Blues dancing is one of those art forms that can draw a blank for most non-dancers, and others who are not familiar with the music or scene.
So what exactly is it?
Blues means different things to different people. Although early blues music and dancing is considered a parent to swing and jazz, the style danced today is a by product of the swing dance scene. Kind of ike an all new, recycled version. If that makes any sense! Historians haven’t been able to pinpoint which exact location that Blues dancing started. Although its early beginnings seem to have been in Southern juke joints during the 1930s and 1940s.
However, unlike swing and most other partner dance styles, there is no ‘official’ basic step in blues dance. It is almost completely improvisational. In response to the deep pulse driven by the music, there is one common step where dancers pulse up or down, typically when the weight is on one foot or the other. If there were a basic step, this would have to be it. Most blues dancers also tend to bring the non weighted foot near the other, maintaining minimal space between both feet. Keeping this improvisation in mind, instructors and other experienced blues dancers often encourage students to try to feel the music so they are able to lag just behind the beat (rather than step precisely on each beat); which gives each movement a true blues feel.
Blues aficionados often encourage dancers to introduce variation into repetitive patters. Fore example if a leader is swaying side to side repeatedly, it might be a good time to sway back and forth or add some rotation. Since this style is so open to interpretation, there shouldn’t be worry of trying to remember specific steps or counts, which should allow dancers to feel relaxed, free and able to connect to each other and the music. Despite its improvisational unpredictability, it is still a good idea to take lessons, which are conveniently offered just before the social dance begins here at ATOMIC.
Etiquette: How to Keep Your Partners from Feeling Blue
Lather Up and Get Minty Fresh
Like every other dance, you’re likely to get sweaty. However unlike many other dance styles, you’re very likely to be dancing in a tight space in close proximity to other couples, and especially with your partner. So you’ll want to be freshly showered before the dance, use deodorant, and keep breath mints on hand.
Dress Up to Get Down
You don’t literally have to dress up. But do wear clothing and footwear that are comfortable to move around in. You don’t want your wardrobe and accessories to get in your way or get you down.
No, it is not a Twerk-fest
Because this is such an intimate dance, be careful not to infringe on your partners personal space, particularly if you are dancing with someone new and don’t know his or her limits. Grinding on another dancer (especially a total stranger, can cause your pool of possible dance partners to evaporate very quickly. Each dancer has his or her own comfort level, so it should never be assumed that everyone is comfortable dancing in ultra close with every partner. If there is any doubt, it is a good idea to share these feelings with your partner.
Follow the Leader… or Follow the Follower
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a dance without formal steps or many rules also has a flexible tradition with leading and following. Without as much concern for posture and frame, there isn’t as much of a general assumption that men lead and women follow. In fact at many blues social dances all over, couples often alternate back and forth with who leads and who follows. So naturally women are just as likely to ask men to dance as the contrary.
Empty Your Front Pockets
Or at least clear them of pens, keys and other sharp objects that could injure or cause discomfort to other dancers. Since couples dancing blues are often cheek to cheek or even hip to hip at some point in the dance, certain objects on your person that are usually not noticed, can be an obstruction during this dance.
Blues Starter Playlist
This free flowing improvisational dance style is danced to a wide variety of music from various genres. So each dancer, depending on his or her taste in music will have different preferences that reflect his or her own connection with the music that is as individual as the dance itself. If you don’t know blues from bhangra, this list of popular favorite should get you started!
“I’d Rather Go Blind” – Etta James
“Summertime Sadness” – Lana Del Rey
“Three O’Clock Blues” – Eric Clapton and BB King
“Give Me a Reason to Love You” – Portishead
“I Got It Bad and That Aint Good” – Nina Simone
“Fallin” – Alisha Keys
“I Pitty the Fool” – Bobby Bland
“Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” – John Mayer
“Night and Day” – Ray Charles
“The Night Time is the Right Time” – Joe Turner with Count Basie
Be sure to come by ATOMIC this Thursday, August 21st for live music and a special 1 hour workshop with remarkable choreographer Benji Schwimmer, in honor of ATOMIC’s 6 year Swinging the Blues anniversary. There will be food trucks and lots of other special treats (both edible and non-edible) in store!