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WHAT IS BLUES?
what is blues dancing?
you mean “Blues” is a dance?
Yes It is. In fact, It is an entire family of several dances (such as the “Slow Drag” and the “Fishtail”) that are aesthetically, culturally and musically connected.
Like Swing dance, Blues dance originated and evolved from African rhythms and movements. Howeber, Blues dancing was never widely practiced as a “social” or performance dance in the United States outside of the Black communities; so it developed and thrived in smoky juke joints and at Blues house parties and rent parties, giving it a more intimate feel.
Because Blues dancing lacked wider social approval and appeal, it remained strongly entrenched in African principles of movement, not only in the motion of the hips, but in the characteristic creation of, and dancing within, a boundary.
Blues danc is strongly tied to Blues music, and many aspects of Blues dancing( for example, call and reponse, emotinal intensity, and tension and release) are directly related to the music to which it is danced. ther are many types of blues music (rural, urban, up-tempo, slow, electric, delta, modern), and also many types of Blues dance, all with very different nuances and emotions.
Early Blues dances often contained very simple one-step or two-step patterns; some examples of such early Blues dance are the “Cake Walk” and the “Black Bottom”. Other Blues dances such as the “Slow Drag” and the “Mooche” have also been passed down to us relatively unchanged from the original forms. in its modern context, Blues dance incorporates many aspects of these original dances as well as incorporationg ideas from modern concepts of partner connection, improvisation, and natural body movement.
Blues is also an emotion that you bring to your dancing. Blues Dance, like most Black vernacular dances, enables intense individuality in expressing the music, emphasizing that the music, not the dancer, leads the dance; the dancers is simply the interpreter. Blues dance demonstrates the passion of the entire range of human emotions – from sadness to joy – not just sensulity. if you don’t have a visceral reaction to the music, your partner, and the environment, then you are missing the true beauty of Blues dance.
Some Observers and dancers who have not studied Blues Dance other than by simple observation often overlook the nuances of the dance. To their eyes, the sensual appearance of the dance may overshadow its basis and structure. Blues dance at its best is rooted in subtle physical communication and connection between your partner, yourself, and the music and therfore is almost impossible to learn to execute well simply by watching.
Learning to blues dance enables the dancer to more fully understand dance concepts such as simplicity, clearity, creativity, expression, intensity, and musical and emotional interpretation that are critical to advanced social dancing of any kind.
Blues dance, the term contemporary blues dancers use to describe the genre of dance they participate in is shorthand for blues idiom dance, a term that I was first introduced to in Albert Murray’s “Stomping the Blues.” Most blues dance instructors I know generally use three main categories to divide Blues Idiom Dance: Solo, Juke Joint, and Ballroom. This note is not exhaustive, but it does seek to sketch out what comprises these three categories so dancers can distinguish which category their dance fits into, and at the end contains a breakdown of the blues aesthetic as I know it. I am aware that there are several contemporary subcultures/scenes which identify their dancing as being blues in whole or in part. Given the century of blues idiom dance development that shaped the included aesthetic, and that there are still communities where this vernacular movement is the norm, but are apart of the contemporary global community which owes its rise to the resurgence of Lindy Hop, I would argue that if those dances do not also adhere to the aesthetic they are not and cannot be blues idiom dance, and therefore stand apart as something new and unique, deserving of their own name, and their own history.
I encourage instructors and historians who would like to add to or otherwise help refine the general statements of the three categories to please join in, this note is meant to start a discussion not serve as the conclusion.
Solo Blues includes any dance steps done without direct physical influence to another dancer — this includes not just a single individual dancing either socially, or in performance or competition regardless if it is improvised or choreographed, but also riffing and cutting where visual, stylistic, and rhythmic cues may be taken or shared between two or more dancers, as well as when a partnered couple relaxes or breaks the connection so their is no direct transfer of energy influencing the dance steps being done. Blues Idiom Solo Dance is frequently lumped together with African American Vernacular Jazz Dance, which is generally used as a catch-all term for all African American Diasporic Dance, but it should not be seen as a replacement of any given dances specific genre or subgenre. Juke Joint Blues includes all dance variants that grew out of the types of blues music played in juke joints, roadhouses, honky tonks, rent parties, basement parties, and other venues that were generally crowded, had limited floor space, of a more casual/private nature, and tended towards small combos playing rhythmically dominant music and vocalists who sang in a percussive or growling manner. These dances are frequently characterized by staccato movement, dancing on the spot or if there is traveling frequent changes of direction, sharp angles, extremely grounded movement, a low-to-the-ground posture, deliberate hip/pelvic movement, and greater independence of movement and rhythms between partners.Ballroom Blues includes all dance variants that grew out of the types of blues music played in ballrooms and dance halls, that spacious floors,of a more formal/public nature, and tended towards big bands playing interwoven melodic lines on top of predictable shuffle or triple rhythms with the lead instruments frequently being a piano, brass, or reed instrument. These dances tend to travel more broadly around the floor, generating and manipulating momentum and are characterized by a somewhat more “upright” posture (though just as grounded as the juke joint dances), subtle hip/pelvic and counter torso movements, with footwork patterns making the baseline forms of expression.All three groupings adhere to the blues aesthetic detailed below,
1. An athletic, grounded, “Earth as Center” or “get-down” body posture and movement, characterized by the weight being held on the balls of the feet, the knees bent over the balls of the feet, the hips pushed back, and the front of the shoulders or the sternum pitched forward over the knees. In this posture a dancer should be able to step in any direction without having to shift their torso first.
2. An asymmetry and polyphonic look/feel to the body, characterized by an equality of body parts. No limb or part is given precedence over another, but they all work together both in a simultaneous and serialized fashion. The center of “energy”, focus and even weight shifting moves through various parts of the body; polycentric.
3. Rhythmic movement. Not just auditory but visual. Rather than a single rhythm being used in/with the body multiple meters or rhythms are used. Articulated movement in the torso (chest, rib cage, pelvis, butt) identifying and emphasizing different rhythms.
4. Improvisation between dancers and on their own movements. All based, no… entrenched in the rhythm of the music.
5. A drawing of the beats, dancing in the space between the beats, pushing and pulling creating a sense of tension both in the body and the body moving through space, while remaining loose and relaxed. The sense of moving through molasses or mud. A relaxed, lazy element to the interaction with the tempo and beats of a song, as if it doesn’t matter if you are late, but somehow without seeming to rush always being on time.
It is important to realize that while all blues idiom dance contain each of these aesthetic elements, each grouping contains multiple separate dances and each dance while containing these general aesthetic elements also adheres to additional aesthetic elements which differentiate it from other blues idiom dance, even within the same group.
by Damon Stone