About Swing Sistah Productions:

Swing Sistah is all about putting together authentic jazz dance events. etc.


History of blues dancing

As with blues music, blues dancing finds its origins in West African rhythms and movement combined with Western European structure and partnering concepts. In illustration, the Strut - a 19th century dance step - became the basis of the Cake walk, a competitive partnered dance which developed within rural African American slave communities in the southern American states and was intended to mock the white slave owners through imitation. In this way it served as an African American adaptation of African 'derision dances', where dancers would mock or deride their adversary through imitation, impersonation or physically dismissive movements. The spectrum of blues music is large, and consequently there are as many different forms, interpretations, and styles of traditional blues dance as there are music. "The Fish Tail," "Struttin'" and "The Slow Drag" are only a few of the dances that have traveled through time with blues music.
Though it has its roots in Africa, the family of blues dances is popularly defined as those dances which developed in response to blues music - those musial forms developing in African American communities throughout America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Blues structures and aesthetics continue in other musical forms, most particularly jazz, but "blues" continues as distinct musical form which is composed, performed and enjoyed today.
Much the same points may be made of blues dances. Though they may have reached their mainstream popularity in the 1920s, with some steps taken up by white audiences, 'blues dancing' - dancing to blues music and dancing particularly 'bluesy' steps - continued in African American communities throughout the United States. In fact, the very nature of a vernacular dance culture ensures the survival of socially and culturally useful or valuable dances. Many of the steps specific to dances associated with popular blues songs of the 1920s were adapted for new musical structures in jazz, and new dance forms like the lindy hop. Early African American blues dances were very simple and allowed for a wide variety of musical interpretation, embodying a black aesthetical approach to rhythm, movement and melody which permeated black music. They were often a simple one-step or two-step and though some movements may have been adapted and integrated into some mainstream popular dances, blues dancing as a distinct dance form and social practice never became a specific focus for white America in the way that dances such as the Lindy Hop and Charleston have.

Historical blues dance forms and traditions

Blues dancing certainly originates from many aspects of African dance and shares many characteristics with another African American form of dance called Lindy Hop. These dances also branched from such African dances asBlack bottom, Cakewalk, and Charleston and have evolved into other forms of blues dance such as Stepping (African-American).

Blues dancing today

A common misconception within contemporary swing dance culture is that a blues dance must necessarily be slow, sensual, and emotionally intense. Yet, as with blues music, a blues dance may reflect loneliness, longing, sadness, anger and joy, as well as love, lust, and bawdiness and range across tempos and musical styles. Blues music is about common experiences. It is a sharing of human condition that is accessible to all, and at some level, and can be include one or more feelings from any point on the spectrum of human motion. The same can be said about blues dance.

Blues dancing in the contemporary swing dance community

The revival of Lindy Hop in the 1980s and 1990s has prompted complementary interests in other dances from Black vernacular dance traditions of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. In American Lindy Hop today, after the revival, Lindy exchanges, with their emphasis on late night programs of social dance events, saw the introduction of 'blues dancing' and music to these events in the late 1990s. Blues music started being played during after-hours dances, which eventually led to dancers patronizing blues music clubs and holding house parties that played a varying amounts of blues and blues-rooted music. In the late 1980s the Herräng Dance Camp began featuring an all-night blues dancing party on Wednesday nights, which exposed swing dancers from all over the world to the idea of slow dancing to blues, jazz, and early rhythm & blues. In the context of Herräng, and throughout the historically-minded culture of contemporary swing dancing, it was almost a natural consequence that blues dancing attracted the interest of dance historians and researchers.
There are now blues dancing communities throughout the international swing dancing community, though local communities vary, reflecting local social and cultural values and contexts. The spread of blues dancing has been largely a result of individual dancers traveling between local communities and establishing blues scenes, individual teachers holding blues dance workshops in different cities and countries, and through the online community of blues dancers facilitating the spread of knowledge and music and encouraging dancers to found local blues dancing communities.
Blues dancing in swing dance communities today may range from traditional blues dances to less historically grounded forms. Traditional styles and steps have gradually been introduced by teachers and dancers with an interest in the history of the form, some of which have been expanded or adapted to suit the needs and interests of contemporary dancers, and new dances have also been created, echoing these historical styles and traditions. Additionally, a freestyle form of partnered dancing - usually at slower tempos - has slowly developed alongside this process of rediscovery and popularizing of blues dance traditions. Partially based on the principles of partner connection, aesthetics and approaches to rhythm and timing of Lindy Hop, this burgeoning form often combines elements of West Coast Swing, Foxtrot, Argentine Tango, and general club dancing. Its growth has, arguably, been largely a result of the lack of established moves or basic steps. This style of free-form slow dancing has much in common with other slower dances such as Modern Jive, it does not bear most of the Africanist stylistic elements that define the historicized family of black blues dances, though its acquisitive 'step stealing' approach to borrowing from other dance traditions to suit the needs and interests of dancers is very much a feature of vernacular dance, including black dance of the 'jazz age'. These newer dances often offer interesting and intriguing interpretation of emotionally intense music, where the melody and harmonies are given precedence over rhythms.
There are ongoing debates within blues dancing and swing dancing culture today about what constitutes 'authentic' or 'true' blues dancing. Some hold the position that a blues dance that does not possess the stylistic, aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of Africanist dance cannot qualify as 'authentic' blues dance. Others argue that a blues dance which has had very little creative contribution from black dancers does not qualify either. Yet a third position might hold that a blues dance is simply dancing to blues music, regardless of the steps performed or whether they involved partnered or solo steps. It is certainly the case that even non-black dancers, moving to music which is not blues, performing steps which have no Africanist features or historical tradition consider what they do 'blues dancing'.

Inspirational music

*     "At Last" - Etta James
*     Jelly Roll Morton
*    "I'm Your Puppet" - James & Bobby Purify