Blues Dance Foundational Primer

I teach weekly at South Bay Fusion - in our 1 hour, 7pm Beginning Blues Dance Workshop
- Bob Free

This outlines the 3 foundational basics I teach to Beginning Blues Dancers.

1. STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS - Explicit Weight Changes

Unlike most partner dances, Blues does not have 'standard' patterns. Therefore, we cannot rely on patterns to anticipate the next move, rather we must be explicit in our intensions, and 'listen' to our partners. Learning these techniques will help improve your connection in other dance forms.

Most dances that rely on patterns, teach those patterns to novices as a series of steps. Therefore, there is an inherent focus on moving the foot, as opposed to the core of the body first.

However - a step may only _imply_ a weight change; it may not actually initiate a weight change. It is only by an actual weight change that we are able to inform our partner of intention and where we may go next.

In other words, if you are split weight (with weight distributed over both legs), you have the potential to move in _any_ direction, which is great for competitive sports or solo dancing, but a terrible way to communicate in a patternless partner dance.

To make your weight changes and intensions explicit:

a) Spread your legs about shoulder-width apart. Some advocate keeping them hip-socket-distance apart. I believe the former is better for novices (it makes your weight-changes more clear), and the latter for more experienced dancers.

b) Sit down into your thighs; I prefer this to focusing on bending your knees, as it provides better body mechanics. The lower you are, the more shock absorbers you'll have, and the better your partner will be able to see/feel your weight changes. If you find yourself losing connection with your partner, check to see if you are still grounded - sitting into your thighs.

c) Shift your weight forward, so that your sternum and head are over the balls of your feet. Leaning back, and putting your weight on your heels is more of a Lindy aesthetic, not Blues.

d) Move from your Emotive Core first - not your feet/legs. The Emotive Core is distinct from your Power Core. When ballet dancers speak of their core, they generally mean their Power Core - that part of your body around your abdomen that is the fulcrum between your upper and lower body isolations.

The Emotive Core is that place where you first express what you are feeling/hearing in the music and/or your partner. This varies depending on the dance aesthetic. For Latin dance (Bachata/Kizomba/etc) the Emotive Core is around the sacrum/pelvis/hips. For early forms of Blues dancing, the Emotive Core was closer to the Power Core, between your hips and ribs.

For contemporary Blues dancing, the Emotive Core is at the sternum, near the heart. This is what I teach for novice dancers, as it helps differentiate it from 'dirty dancing' and makes your intention more clear. For more advanced dancers, and those learning Micro-Blues, I teach the lower form of connection.

Each Emotive Core location will result in a different aesthetic and freedom of motion. For the purposes of this lesson, we'll focus on the sternum/heart as our Emotive Core.

We begin by relaxing our bodies, slowly twisting our upper torso back and forth to the left and right - letting our shoulders, arms and hands just flop around. Don't swing your arms around - but rather turn your torsos and let your arms just follow their motion. Try to keep your hips facing forward, and just twist your torso in upper body isolation.

Then, while keeping your shoulders/arms relaxed, gently lift your hands above your head. Keeping your hands, shoulders, head and hips relatively still (mirrors help) move your heart (or ribs, if that's easier to visualize) from side to side.

Do the same thing forward and back, then left, forward, back, right in a circular motion. For more advanced students, move your heart vertically up and down.

For me, this is the core of Blues movement. It starts with the heartbeat of the music, connects with the movement of your heart, then the rest of your body follows.

e) Drive your weight changes from your weighted leg, through your Emotive Core - rather than stepping with with your unweighted leg. Your Emotive Core should move first - _before_ your foot/leg/hip/shoulder/head.

Put all your weight on one leg (you're still sitting into your thighs). Take your unweighted leg and hang it relaxed from your hip; bring your unweighted foot close to the weighted foot. This is referred to as 'collecting' your unweighted leg.

Slowly push from your weighted leg through your heart, keeping your unweighted leg beneath it's shoulder. Let your unweighted foot glide across the floor until you've pushed your weighted leg as far as you want to go. This is a very different dynamic than stepping, where your foot goes first. Here, our heart moved first, followed by our shoulders/head/hips and finally leg/foot. Collect your now unweighted leg to your newly weighted leg.

Visualize a speed skater, driving from their weighted leg, keeping their body low and head/shoulders quiet. Try moving like this, gliding from side to side. This is the basic mechanic that we're looking for in Blues dancing.

We use the same techniques for moving forwards and backwards:

f) To move forward, use your weighted leg to press your Emotive Core (heart/sternum) forward first. Rather than stepping forward with your foot going first, let your heart move first followed by the rest of your body - then collect your back leg to your forward leg. Repeat with your other leg. Drive your body straight forward, rather than stepping diagonally or to the side.

g) To move backward, use your weighted leg to press the base of your spine backward - rather than stepping backward - then collect your forward leg back to your back leg, and repeat with the other leg. Again - focus on _not_ stepping backwards; it helps to think of moving your bellybutton back first, before your legs. Unlike side-to-side and forward - when you go backwards, try to keep your Emotive Core forward, as long as you can.

This is the crux of Blues structure: drive from your weighted leg, and move your Emotive Core first (except when going backwards, in which case it moves after your bellybutton), and collect. There are times when you will not collect your unweighted leg, but it's a good practice to develop when you're starting off in Blues dancing. work in progress...


To be continued...

3. CONNECTION ELEMENTS - Relaxed Frame & Dynamic Tone

To be continued...