What is Blues Dancing?

dancing with my partner Bill

Blues Dancing is like a one song hug

Blues dancing has been around for decades in one form or another.  It’s one of my favorite dances because it is so open to interpretation that it can look drastically different from one dancer to another.  As long as the character of the dance remains intimate and, well, bluesy, you can trade on pretty much any moves in your background from Lindy Hop to Tango.  This doesn’t mean you can just go off on a tangent and forget about your partner.  Blues is not an easy dance to lead, and if your lead is not crystal clear, it’s no fun for your partner.  You can see in the clip at the end a number of different styles and it’s still easy to see what they all have in common.

Blues is a street dance and as such has evolved from an offshoot of the Lindy Hop community (what Lindy dancers do late at night when everyone is tired, but one wants to go home, and the DJs start slowing the music way down to fit the energy level) to its own art form.  Now there are blues communities, blues dancers who never dance Lindy, and Blues workshops and camps.  It’s no longer something that dancers just DO.  You can learn it from dance teacers

.Here’s a story I love about Blues dancing.  Several years ago Steven Mitchel (one of the world’s greatest jazz dancers) was giving a swing workshop.  He decided by popular demand to teach Blues for one section of the weekend.  I was hanging around during the break when a local friend of Steven was meeting him for a visit while he was in town.  “What are you doing now?” asked the friend.  “Blues,” said Steven.  “What’s that?”  “You know.” Steven looked around for a victim, grabbed me and did a little blues demo.  Unimpressed, the friend said “You have to teach that?”  “Evidently,” replied Steven.

If you know a partner dance and do it well, especially if you are music oriented and can easily respond to the feel and mood of a song, you probably can dance blues already.  But as you can see by how these talented dancers play with the dance, you can also pick up some really cool ideas from other dancers and step up your game by taking a class or going to a blues camp.  Find a teacher whose dance style and teaching match your taste and learning style.  I prefer a style that requires no skill to follow, like the second couple in the clip, although of course a skilled follow will enhance any dance and be more fun to dance with.  There are styles that are based on very complex dances like Argentine Tango where the follower has to know the dance it’s based on in order to follow the blues version.  There are styles where the follower just has to not be afraid of being that close, but needs no other training, and everything in between!

If you decide to try your hand at Blues dancing by learning on the fly, don’t be afraid to steal from other dancers.  All street dances have a tradition of getting ideas from other dancers.  Usually by the time you put it into your own dance, it doesn’t look anything like the step that inspired you.  But even if you steal it directly by asking the other dancer to show you how to do it, it’s still OK!  Just take the time and trouble to learn to do it right, and have fun.  Partner dance is a great way to have human contact in your life and Blues is like a long playful hug.  Learn to lead well, don’t be creepy, and everyone will want to dance with you!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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