I teach weekly at South Bay Fusion - in our 1 hour, 7pm Dance Fundamentals Workshop
- Bob Free firstname.lastname@example.org
This outlines the 3 Drag Blues fundamentals I teach to dancers new to Blues/Fusion.
1. STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS - Explicit Weight Changes
Unlike most partner dances, Drag 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: neither you nor your partner knows which foot is going to move next.
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. Being lower provides a shock absorber, while allowing your partner to better see/feel your weight changes. If you find yourself losing connection with your partner, check to see if you are still sitting into your thighs rather than straight legged.
c) Shift your weight forward, so that your sternum and head are over the balls of your feet.
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 most Latin dances 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 makes your intention more clear. For more advanced dancers, and those learning Micro-Blues, I teach a lower "Old School" Emotive Core.
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 move your sternum (or ribs, if that's easier to visualize) from side to side, letting your arms flop about.
For me, this is the core of Blues movement. It starts with the heartbeat of the music, connects with the movement of your heart/sternum, 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 (or pivot'g your pelvis up), 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.
For more advanced Leads, see if you can get your Follows to move their feet before you move your - simply by leading from your Emotive Core.
When Leading, always start by moving from side to side first to ensure that you and your partner are on the same weighted leg. If you ever get out of sync, go back to side to sise to get back into sync.
2. AESTHETIC ELEMENT - Pulsing & Potential for Lag
Drag Blues shares with Argentine Tango and contemporary WCS to capacity for lag: the Follow may lag behind the Lead. This is an aesthetic element, but in Drag Blues, it's also a pragmatic element: there's no standard patterns, so the Follow needs a moment to interpret
what the Lead intends.
This creates an environment more suitable for consent: as Lead, you are not the commander of the dance, rather you provide opportunity for the Follow to interpret your lead, the music, and provide situational awareness.
In addition the potential for lag, the principal aesthetic element of Drag Blues is a syncopated pulse. This is expressed as a movement of the Emotive Core, without a weight change. It's a way to reflect a beat without doing a weight change, providing a way to connect to your partner in a way that maximizes musicality.
There many ways to pulse; two common methods are Juking and Pendulum pulsing.
Juking is essentially pressing your unweighted leg into the ground (causing your Emotive Core to pulse laterally), without a weight change. This can be done once between a weight change, or multiple times while weighted in place.
Pendulum pulsing involves rocking your body forward on the beat; your body below your belly button going back and the part above moving forward (casuing your Emotive Core to pulse forward and back).
Venturing into Fusion, we can borrow from other dance genres: using a lateral Jazz Break from Jazz Dance (Emotive Core pulses laterally), a chest pop from Hip-Hop (Emotive Core pulses forward/back), in so-called micro pulsing can be something as simple as taking in a slow deep breath.
In all these cases, pulsing is not a virtical movement; the top of the head stays at the same level. Most Blues music is not bouncy, and as such, we generally do not want our pulses to be vertically bouncy.
In ECS/Lindy, dancers often bounce so that Lead and Follow can hit the beat at the same time. However, this breaks the capacity to lag, breaking a key Drag Blues aesthetic.
3. CONNECTION ELEMENTS - Relaxed Frame & Dynamic Tone
Many partner dances have a somewhat fixed frame and tone for their genre. Drag Blues has a very relaxed frame and dynamic range of tone (we'll call it 0-10, but rarely going above 5).
Whereas most partner dances consider "spaghetti arms" to be verboten, in Drag Blues this is our default tone. Level 0 tone is so relaxed that your arms are free to wobble to and fro.
Level 1 tone is simply tightening your lats enough to limit wobbling. It is not a tensing of your upper/fore arms or lifting of your hands.
We can use level 1 tone to give our partner (particularly if you are new to each other) a hint that something is about to change: temp, direction, rotation, vertical level, etc. Once the change has been initiated, you go back to default level 0. You can use additional tone to emphasize or reinforce a movement in the music or anything else you'd like to express - as long as your connection is gentle enough not to force or in any way hurt your partner.
All that said, tone is not necessary to lead. In fact you shouldn't be using your arms to lead, at all. They are there for comform, support, and safety.
