Blues Aesthetics

Blues dances have certain characteristics about the look, feel, and values of the dances that make them identifiable as blues and connect them to the larger lineage of Black social dances. These characteristics are known as the “aesthetics.”

African-Americans who created and danced the Blues had retained and adapted movements and values from their West African ancestors, carrying these movements forward, reinventing them from generation to generation.

Many of these characteristics are part of African-American dances that pre-date the blues, were contemporaries of the blues, and that came after the blues as well. They can also be seen & felt in other African and African-diaspora dance forms–such as Lindy Hop, House, Vogue, Breaking, Afrobeats, Bop, and others.

Here are many of the aesthetic aspects present in dances in the blues family:

Once you start to see these characteristics in blues dances, you can see the connection to their heritage and to what came after.

  • Physical aspects
    • Feet flat on the ground, using the whole foot
    • Groundedness, “get down” posture
    • Connection to the music
      • Pulse and rhythm as the heart
      • Lag, a pulling of the beats, dancing between the beats, a quality of slowness
      • Dynamism & a dynamic relationship with the beat
      • Syncopation and polyrhythm
    • Personal style & expression
    • Improvisation – individual improvisation, improvisation between partners or a group (and between musicians & dancers)
    • Multiple centers of movement within your body
    • Multiple simultaneous rhythms within your body
    • Asymmetry in your body
    • Hip-centric movement
    • “Hotness,” athleticism, youthfulness in movement
    • “Coolness,” attitude, & effortlessness
  • Social aspects
    • Community
    • Individuality within the group
    • Vocal encouragement
    • Lack of separation between performer and spectator
    • Friendly challenges among the dancers
    • Joyousness
    • Confrontational attitude (“in your face”)
    • Call-and-response
    • Conversation between musicians and dancers

To learn more, attend our dance classes and lectures, and check out these links for further reading:

*discusses aesthetics as well as the stereotyping of Black dancers’ bodies