I’m not one for New Year resolutions or 30-day ‘anything’ challenges. In fact, I had no intention of even working on improving my solo jazz. Then I saw a dear friend’s post on Instagram about taking on the Jazzuary challenge. I was curious – I was intrigued. It took me seven days of thinking about it before I decided to jump into the solo jazzy waters.
What is Jazzuary?
Run by Solo Jazz Machine, this is a challenge that works in the same way as Inktober does for visual artists. They offer 30 prompts in the month of January to help with your solo jazz practice. There are new prompts each year, but you can also do the prompts from previous years or make up your own if you wish. There are no hard and fast rules – they just want to get you dancing each day.
My rules of engagement around the challenge
I decided to use the prompt words from 2024. I wanted to dance every day and only record the dance on the first attempt. No refining or editing of my ideas. No perfecting or cleaning up. I wanted to hone the skill of solo jazz improvisation*, so I only wanted my first recorded response to be documented. That way I could assess where my weaknesses and strengths in improvisation were. I also danced to many songs I’d only ever heard for the first time** when selecting the song to support the day’s prompt.
*There were three days where I resorted to working with choreography because my brain was fried, deep fried. So the Mama Stew, Shim Sham (old and new) and an inspired Stops routine made an appearance.
** One of the strangest things I noticed from recording myself dancing to these new songs, is that I often saw I was mouthing along to lyrics I never knew. I have echolalia when dancing to jazz – it’s weird.
What was an unexpected challenge of the challenge?
By day 15, I couldn’t believe I was halfway – which meant – I also couldn’t believe that I still had halfway to go. The daily commitment to dancing, combined with the timing of an extreme Cape Townian heat wave made this extra challenging. Even though I only ever did one take, the daily commitment didn’t take the length of one song. It took the length of chewing on the prompt, interpreting it, choosing which song would be a best match, watching a YouTube tutorial if I wanted to try something out that I had only seen but never done before, most likely changing the song choice, finding another YouTube tutorial, more solo jazz rabbit holes, and eventually dancing to the song, then posting to the Gram.
Why post to Instagram?
Recording yourself means watching yourself which means reviewing yourself. I have spent more time watching the videos back and analysing them, than actually dancing for them. I have found immense value in this process. Posting it for others to witness creates accountability! Better expressed, I feel like my commitment to Jazzuary is reinforced by knowing a community is witnessing it – even if they aren’t actually witnessing it. Another reason why I decided to use Instagram, is its propensity to behave as a wonderful time capsule. I loved the thought of being able to look back a year from now and see how far I would have come in my dancing. So all the cringe moments, the imperfections, the amateur attempts at new ideas; hopefully I will look back at them with softness and tenderness, for the baby Lindy Hopper Tacky Jack was in 2024.
Would I do it again?
So this touches on the question of if there were un/expected celebrations of doing the challenge. And I’m thrilled to report that there were. Through the hashtag #jazzuary2024, I found other amazing solo jazz artists I had not come across before. I was very inspired by many of them, and some of them even started following and liking what I was doing. I felt like I was developing my solo jazz alongside an international community.
The best outcome of the whole experience was that I genuinely felt my solo jazzing improved. I’m honestly proud of where I have come in 30 days. I feel like there is a new confidence in some of the ways I move. I have discovered prompts that really motivate my dancing (pause, repeat, round, sneaky, transition) and prompts that deeply challenge it (powerful, sharp, high).
I will most certainly not be continuing a daily solo jazz practice in this same capacity moving forward. However, I am ready and raring to go for Jazzuary 2025 🙂 Who is going to join me?
If you’re curious about Jayne’s Jazzuary journey, you can follow it on their Instagram @tackyjack