Your lead should be coming from your Emotive Core. Move/Turn your Emotive Core to lead; you can practice this with a partner without physical connection - just telescope your intention by moving your Emotive Core before any other part of your body.
In Drag Blues we have 3 forms of physical connect, plus break-away (dancing without physocal connection).
Open Connection is connecting with one or two hands with your partner. The Lead has their fingers turned at right angles to their palms and facing in towards each other. The Follow has their fingers hooked over the top of the Lead's fingers.
If your arms are parallel to the ground, you are expending energy to keep them up. Let your arms hang like strings/spaghetti between you - so loose that they freely wobble between you. This is Level 0 Tone.
Leads do no push nor pull with their arms to lead; you simply move from your Emotive Core, which will transfer this movement through your hands to your partner. Keep it loose and relaxed.
Although Closed Frame in Drag Blues looks similar to connections in many other partner dances, there are significant differences. A Blues frame is relaxed; the Lead does not need to use their left arm to lead; Follows control the connection.
For practice, Follows start with your left arm up. Leads place the heel of your right palm in your partner's armpit. This will be your ONLY point of connection. Follows lower your arm until your elbow is below your partner's arm and place your hand on their upper arm or shorder, depending on your relative heights. Both of you remember to sit down. The Follow squeezes their elbow in, gently but firmly and maintains this squeeze.
In the connection, the follow controls the connection through their elbow pressure. The Lead moves from their sternum, which is transferred to the Follow's elbow; the lead does not come from the Lead's arm/hand. This is designed to prevent the Lead fron digging their fingers into the Follow, and provides the Follow with agency for consent.
The Follow can use their hand on the Lead's arm/shoulder to control how close the Lead is, if they are trying to be uncomnfortably close.
Unlike other dances where the Follows hand wraps around the Lead's shoulder, I recommend keeping it on top, so that when your Lead leads you into an outside turn, you don't injure your shoulder. Insteasd, your hand will just slide off their arm.
Close Embrace in Drag Blues is like a relaxed close embrace in Argentine Tango. The Lead invites a partner into Close Embrace by presenting their "platform" (expanding your chest/sternum forward) and dropping an arm (traditionally right) and inviting your Follow to step into your embrace and commpressing their stermum again you somewhere along your right suspender line (depending on your relative heights).
Again, the Follow controls the cnnection - the Lead should never atttempt to force/coerce Close Embrace. If the connection is not there, or is insufficient, back off into Open Connection. If Open Connection isn't working, back out to Break-Away. If either of you wish to break Close Embrace, you can either staighten up (which inherently breaks the connection) or take a step back.
Once Close Embrace has been accepted, the Lead may comfortably/gently place the crook of your arm around your partner's waist/ribs, depending on your relative heights.
The Follow is responsible for maintaining the connection in Close Embrace - by maintaining compression of your sternum into the Lead. When the Lead moves forward, resist (lag) going backwards - do not anticipate by running away from the lead. When the Lead moves backwrd, drive them with your sternum. For both Leads and Follows always move forward from your sternum first, and move backwards from your belly button. This will ensure that your remain connected, rather than bouncing yur connection.
As stated earlier, this dance is all about consent, proividing the Follow an opportunity to interpret a lead, and the agency to control the connection.
The Lead's primary responsibility is to be situationally aware, help keep your partner safe from surrounding dancers/obstacles, and initiate moves. You are NOT the commander of the dance; in its best form, it's a lovely conversation.
Leads may invite Close Embrace, but to not create/coerce it. If the sternum connection is not there, back off to Closed Frame. If the elbow connection is not there, back off to Open Connection. If you are still not able to connect, back off into break-away - you can still have a lovely dance together.
It is often common at the start of a dance to ask if your partner would like to lead, follow, or switch (if you are able). If you have an injury or limitation, please inform your partner at the beginning of the dance. If you would like feedback during/after the dance, please ask before you start. Generally social dancing is NOT to place to teach/correct your partner (accommodate your partner to their abilities and preferred vocabulary); if there is a safety issue, please do let your partner know, or inform a host.