Moving to the music — Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival brings dance to campus


The art of music is about more than notes, chords and instruments — its about expression. Dance is a crucial part of this expression and vital to jazz culture.

While many Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival attendees come for the live concerts and music workshops, they also come for the dance workshops.

With almost 15 dance workshops, each focused on a different genre to choose from, there are many genres for attendees to learn about.

Two of the dance clinics offered were taught by students and focused on jazz and some of the choreography behind it Thursday.

Belle Baggs, a University of Idaho clinical assistant dance professor, taught the “All That Jazz” workshop to a group of students that afternoon.

“You never know who is going to show up to your class,” Baggs said. “Students have their own concerts and classes going on, but when they have time and want to get loose, they come and join.”

Baggs began the workshop by explaining that the class would learn about the basics of jazz and how to move to it. She turned on a mix of jazz music and warmed up with the class.

“Today, I want to mix together some old school music with a bit of contemporary,” Baggs said. “And we are going to get loose by combining improvisation and choreography.”

Baggs said she knows that first-time dancers often learn more when there is a choreographed lesson, but improvising with dance moves is always more interesting.

“I’m really interested in jazz coming from a sense of improvisation, but I also want the students to feel comfortable and learn in a choreographed setting,” Baggs said.

Theresa Conway, a UI senior, said she attended the dance clinic for the first time because she wanted to try something new.

She said she had no prior knowledge of jazz as a dance genre, and felt that it would be an interesting place to start.

Conway said Jazz Fest makes UI feel busier and more exciting. She said she likes how the festival brings all kinds of people to the community and campus.

“Now, I know that Jazz Fest isn’t about just musicians, it’s also about dancers and dance beginners like me,” Conway said.

After the “All That Jazz” workshop concluded, several students from the class joined in on the “Social Dances Through the Ages” workshop with a larger group of attendees and a much younger set of dancers.

The workshop showed attendees popular American dances from 1920 to 2000 and was taught by guest dance instructor Melanie George.

George let out a booming, “five, six, seven, eight,” and taught the group of young students the Lindy Hop to swing music.

“Swing music is party music,” George said. “So when I put this on, you have to make me believe you are having the best time of your life.”

This class happened to be her first experience teaching a workshop at Jazz Fest, George said.

She said 50 minutes is a short amount of time to teach so many dances and movements, but it is just the right amount of time to keep the attention of young dancers.

George said American dances, in one way or another, have always utilized jazz music.

“When I think about jazz dance and jazz music, teaching all these decades of dance just seems most logical to me,” George said.

After teaching the students about dances from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, George asked them to form a large circle around the studio and put their new dance skills to use.

Some students filed into the center of the circle and showed off their newly learned choreography, while others put their free-style skills to the test.

“This is a tradition to celebrate everyone in the group individually,” George said. “Let’s have fun with it.”

Baggs said the dance clinics are meant to engage and educate students, but it is most important that each class is a fun way for students to try something new and get moving.

“There is something really special about the sharing of dance in the community,” George said. “The hope is that after every class you attend, you feel a little bit more alive.”

Hailey Stewart can be reached at or on Twitter at @Hailey_ann97

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