by Bob Boross
Matt Mattox is a dancer-teacher-choreographer who has greatly affected the evolution of jazz dance in America and Europe. Mattox was born in 1921, and received a strong foundation in ballet before becoming a leading dancer in Hollywood from 1946-1953. As a dancer, his leading film accomplishments include Seven Brides for Seven Brothers , Gentlemen Prefer Blondes , and The Bandwagon. Some of his partners have included Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, Mitzi Gaynor, Marilyn Monroe, Gwen Verdon, and Jane Russell. It was in 1948 that Mattox was first hired by choreographer Jack Cole for the Broadway show Magdelena. Cole is acknowledged as a pioneer in the theatrical application of jazz dance, and it was this seven year association with Cole that changed Mattox's direction from aspiring ballet dancer to the personification of perfection in a jazz dancer.
Mattox has choreographed films and musicals, but is most noted as a choreographer for his television work of the 1950s and 1960s, particularly The Bell Telephone Hour. The Mattox movement style is an eclectic form that draws from the Cole style, modern dance, ethnic, flamenco, tap, and Mattox's own studies in ballet. It is based on Mattox's personal belief that all forms of dance are valid as inspiration and expression. Mattox has commented on his need for total freedom in expression by calling his style "freestyle".
(Matt at STEPS (NYC)/1991)
His efforts as a teacher of jazz dance, however, are significant, for Mattox created a system of exercises to train jazz dancers during the embryonic stage of theatrical jazz dance. Although he was not the only teacher to do so, it is evident that his technique method was the most intricate and most clearly integrated the jazz dance concepts of isolation and propulsive rhythm.
After fourteen years of leading the jazz dance scene in New York, Mattox moved to London and assumed the same position of leadership in English jazz dance. There he formed a concert jazz dance company, Jazzart, which he eventually brought to Paris in 1975. His technique is well known and highly respected throughout Europe. Mattox, now in his 70s, is still in great demand as a teacher and choreographer.
Although his star has faded somewhat in America due to his long absence, his legacy remains in the choreography of Graciela Daniele, Margo Sappington, Alan Johnson, Robert North, Raza Hammadi, and Anthony Van Laast. His technique can be seen in Frank Pietri, Charles Kelley, Elisabeth Frich, Renato Greco, and Jane Darling, as well as literally tens of thousands of teachers and students who have studied with him during his 40 years of teaching. Mattox is a primary figure in the evolution of the jazz dancer from a high kicking chorus girl to a concert caliber performer, and of jazz dance from the dance halls to the concert halls. Although somewhat obscure, Matt Mattox is a jazz dance legend.
Matt in Perpignan, France/1991