The true beginning of jazz dance came from rhythms of African dance, and was brought to America by slaves. Slaves were brought over to America as early as the 1500s, bringing with them the movements that began jazz.
The slave owners parioded the slaves' dances in minstrel shows. Minstrel shows began to incorporate the cakewalk, a competition among the slaves where partners paraded and danced in competition mocking their white owners. As the popularity of minstrel shows grew, the buck-and-wing was introduced to the stage.
Heavily influenced by Irish jig and English clog dancing, the buck-and-wing involved fast footwork and small arm movements. The unusual rhythm of this dance encouraged composers to continue with the style of musice, which became syncopation. Syncopation became the "hallmark" of jazz dance.
In the 1920s Americans were searching for personal freedom, and the dance emerging expressed it. The very popular Charleston used body isolations for the first time in social dance, with foot stamping and hand clapping.
In the 1930s symphonic jazz emerged. The big band sound gave birth to swing dancing. Also from this era came the jitterbug, also known at the Lindy-Hop, and the boogie-woogie. Busby Berkeley was a top broadway tap director very influential to the field. Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire were a dynamic movie dancing couple of the decade.
In the 1940s social jazz dance began to die out because of the war, and jazz became more technique oriented as dancers trained in modern and ballet performed it. Jack Cole is called the father of jazz dance technique; he developed an innovative training style. Jazz made its way onto Broadway.
Through the 1950s, serious musicals emerged and jazz dance became very theatrical. In the 1960s and 1970s social dance made a comeback in a variety of styles including the swim, the jerk and the monkey. As time progressed jazz dance took on many forms, including Broadway, music videos, films and more. It developed into a unique American style that continues to grow today.
Information obtained from Kraines and Pryor's "Jump Into Jazz."