If you want to understand the connections between jazz dance and its descendants, you can read a book or take a class. But how much more efficient and fun it is to watch LaTasha Barnes do her thing.

Barnes is a dance scholar in an academic sense who recently earned a Masters degree from New York University. But it is their embodied knowledge that is rarer and more influential. A hard-to-beat master in the club-derived form known as house, without admitting that field, she has also become a leader in Lindy Hop, a form that, despite being originated by black dancers, has long been deficient in black Practitioners.

All of this makes Barnes a bridge between worlds that seldom cross, a connector, or rather a re-connector, as the styles and subcultures she joins encompass much of the world-conquering dance that has historically been used in African American Communities emerged a century or so – are all branches of a family whose members often do not recognize each other.

It is this lack of recognition that Barnes can seemingly mend with ease. To see her dance, especially to jazz music, is to watch the collapse of historical distance. Steps and attitudes separated by epochs flow through her improvising body, not as an intentional amalgamation, but as a single language that she has apparently always known and which she nevertheless creates on the spot. The links are natural, informal, authentic without any reference to the antiquarian. They are active, present, going live. The shock of disclosure can make you laugh out loud.

This Barnes effect is well known in the lindy hop, solo jazz and house scenes as well as in the broader circles of street and club dance. But now, at 40, Barnes could be on the verge of a different kind of recognition. On May 19, her show “The Jazz Continuum” will be premiered at the Guggenheim Museum as part of the future-oriented Works & Process series. In August it goes to the renowned Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires.

As the title suggests, “The Jazz Continuum” aims to uncover hidden connections and forgotten continuities. Barnes has put together a cross-generational crew of black dancers, experts in various styles, and puts them in conversation with jazz musicians and a DJ.

“It’s a very personal show,” Barnes said recently from her Brooklyn home. “It’s about each of us expressing our individual understanding of the jazz we have.” The reorientation of jazz towards the project also has a public point. “We want to create more space so that not only the value of these dance forms is recognized,” she said, “but especially so that the black community should turn its gaze back to its beauty and strength.”

In a way, Barnes tries to reproduce her own experience of rediscovery. Their dance began in the womb. Her father was a DJ, and at his parties she said she would ditch her mother’s groove until she got closer to the speakers so Barnes, who was still in the womb, could sync to the music.

Barnes’ childhood in Richmond, Virginia was full of dancing, especially every Sunday at family barbecues. “I would try to do the dances my aunts and uncles did,” she said. “When the song changed on the radio, so did the dances.” She kept up with her grandmother and even her great grandmother, who was born in 1928.

Her mother also took her to formal dance classes, but at the age of 8, discouraged by teachers who told her she had the wrong body type – too short and muscular – she turned to athletics and gymnastics. She never stopped dancing in her teens, but it was mostly at parties after the track meet or at clubs where people snuck in her and her friends because they really got down to it.

She joined the army at 18, another family tradition. She rose through the ranks at an unusual rate, becoming a first class sergeant in about half the usual time. As a satellite communications operator, she spent four years in Europe and then with the White House communications agency (followed by three more years as an independent contractor).

All the while, she was drawn to doing physical tests, joining powerlifting teams, and participating in fitness competitions. When she was recovering from a sports injury in 2004, she was hit by a car and walked away with a broken hip, broken back, and broken wrist. She later helped identify the driver by tucking her body into the dent on his hood. Doctors found that she also had degenerative disc disease. They told her that maybe she would never be athletic again.

After a year of regenerative work, a physical therapist suggested dance therapy. Barnes found a class in pop, the funk style of robotic contraction and isolation. It wasn’t long before a teacher introduced her to Junious Brickhouse.

Brickhouse recently founded Urban Artistry, an organization in Silver Spring, Md. Dedicated to preserving and performing urban dance forms. He taught Barnes the house, which she did as a teenager, without knowing what it was called. But he also required that she knew about various neighboring styles (hip-hop, waacking), studied with mentors and was in line with authors.

According to Brickhouse, the idea of ​​having people train in many styles recently was both about connecting people and promoting versatility. “When you’re just a BMX rider, it’s hard to understand surfers,” he said, “and when you’re all a b-boy or a popper the world seems small. LaTasha welcomed the openness and the idea that where we come from we can inform about where we are going. “

Brickhouse helped Barnes become a teacher and made her known for her highly competitive nature: dance battles. For house dancers, the biggest fight is Juste Debout, a competition in Paris that fills the arenas with fans. In 2011, Barnes and her partner Toyin Sogunro won Category 2 against 2 houses. Barnes quit her job at the White House and devoted herself to dancing.

In her search for a competitive edge, she’d already picked up a touch of jazz dance that had emerged from old footage and found similarities with house. But then Jeff Booth, a white radio musician who took popping classes at Urban Artistry, began to share some of the Lindy Hop he’d learned elsewhere. Trade moves showed more similarities.

Step inside Bobby White, a swing dance champion, teacher, and amateur historian. When he came to Urban Artistry to teach a vintage jazz dance called the Big Apple, he noticed that, first time trying the routine, Barnes looked eerily like one of the least famous dancers of the original Black Lindy’s most famous group Hoppers. Whitey’s.

“I had never seen anyone move like that,” said White. And when Barnes started studying Lindy Hop with him and others, climbing up at her usual rate, he wondered how “she was doing things no one had seen before, which still made sense because it was in the music . “

When Barnes tried to swing out, she thought, “I’ve felt this before.” Her grandmother told her that she had already been taught the dance by her great-grandmother. “And then it became a way of honoring her,” said Barnes. “Every time jazz music comes up, I feel it.”

From White’s point of view, Barnes became an inspiring role model, bringing with him a spirit of jazz dance that the lindy hop scene had missed when they joined a new generation of black dancers devoted to form.

“I’m a black woman,” said Tena Morales-Armstrong, President of the International Lindy Hop Championships. “When I started dancing Lindy 20 years ago, I didn’t even know that black people started it. I could go to many, many events and never see anyone who looks like me. “

Lately this has changed, with the support of groups that Barnes belongs to – the Frankie Manning Foundation, Hella Black Lindy Hop, the Black Lindy Hoppers Fund – organizations that strive to give black dancers better representation and access to education and To enable resources.

Barnes’ influence isn’t just as a black dancer on the Lindy scene, however. Sometimes she demonstrates house at Lindy events. She demonstrates jazz at house events. Your live broadcast is a conduit, especially when what comes out is not either / or both / and.

“In the black community, we let go of a lot of the things we created,” said Michele Byrd-McPhee, founder of Ladies of Hip-Hop and performer of Jazz Continuum. “LaTasha did a great job showing us how to become aware of our history and how to claim it for ourselves.”

Melanie George, associate curator at Jacob’s Pillow and jazz dance expert, sees Barnes as a model for a jazz approach to a dance career: “She is equally interested in all of these forms. She found a way not to have to choose. “Concert dance moderators often expect jazz and hip-hop artists to adapt to their needs, but Barnes” comes in as LaTasha “.

And George added, “What we know about great jazz dancers is the same as what we know about great jazz musicians – it gets richer over time.”

At 40, Barnes is in bloom. And what she has learned about herself may now become apparent to others. “I’ve always seen myself as the eternal outsider,” she said, “without realizing that it was actually the other way around.” She’s inside because the center of American dance is what she knows what she’s doing.