Blues Dancing

rails

New Member
#1
What is blues dancing? I've never actually seen it or maybe I have and didn't know it. From the way people talk about it it sounds like freestyle dancing to slow jazz or blues. Anyone know its history?
 
#3
Blues dancing is rooted in the African slaves exploration of developing a unified cultural identity. Their being forbidden to practice their own religion, they adapted their modes of worship to Christianity. The idea of dancing and singing as not just a mode but the mode of worship gave birth to the Ring Shout, a shuffling circle dance with clapping and singing.

The movements and vocal forms used in the Ring Shout became the base of Gospel music and Blues music and dance. Traditional blues dances were both solo and partnered and involved isolated, polyrhythmic movement using very little floor space (very different than the line of dance used for the European partnered and set dances popular at the time). The partnered dances rarely (if ever) left the closed position (partner relationship was not to disimilar from Argentine Tango).

The Spirit Moves shows some examples of vintage blues dances.

As to being freestyle dancing... it is in its vintage forms as freestyle as Argentine Tango (however you may view that dance), though a significant number of people who "blues dance" these days are in fact doing freestyle movement with little influence from the traditional styles. Some people use ballroom dancing as their base, others use wcs, lindy hop or carolina shag as their base.

Anything else I can help you with? I noticed you live in San Francisco, Feb. 8th I'm going to be teaching an intro class for Blues Dancing at the Lake Merritt Danceter in Oakland. The class will be a lead-in to a series there starting Feb. 22nd. Private Message me for details if you are interested.
 

tsb

Well-Known Member
#5
Blues dancing is rooted in the African slaves exploration of developing a unified cultural identity. Their being forbidden to practice their own religion, they adapted their modes of worship to Christianity. The idea of dancing and singing as not just a mode but the mode of worship gave birth to the Ring Shout, a shuffling circle dance with clapping and singing.

The movements and vocal forms used in the Ring Shout became the base of Gospel music and Blues music and dance. Traditional blues dances were both solo and partnered and involved isolated, polyrhythmic movement using very little floor space (very different than the line of dance used for the European partnered and set dances popular at the time). The partnered dances rarely (if ever) left the closed position (partner relationship was not to disimilar from Argentine Tango).

The Spirit Moves shows some examples of vintage blues dances.

As to being freestyle dancing... it is in its vintage forms as freestyle as Argentine Tango (however you may view that dance), though a significant number of people who "blues dance" these days are in fact doing freestyle movement with little influence from the traditional styles. Some people use ballroom dancing as their base, others use wcs, lindy hop or carolina shag as their base.

Anything else I can help you with? I noticed you live in San Francisco, Feb. 8th I'm going to be teaching an intro class for Blues Dancing at the Lake Merritt Danceter in Oakland. The class will be a lead-in to a series there starting Feb. 22nd. Private Message me for details if you are interested.
hmm. i DJ blues weekly in between live sets here in LA. the idea of blues being tied to worship is new to me. it's been my take that musically blues and gospel were flip sides of the same coin - expressing dealing with adversity where in gospel god is part of the equation and in blues god isn't. but it suddenly occurs to me that this might reflect a branching of those who accepted the judeo-christian world view in their worship - and those who did not. i'd be interested in hearing your take on this.
 

Steve Pastor

Moderator
Staff member
#6
a significant number of people who "blues dance" these days are in fact doing freestyle movement with little influence from the traditional styles
This is probably the most accurate statement in that quote.

European partnered and set dances popular at the time... rarely (if ever) left the closed position
This view of "European" dancing is not at all accurate. I'm currently viewing recreations of dances in the "How to Dance Through Time" series which uses a long list of books on how to dance. There are many, many instances where the closed "ballroom hold" is not used, or where the dance position changes. (Victorian Era)
And, we should note that the ballroom was not the only place people danced. But, it was the only dancing that was well documented in how to books.

the idea of blues being tied to worship is new to me
I've seen very persuasive arguments by musicologists for the influence of African music on American music. "Argentine Tango: the Art History of Love" presents a persuasive agrument that African movement was incorporated into that dance.
A lot of the other stuff that people repeat as a given, is not so persuasive.

Here's a minor example. Where Harris (In the tango book above) links a "gazing into the distance" gesture (hand held horizontally above eyes) with the pre tango candombe or canyengue with direct linage to the African ethnic community in Buenos Aires in previous generations, Frankie Manning wrote that his inspriation for using the gesture was seeing it in Western films where it was used by "Indians."

Manning also wrote about dancing to blues music and the only spiritual thing there that I note was that of a young man and young woman, um, you know, pressing the flesh.
 

Steve Pastor

Moderator
Staff member
#7
gotta throw this in here.

Lloyd Shaw is a well known (in certain circles) documenter and promoter, you might say, of country dancing in the classic sense. I have material from two of his books The Round Dance Book and Cowboy Dances, published in 1948 and 1939.
I remembered that he had written about jitterbugging and found this...

from the Round Dance Book

"you had better watch that quiet couple, pressed close together back in the dark corner of the dance hall, hardly moving as they sway and bend together"

He also visited with his nephew who lived in LA and danced jitterbug and knew some of the local young people who had appeared in some of the Hollywood swing pix.
 

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