both classic and contemporary—perfect for everything from that big audition to a long night in the studio. Enter below for your chance to win it!

Keep reading... Show less

Leap! National Dance Competition offers dancers of all skill levels an opportunity to showcase their talents in an event where the focus is on fun and competing is just a bonus!

Keep reading... Show less
Trending-posts
Juneau Dance Theatre student Anna McDowell filming an audition video with Bridget Lujan (courtesy Juneau Dance Theatre)

Auditioning for summer intensives in person may be the ideal—but for Anna McDowell, a 16-year-old student at Juneau Dance Theatre in Juneau, AK, it's rarely possible. “Living in Alaska, it's difficult to travel to auditions," she says. “It gets way too expensive!" Instead, each year, with help from her teachers and a videographer, she puts together a well-crafted video and submits it to schools around the country. Last year, her high-quality video helped her earn acceptance to nearly every program she applied for. Most summer intensive programs, eager to attract students from far and wide, will accept video auditions from those who can't travel to take class. But major schools look at hundreds of submissions each year, which means video auditioners have just a few minutes—or even seconds—to make a great impression. If you're about to create an audition video, follow these tips from the professionals to put your best digital foot forward.

Keep reading... Show less
Christopher Perricelli leading class at Gus Giordano Dance School (courtesy Amy Giordano)

There are zillions of things to think about when choosing a summer program, but here's one you might not have considered: using an intensive as an opportunity to focus on a new style. Maybe you're a tap dancer who's ready to see where else your rhythm and quick feet can serve you, or a contemporary dancer curious about the more traditional roots of your genre. A summer program can be the perfect place to broaden your horizons, giving you the opportunity to make technical and artistic changes that stick throughout the year.

Keep reading... Show less
George Balanchine backstage (Paul Kolnik, courtesy Dance Magazine Archives)

Happy birthday, George Balanchine! The great choreographer and founder of New York City Ballet would have been 114 years old today. Balanchine revolutionized ballet, especially American ballet—and he also had quite a way with words. To celebrate Mr. B's birthday, we rounded up some of our favorite iconic Balanchine quotes.

Keep reading... Show less
Your Body
Amanda LaCount showing off her skills (screenshot via YouTube)

There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored