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Jam Session
Jam Session, 1943
Claude Clark, American
Oil on canvas
20 x 18 inches (50.8 x 45.7 cm)
Purchased with the Julius Bloch Memorial Fund created by Benjamin D. Bernstein, 1998
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Let’s Look

  • Who do you see in this painting? What are they doing? How can you tell?
  • Are they moving fast or slow?
  • What kind of music do you think they are dancing to? What instruments could be playing? What does the title, Jam Session, mean?
  • What time of day or night is it?
  • Where is the light in this painting coming from? What colors are the shadows on the girl’s white dress?
  • What is the mood of this scene?
  • How would this scene look and sound different if it were taking place today (clothing styles, dance movements, music, etc.)?

The Jitterbug and Traditional African Dance

Look closely at Jam Session. Read the list of characteristics of traditional African dance below and note the ones that you can find in this painting of African American dancers.
  • Full-body movement, not just arms or legs
  • A wide, solid stance with feet firmly planted on the earth
  • Improvisation (giving new interpretations to traditional forms)
  • Groups of dancers who form circles and lines
  • Support from onlookers who sing and clap
  • Moving shoulders, hips, and knees simultaneously to different beats
  • Percussion (drums, hand clapping, foot tapping, and body patting)
  • Pantomime (imitating people working, animals, or spiritual powers)
  • Using special objects (masks and costumes or handkerchiefs, canes, and hats)
  • Competitions (In the United States, this tradition continued with cakewalk contests, jitterbug competitions, and break dancing.)*


*Adapted from Barbara Glass, ed., When the Spirit Moves: African American Dance in History and Art (Wilberforce, OH: National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, 1999), 8–9.


For more information, please contact The Division of Education by phone at (215) 684-7580, by fax at (215) 236-4063, or by e-mail at .

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