Blues dancing is an umbrella term for a family of historical and modern dances done to blues music. Rooted in African movement, blues dance places a high value on improvisation, rhythm, polyrhythm, and solo movements.
Most partner dance forms have risen from cultural groups during periods of growth and creativity. Over time, the dances developed “basic steps” or “patterns” that come from the rhythmic structures of the music they are danced to, thus providing new dancers with shortcuts into the “feeling” of a dance.
Blues dance has not divorced itself from the improvisational nature of “street” dancing, therefore, it does not give the practitioner just one basic step pattern to rely on, but a multitude of steps, patterns, intricate body movements, and systems of connection. This can make the dance both incredibly exciting, easy to begin, and difficult to get very good at.
Understanding the music and history is a very important element of learning to be a knowledgeable blues dancer. Parallel to blues music, blues dance is based on social dance styles created from African and European roots in America between the 1800’s and mid 1900’s, although it has experienced significant evolution within the last 10-15 years.
While there are a wide range of blues dances, each with unique dynamics, aesthetics, rhythms, attitudes, and step patterns; they share numerous characteristics that allow individuals to stylistically and creatively express the music. These include:
- Asymmetry, bent limbs and torso
- Polyrhythm, pulse, and dancing behind the beat
- Everyday found movement
- Movement radiating through all parts of the body
- Call and response
- Lead and follow
*Credits to Joe DeMers, John Joven, Shoshi Krieger-Joven, and Flouer Evelyn for definition.
Types of Blues Dancing
There are many different styles of blues dancing that fall into two major families: jukin’ and ballroomin’. Within these categories, there are a myriad of specific blues idiom dances such as slow drag, struttin’, Texas shuffle, the strut, and Savoy walk. Check out BDNY’s Youtube channel for a variety of playlists to get an idea of the different kinds of blues dancing, see some historical footage, watch blues choreography, and view class synopsis’ from national instructors. Check out Blues Moves for a curated list of videos detailing the many specific moves and dances in blues.