What’s blues dancing?

We loved this website’s description of blues dancing, so we shamelessly quote it on our page. Thanks, Blues in Heidelberg! http://www.bluesinheidelberg.com/what-is-blues-dancing

“The Blues is Life.—Brownie McGhee

Blues is a music, a dance, a feeling. It can express pain, it can celebrate, it can tease and seduce, it can relieve burdens.

Blues music was borne of the African American experience, particularly in the South. It came from the African rhythms in spirituals and folk ballads. Along with Jazz, Blues is an American idiom, a synthesis of African and European sounds.

“The British ballads became a new kind of form in their hand. And out of them came the blues, a new kind of song of commentary and satire, a song form which, after all, has become the main musical form of the whole human species.”

—Alan Lomax

Pioneering musicians include W.C. Handy, Lead Belly and Ma Rainey.

Blues dance grew naturally along with the music. It combines elements of both African dance and European partnered dance. Common in rural and urban juke joints alike, the dance spread and developed as the music did.

“Feet commenced to pat. A moment later there was dancing on the sideways below. Hands went in the air, bodies swayed like reeds on the banks of the Congo… In the office buildings about, white folks pricked up their ears. Stenographers danced with their bosses. Everybody shouted for more.”

—W.C. Handy

“Saturday night is your big night. Everybody used to fry up fish and have one hell of a time. Find me playing till sunrise for 50 cents and a sandwich. And be glad of it. And they really liked the low-down blues.”

—Muddy Waters

Since the revival of Swing dancing in the 1980s and 1990s, Blues has also seen a resurgence. It is characterised by a strong interpretive and improvisational spirit, and an emphasis on connection between the dance partners and the music.

“I think the blues will always be around. People need it.”

—Johnny Winter”

Blues is a modern name for a family of dances, danced to blues, jazz, and related music.  Most dances have a simple one- or two-step basic, so there is less reliance on patterns, and more emphasis on creativity, style, and partnership. The simplicity of blues dance makes it easy to pick up, and allows for rich variations. The vintage blues dances originated between the late 1800s and the swing era, and the modern revival is still growing the dance today. For a wonderful & detailed description of blues dancing, read here: Blues Idiom Dances or here: The Black Dancing Body.

Some styles of blues dancing

Jookin’/Juke Joint Blues

In juke joints in the South, there would often be music. Sometimes just a singer with a guitar or piano, sometimes more. These places birthed dances such as the slow drag, simple dances that are accessible, but full of rhythm and power.



Ballroomin’ Blues

In large ballrooms like the Savoy Ballroom in New York City, the big swing bands wouldn’t just play swing music. Sometimes they’d play slower tunes as well, and the dancers would keep on dancing. With more room to dance and the full sound of a large band, ballroomin’ includes more big, fancy moves.


Drag Blues

Drag blues is a modern style of blues. With lots of momentum and interesting shapes, drag blues can also be quite flashy and stylish.


Details from a scholar

This is a description of the Africanist aesthetic, which includes the blues idiom dances, from The Black Dancing Body by Brenda Dixon Gottschild:

“…feet in solid contact with the earth; the ground as a medium to caress, stomp, or make contact with the whole body (whether with serpentine, supplicatory, or somersaulting movements); a grounded, “get-down” quality to the movement characterized by body asymmetry (knees bent, torso slightly pitched forward…); an overall polyphonic feel to the dance/dancing body (encompassing a democratic equality of body parts, with the center of energy, focus, and gravity shifting through different body parts–polycentric; as well as different body parts moving to two or more meters or rhythms–polymetric or polyrhythmic); articulation of the separate units of the torso (pelvis, chest, rib cage, buttocks); and the primary value placed on both individual and group improvisation.” pg 15

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