For 17 years, Giordano Dance Chicago has been combating misconceptions about jazz dance with its annual Jazz Dance World Congress, a gathering of the genre's stars, students and everyday enthusiasts.
"Jazz was considered the low culture art form," said artistic director Nan Giordano, daughter of company founder and jazz dance legend Gus Giordano. "He wanted to raise the profile and just the thought behind jazz dance."
Although Gus Giordano died in 2008, his mission lives on through his daughter, his 50-year-old company and Jazz Dance World Congress. This year's summit will open today Downtown, with five days of classes and panel discussions at Point Park University and the August Wilson Center for African American Culture and four days of public performances at Byham Theater.
"We've never been in this area, and we've had a strong relationship with Point Park, and they've been feeding dancers for many years into our company," Ms. Giordano said. But 10 years ago, Pittsburgh probably wouldn't have been on the short list of potential host cities.
"It's definitely come up on the radar. And I think that's because the city, as well as, of course, the university, has really put a focus on the arts."
Point Park's spacious studios also are a good fit for accommodating the event's approximately 600 expected participants, she said. Attendees will be able to join in master classes with such dance figures as Liz Imperio, Ray Leeper, Randy Duncan, Garfield Lemonius, Ms. Giordano and more. There also will be discussions with Giordano Dance Chicago artists and the editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine. A scholarship audition for rising college juniors and seniors will be another highlight. Registration for these portions of the congress are closed.
Another component of the congress is the Jazz Dance World Festival, four evenings of programs by an assortment of dance companies from across the world. Local representatives will be the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Point Park University's Conservatory Dance Company.
"Wherever we go, we do take advantage of some of the city's talent," Ms. Giordano said. Giordano Dance Chicago also is on the roster, as well as Koresh Dance Company and Philadanco! (Philadelphia), Odyssey Dance Theatre (Salt Lake City), Del Dominguez & Laura Flores (Chicago) Cuerpo Etereo Danza Contemporanea (Mexico) and Masashi Action Machine (Japan). Each evening's program will vary.
Jazz Dance World Festival performances will begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. At 6:30 p.m. each night, an international choreography competition will feature works by nonprofessional troupes. The winner will earn $2,500 and a spot on Saturday's prime-time performance lineup. The contest is sponsored by Dance Studio Life.
Vast knowledge of jazz dance isn't a prerequisite to join the festivities -- just an open mind to soak up the diverse interpretations of it that will be on display.
"I want them to walk out saying, 'Wow, that was fantastic,' " Ms. Giordano said. "I think it's about the energy. It's not just seeing that it's good but feeling it."
Sara Bauknecht: email@example.com.