Blues

What is blues dance?

According to Wikipedia, “Blues dancing is a family of historical dances that developed alongside and were danced to blues music, or the contemporary dances that are danced in that aesthetic. It has its roots in African-American dance, which itself is rooted in sub-Saharan African music traditions and the historical dances brought to the United States by European immigrants.” (“Blues dance,” Wikipedia, 2024)

African Americans Dancing in a Juke Joint, Clarksdale, Mississippi, 1939.
By Marion Post Wolcott. Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress.

There are historical blues “idiom” dances that can be grouped into the categories of solo, jukin’, and ballroomin’ as well as more recent variants such as drag blues. (“Blues Idiom Dance,” Damon Stone, 2015)

bluesSHOUT! 2019 Instructor Idiom Demos (details)

How to Dance Drag Blues (Part 1): An Introduction with Joe DeMers (playlist)

In recent years, there have been a lot of scrutiny regarding the relationship of 21st-century blues to historical blues dancing and some difficult conversations about the complex cultural politics of dancing blues today. Fen Kennedy’s article, “Preservation, Politics, and Power: Re-doing in the Blues Dance Community” (2018) and Damon Stone’s post “Appreciation versus Appropriation” (2015) provide a useful introduction to these issues, and Damon also explains some of the confusion around blues versus fusion dancing.

Resources

  • Blues Dancing and its African American Roots — history, styles, interviews, music, etc.
  • Obsidian Tea: A Blackness and Blues Blog by Grey Armstrong
  • Christi Jay Wells, Between Beats: The Jazz Tradition and Black Vernacular Dance, 2021
  • Thomas DeFrantz, Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance, 2001
  • Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance, 1996
  • Jacqui Malone, Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of Black Dance, 1996