THE JACK COLE STYLE Cole used many ethnic and folk styles of dance (like East Indian, flamenco, and the lindy) as a source for movements. His style was derived from dance movements performed for centuries by common people, but theatricalised for use on the stage. This is why, when pressed for a definition of his movement, Cole termed it “urban folk dance. ” When trying to describe Cole’s movement, it is best to identify certain predominate characteristics. A partial list would include dancing in plie; with isolated body movements; with compressed or stored energy; and with a keen sense of manipulating rhythm, spatial levels, and attack.
The first item of dancing in plie is a key to the Cole style. Cole made great use of a wide and low second position, as well as a parallel fourth position with both knees bent and the back knee close to the floor. This wide stance dropped the dancer’s centre of gravity, and allowed the dancer to extend movement horizontally across the floor. This contrasted with the ballet dancer’s vertical orientation. By using an ultra smooth transition of weight from foot to foot, a slinky, sensual feel was given by him and his dancers. Cole’s movement is often called cat-like, or animalistic.
But while the weight centre was dropped low to the floor, the torso remained very tall and erect. Cole’s spine was lengthened and regal, giving a polished look. Even though his body was in plie, working with gravity, his torso at the same time defied gravity. This contradiction was magnified by his supple arms movements. Cole initiated arm movement from the center of the back, often involving the shoulder. This shoulder involvement in arm movement is characteristic of the way cats walk, adding to his reputation of having cat-like movement. Isolation in body movement was another key to Cole’s style.
Cole dancer Buzz Miller remembers him as being a “coiled spring. ” Another quality was that of supreme strength in movement. His dancers were rock solid, and Graciela Daniele, the well-known choreographer and director of musicals at Lincoln Center, felt that Cole dancers were “warriors. ” An excellent description of this aspect of the Cole style was given by critic Debra Jowitt, who said ” Cole dancing strikes me as immensely aggressive; almost every gesture is delivered with maximum force, but then has to be stopped cold in mid-air to achieve the clarity of design he wanted… n immense counter effort has to be used to stop the gesture. ” Cole explored all spatial level in his choreography. Knee slides and floorwork were common, and it was normal for dancers to spring from the deepest plie into high, suspended leaps. He also abhorred the smiling, happy face seen in most jazz and tap dance of the time. Instead, he preferred a cool, almost cold look in the eyes. He danced with a piercing gaze, much like a newly caged tiger, that could prod and intimidate an audience. Rhythm is integral to Cole’s style.
Cole observed dancers at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom dancing the lindy, and utilised the swing feeling in their bodies. Swing music has a drop and recovery, much like a bouncing ball, that generates new energy on each rebound. This feeling, as transformed into authentic jazz dances, gives renewed energy and attack to each subsequent movement. Cole integrated this bounce and rebound into his movement, giving it a fresh and lively appearance. He also manipulated the dynamics of his movement, alternating passages of sharp attack with smooth sections. This