Although jazz dance has its origins in classical dancing styles, as almost all forms of dance do, it is now its own distinct style which has been completely separated from the traditional methods that it is derived from. The modern form of jazz gained its own distinct style during the early twentieth century in the United States, with distinctions being made between vernacular jazz and theatrical jazz.
Vernacular jazz is an umbrella term which covers a large number of styles that all revolve around dancing at venues, although several performers do those styles professionally. Such techniques include ragtime dances, the Charleston, mambo, and the Lindy Hop, with notable performers including The Whitman Sisters, Ethel Waters, Katherine Dunham, and Norma Miller. It should undoubtedly be noted that despite the name, jazz dancing rarely, if ever, has anything to do with jazz music itself, although the name has stuck around.
The earliest roots of jazz dance have been traced back to African ritual and celebratory dances from the 17th century when the dances emphasised both improvisation and polyrhythm styles. These dances were brought to the United States, mainly through the slave trade. Although the style did not evolve itself, it did become politicised as several cities decided to restrict gatherings of enslaved people to specific days and times. Although tyrannical, they did encourage more massive crowds to gather, than otherwise might have got together for dancing, helping contribute to the evolution of the dance style, as many of those who gathered, brought their own individual styles that were copied by others.
Vernacular jazz dance has been differentiated from other styles of jazz dancing, such as those employed during Broadway or other theatrical shows, as it very often involves the routine use of improvisation, and dancing partners do not have to stick to a set routine, although most forms of vernacular do follow a set of rules. One of the most popular forms of vernacular jazz is the Lindy Hop, a style that came out of Harlem, New York City. The style evolved alongside the evolution that was happening in the jazz scene at that time, reaching peak popularity during the swing era of music between the late 1930s and early 1940s; the style is still prevalent in certain places.