Blues dancing is….

Every time we mention to someone that we teach blues dancing, the immediate response is, “What’s that?”

blues lean 2

Luckily for most of the rest of the dance styles out there, the name of each style has come to mean the style itself. “Waltz” doesn’t need much explanation, for example. People just know what it is.

But blues dancing? Not so much. Here, at least, is the beginning of a list of blues dance characteristics.

Blues dancing is….

…a standing partnered dance, more in the style of the ballroom dances than contact improv.

…a lead-follow dance in which one partner signals moves, direction, timing, etc, and the other follows (even though the roles may be switched).

…danced in close embrace, torso connecting with torso, in a more open closed embrace, (similar to ballroom), or open, with connection only in the hands.

…very much about rhythmic variation, meaning that several “basic” footwork patterns may be used, and combinations or smaller elements of those patterns are also explored.

…connection-based. Every detail of the dance may be communicated through physical connection (the dancers’ “frames”). This is different from a style in which move sequences are memorized and repeated.

…expressive. Dancers attempt to express the emotion of the music and not just the tempo or musical timing.

…grounded, danced on more or less flat feet – the whole foot vs. the ball.

…hip-centered. Lots of hip movement, but in a style different from Latin movement. Twists, dips, figure eights, and more are possible.

…danced to blues music, of course, but also to other slow, rhythmic, groove or lyrical-based music as well, including trip hop, slow jazz, R&B.

…improvisational. The better two dancers’ connection, the more they are able to explore movement variations neither dancer has experienced before.

What characteristics would you add or remove?

(By the way, we teach blues dancing, as mentioned, every Monday night.)

2009 is already filling up!

2009 has just barely begun, and it’s already filling up with… well… a lot of things, actually.

1) I’m organizing a poi workshop with one of the best poi spinners around (as in: the world) starting on January 14 – more info here: Alien Jon Poi Workshop.

2) My poi classes also start again this month, and registration is now open, details here: group poi classes

3) Diane and I are working with Firebelly on a fire show for Winterruption and another show in Richmond, both in February

4) Our tap/dance/performance ensemble Kol Halev has a show planned for March, so rehearsals are starting

5) We’re working on a swing piece for a short film, details later!

6) Of course, private dance lessons are ongoing, especially for weddings, and will be starting soon!

7) Our social ballroom class for adults 55+ kicks off next week

….and there’s more but I can’t remember it all! Fun, exciting, overwhelming, busy!

How to dance with a partner: body, not feet

(Diane and I have been teaching partner dancing our own way for nearly two years now. It’s a method we have developed from the filtered down essentials of all the dances we know, and as far as we know, no one else around here teaches this way. I think I’ve been at it long enough now to start writing about our ideas, and hopefully offer a bit of guidance to anyone who is wondering how to start learning the art of partner dancing with or without taking lessons.)

Let’s start with the tremendous illusion that has been cast throughout the world of dance instruction: that the dance is in the footwork. There’s a street in Seattle where there are actually metal footprints set in the sidewalk representing different dances: this pattern is the waltz, this pattern is the cha cha. The lady’s feet go here, the gentleman’s here. Dancing, thus, is clearly in the feet, right? This is also how almost every dance class begins: “Okay class, ready, and – step, step, triple-step, step, step, triple-step.” Thus the illusion is upheld.

But if dancing were only in the feet, wouldn’t walking also be only in the feet? Try this: stand with your feet a few inches apart, directly underneath you, with your weight balanced equally on both. Stand perfectly still. Without moving anything else at all – not your head, your chest, your shoulders, your arms, nor your hips – try lifting one foot (including that leg, of course) and taking a step.

If you don’t cheat, it won’t work. You’re anchored to the spot. If it does work, you cheated and moved! You see, you can’t even begin to take a step with just one foot until your entire body shifts sideways or forward onto the other foot. Try it. Let your body shift to one side, and suddenly your other foot will be free to move.

Walking begins with tipping the body forward, putting all your weight on one foot, and using the other foot to catch your body’s forward momentum before you tip too far and topple over. The process then continues. Stop moving your weight from foot to foot, and you’ll stop walking.

Dancing involves the same process, only the feet move in different patterns on the floor. This is true enough, but if we return to our previous exercise in trying to take a step, we will begin to understand how dancing is actually the movement of one’s entire body above the feet, with the feet simply following along. Whether I am dancing swing, salsa, or the waltz, I must shift my entire body from foot to foot in order to let my feet move in the proper pattern.

This is where connection begins. The very first movement, before any sort of basic pattern begins, is a slight, subtle, gentle shift, usually sideways, over to one foot. My partner will mirror this, following my connection, and then when I begin the first move, she will feel, rather than guess, anticipate, or even intellectually know, what foot to start on.

So, go now, and pay attention to the weight of your body above your feet, and let your body do your walking, and let your body do your dancing!

Dance and more dance in 2008

This is my first journal update in a long time, partly because I simply forgot it was here…. I was a bit sad to discover that my last update was in March of 2007! So much has happened since then! I’ll skip right to the present, though, and mention:

Blues dance
Allroom Dance
Ballroom Dance
Swing at SFU

Our concept-based blues dance class starts up again on January 18th at Forufera Center. It’s a great place to learn the core concepts of not only blues but all social partner dance forms. We will cover: leading and following, footwork, moving through space, turns, dips, and more. The space is a cozy dance studio at 505 Hamilton St. (Hamilton and Pender) complete with fireplace for those especially dreary winter nights! We’re constantly collecting new blues music, and are always excited to share what we’ve found. Our latest treasure is Putumayo’s Blues from Around the World. Good stuff!

We’re also about to dive into a couple of classes at the Roundhouse Community Centre. On Wednesdays, from 12:30-2pm, there’s Allroom dance. This is the concept of partner dancing anywhere, to any music, at any occasion – in effect, taking “ballroom dance” out of the ballrooms and doing it in all rooms. We will teach concepts similar to blues: connection between partners, footwork ideas, musicality, and more.

Then on Fridays at 3:45pm we’re starting up a ballroom class for students 55+, also at the Roundhouse. As always, we’ll make sure to cover the fundamentals along with footwork for the foxtrot, cha cha, and other dances.

Finally, we’ve been invited to teach swing and blues at SFU on Tuesday evenings. We’re still ironing out the details, but it sounds like non-students *might* be allowed to join. Keep checking our website for details.

That’s all for now, and it’s definitely more than before! We’ve made a big shift from mostly private lessons to a healthy balance of both private and group classes. Fun fun!

Please contact us with questions! There’s a link on the right to take you back to our main site.

Happy dancing!