Jazz is a fun high-energy workout — ballet, with more flair.

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UNTIL THE beginners jazz class at eXit SPACE School of Dance in Green Lake, I didn’t know jazz stars were missing from my life.

Before attending my first dance class, teacher Karen O’Branovich assured me my childhood ballet classes would help me in beginner jazz; muscle memory would carry me through.

Class started with a lengthy core warm-up, and then we got into jazz basics. Unlike ballet, where toes are turned out, your feet point straight forward in jazz. We worked first on releves, or rising up to the balls of our feet. I focused on alignment of my heels right over the balls of my feet to strengthen my feet, which was interesting and more challenging than I expected.

Jazz instructor Karen O’Branovich reminds her students that jazz has a different energy than ballet. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Jazz instructor Karen O’Branovich reminds her students that jazz has a different energy than ballet. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

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O’Branovich told us that releves also come from tightening up in our core, not solely balancing on our feet, thus the core warm-up.

She took us through exercises to warm up our feet, doing lots of plies and releves, then she added in tendus, extending our legs and pointing our feet forward, sideways and back. We worked on half-pirouette spins, and full ones, though I was not exactly graceful at spinning.

It all felt quite familiar, and my body remembered everything we were doing faster than I did. Muscle memory is amazing.

Then the jazz work kicked in. More than once, O’Branovich showed us how it would go in ballet — and showed us how to do it in jazz, emphasizing that jazz is a different form of expression, with snappier moves and flair.

She took us through a form with tendus, a jazz square, a pirouette and a jazz slide. After we did the basic footwork, she told us to add in sass, throwing one shoulder forward and looking with emphasis toward the audience — or for us, the mirror.

After the pirouette, she added in a jazz slide and told us to “throw jazz stars from your blade hands” as we slid across the floor.

Jazz instructor Karen O’Branovich says even if you’re not performing in front of an audience, jazz dance is a performance art. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Jazz instructor Karen O’Branovich says even if you’re not performing in front of an audience, jazz dance is a performance art. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

I don’t know that I mastered the sassy shoulder throw or the saucy glance over the shoulder, but I was electrified by jazz stars. I wish I had learned them in my childhood. Who wouldn’t want jazz stars in your muscle memory — forever?

For the next round, to “That Man” by Caro Emerald, the choreography got more involved. After a few saucy moves across the floor, including a creepy “Gollum” chasse move and some hip slaps, we did a pirouette and, maintaining balance on our standing leg, leapt in the air. We then moved across the floor into another jump and ended by leaping and throwing our arms away from us, like we were pushing someone away.

I was pirouetting by this point, but with the added choreography, decided to hold my releve on one foot rather than spinning around. While I remembered how to spin from childhood ballet classes, it didn’t mean I could execute without losing my balance.

O’Branovich reminded us that even if we are not performing in front of an audience, jazz is a performance art. While jazz relies on many of the basic ballet forms, like plies and more plies, it has a different, snappy energy, with lots of fast, crisp arm and head movements. It felt invigorating.

Jazz is high-energy and fun. If you’re looking for a little more sass in your step, or in your dance moves, check out jazz. It might be the dance form you’ve been looking for all along.

Jazz instructor Karen O’Branovich, far left, teaches a class. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Jazz instructor Karen O’Branovich, far left, teaches a class. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)