Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Milwaukee Blues Dancing Primer

What is it?

I love blues dancing, and so do people in every major city in America and many across the world.  But what is blues dancing?  Let me see if I can explain...

Blues dancing, like blues music, is raw, gritty, and expressive.  It is characterized by strong connection - between partners, between the dancers and the music, and even connection within the body of each dancer.  It is characterized by musicality and creative improvisation.  It is characterized by deep pulse, natural relaxed body movement, and physical eloquence.

It is difficult for me to describe in words.  The best thing I can say is that after a very good blues dance, I feel as if I've had an internal massage.  I would be happy to hear and publish others' descriptions and experiences of blues dancing, so please comment if you have one!

Some people are probably wondering if blues dancing is related to swing dancing, or tango, or any other dance.  I have observed a large overlap between lindy hoppers and blues dancers, and between west coast swing dancers and blues dancers, but a large portion of the blues scene is exclusively, or mainly, blues dancers.  I know of a number of moves that seem to be inspired by Argentine tango, but after trying to follow Argentine tango, I would guess that blues dancing is only loosely related if at all.  Blues dancing is entirely its own genre, even if it has inspirations and overlaps with other styles.

Some people are probably wondering where blues dancing came from.  There seems to be some controversy over whether the close, slow dancing done in rent parties during the early Swing era can be called blues dancing.  If so, then the modern incarnation is a revival of the early forms of dancing done to blues music, and if not, it is a dance that evolved in parallel to the swing revival of the 80's and 90's.  Either way, it is definitely still evolving.

Some people are probably wondering why we don't just cut to the chase and call it "sexy" dancing, because that's basically all it is, right?  Well, I and the entire international blues community beg to differ.  

From the awesome blog/tumblr
Declaration of Lindependance
There may be many elements of blues dancing that look sexy, but very little of it is actually as sexy as it seems from the outside.  Most of the time when I am dancing blues, I am feeling athletic, musical, and connected.  And most of the time when I am watching blues, I am captured by the expressiveness, the aesthetic, and the amazing things that people can do with the medium. People come to blues dancing for all different reasons, but most of them stay for the incredibly rich dance experience that they find.

Enough of the what.  Let's move on to the why.  And for that, I leave it up to the greats.

Why do it?

Damon and Liz Stone give a blues demo: 

Joe and Nelle give a slow drag (style of blues) demo: 

A mesmerizing blues performance to "Stormy Weather": 

A fast blues dance contest at BluesSHOUT! 2011 (watch it till the end - it gets crazy!): 

Where do it?

Had enough?  Me neither.  Here's where you can find blues dancing if you live in Milwaukee:

1. Madison has a very healthy blues scene, headed up by MadCity Blues.
  • They are holding a beginner Blues Bootcamp on Sunday, August 18th, $20 if you register online.  This is perfect for any level of dancer!
  • They are also holding an awesome Tri-State Workshop Extravaganza on August 23rd-25th, with incredible instructors and two nights of social dancing.  Registration is now open for a ridiculously low $50; you definitely don't want to miss it!
2. Chicago has two monthly blues venues, both very popular hotspots for dancers of all levels:
  • Bluetopia, on the last Friday of every month, located at the American Tango Institute at 325 N. Hoyne.  Lots of very friendly dancers here, and occasionally live music!
  • CodeBlue, on the second Friday of every month, located at the Enso Karate Dojo at 412 S. Wells.  Both blues and lindy are danced and DJ'ed here!
If you want to carpool to any of these, post on the Brew City Hops Facebook page and we'll have a carload in no time.

3. Milwaukee's blues scene is making a start!  So far, we've had one Blues Revival Dance - keep an eye out for another one as the weather turns cooler.

Also, Henry Boeh and I are finishing up a beginner's course, called Blues Dancing II, with Milwaukee Recreation.  Anyone is welcome to register and drop in for the last few weeks; you will fit in at whatever level!

Last, but most definitely not least, please keep an eye out for awesome live blues bands performing in the area - one of the best things to do is get a group of friends together and jam out to live music!  If you know anything, please post it at the Brew City Hops Facebook page, and we'll come out and jam with you like wild things!

1 comment:

  1. So excited to find that my birth city has a developing blues dance scene! I live in Portland, OR now and whenever I go back to Wisconsin to visit family, I go through dance please keep it coming! :) Blues dance has become such a part of my life, that I'm even writing a book about the healing power of the dance, "Saved by the Blues."