Blues: The Unappreciated Underdog

blues dancing

How do so few people appreciate the beauty of this?

A revelation hit me while on my way to a dance class, so I wrote this on the bus, on my way there:

Sitting in the 99 B-line, on the way to UBC, eyes closed and ready to pass out, I asked myself, “Why did I and do I continue to promote blues dancing when it is the scene where some of my most vicious haters reside?”

And the answer came to me — hit me so hard that I forced myself to open my happily shut eyes, bend forward and unzip my gold Puma purse, take out this notebook and write.

Blues is the underdog of all the dances. Blues is one of the least known and most under-appreciated. In my own city of Vancouver, I watched our only weekly trad blues dance die. I watched new dance events form to fill the hole with “fusion-slash-blues” dances. I listened to people complain when “too much blues music” was played. I heard them demand more fusion.

Why? Because learning real blues is hard and takes time and effort. Learning “fusion” or, rather, saying one knows how to “fusion dance” is 10x easier, because anything goes in fusion. Real fusion is taking a dance background you already have and combining it with a dance background someone else already has, and seeing what comes of it. Blues is a dance that requires acquiring musicality — really listening to the music — learning real connection, and real partnership. It demands that one really learn how to lead and follow, one to really feel the music, and keep the music through pulsing. It requires work to understand and dance real blues, and people are fucking lazy.

My scene is not the only one that does not want to take the time to appreciate this beautiful, underdog dance. I watched one of Seattle’s weekly traditional blues dances die (although elitism was partly to blame for that).

The fact of the matter is that, no matter how hard people try to put on real, true, blues events and workshops, people may come and attend, but when the weekend is over, so is the blues dancing, and everyone returns to dancing fusion. That is, if they decided to attend and take the workshops at all.

UBC is the only place in Vancouver where people can take legit blues dance lessons. They are not available anywhere else. As the Blues Coordinator, it is my responsibility to choose the instructors. And I make sure to get the best in the city every time. I make sure I maintain the quality.  I make sure that the people who decide to take the lesson learn real blues. I do this in spite of the fact that many, many people in the scene hate on me. I do this in spite of the fact that someone (or someones) maliciously cut my tiger bag handle — ruining my bag — and put chewed gum in my cup during a social dance while I was dancing.

I do this because I know what it’s like to be the unappreciated underdog, and because I want to help blues be recognized for the beautiful dance it is.

Thank you to the people who have helped me learn the beauty of this dance — made it possible for me to learn this dance, despite having so little money. It is because of this and you that I continue to promote and nurture a dance community that continually turns its back on me, and continually stabs me in the back when they think they can get away with it anonymously, or without my knowledge.

Even if you never believed in me, or had to grow to believe in me, I thank you for keeping me seeing the good in the dance, rather than giving in to all the hate all around me.

blues dancing revelation

My revelation about blues dancing unedited, written straight from the heart

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Blues: The Unappreciated Underdog

  1. Reeve Shields

    Teaching blues myself down there in Texas, I know what you mean by the overrun of fusion in the dance halls. We have the same issue here, though I’m not fully aware if it’s for the same reasons. It does draw a large crowd, but the various communities down here are trying to shift through the masses and filter out those that are there for… other reasons and dancing influences.

    Stay strong, and stay awesome. You’re not alone in this and we’ll continue to believe and support in you. 🙂

  2. I’m assuming the dance in Seattle you’re talking about was Back Alley Blues – which was a practica that had moderators on hand to help people get better at Blues. It’s ironic that the only Blues practica open to helping people learn during the entire dance shut down. Elitism had nothing to do with it.

    • Back Alley Blues is the dance I was referring to. It did the things you said, but it was also known for being a dance where the good dancers would only dance with each other, which contributed to its poor attendance. This was the reputation that was presented to me time and time again as an out-of-town dancer, and I have danced there myself and could see some of that in practice. Elitism is invisible when you’re one of the good dancers.

      • 3 trad blues venues is a lot to ask of any city, and Seattle has issues with attendance at trad dances for the reasons you outlined above. People dance with people they know, generally. People who know each other are usually those who have been around the longest. BAB was significant in that older dancers would come out, as they do not for Tuesday Blues or BUG. Egalitarianism for all.

      • All of what you have pointed out is true. The only reason why I mentioned elitism was because I felt that by not mentioning that, it would say that the fact that the dance died was only due to people not appreciating the dance itself. To good dancers, dancing with those they have known the longest is simply dancing that makes sense to them, but for dancers starting out, that would be viewed as elitism. I attended Back Alley Blues both when was a beginner just starting out, and as one of the better dancers, and I can see it from both sides.

  3. “Blues is a dance that requires acquiring musicality — really listening to the music — learning real connection, and real partnership. It demands that one really learn how to lead and follow, one to really feel the music, and keep the music through pulsing. It requires work to understand and dance real blues.”

    In my 25+ years of social dancing I’ve heard exactly the same claims made for other dances, like Argentine tango, or West Coast Swing. In fact, all partner dances benefit from learned technique, it’s not unique to blues.

    Also, there is no “real” blues, just like there are no “real” languages; everyone has a local dialect. The dance you do is whatever your circle of partners do and understand.

    Of course different dances may have unique idiomatic styling or movement, but even that’s a grey area. I once saw a couple dancing blues when the man led some figure-eight swivels. My friend said, “Hey, they’re doing a tango move!” I explained they were just doing a dance move, one that could be incorporated into almost any style or rhythm.

    • I dance salsa, tango, west coast swing, lindy hop, kizomba, zouk, and other partner dances, and I know that dancing them well requires musicality, partnership, etc.

      What I meant was that in fusion dancing, people take the partner dance connections and concepts they already know and apply them to dances with different people. Many do not bother to learn the techniques involved in other dances.

      What I have found is that, when someone comes from a partner dance background already, they often don’t bother to take a single beginner drop-in lesson durng the blues/fusion dances offered in Vancouver, and simply lead with the technique they already know. Most don’t take the time to understand the connection specific to blues dancing, which can even result in injury, as I find that some of the salsa leads who use arm leading when dancing salsa also use it at our blues/fusion dances, which can hurt a follow when they lead turns, etc.

      I say people are lazy because most don’t want to spend the time to grow beyond the dances they already know to learn the technique they could use to better dance to blues music with others. And because they never learned how to pulse, etc., it is difficult for them to appreciate blues music or know how to dance to it for long periods of time.

      The “local dialect” for blues in my scene is fusion. And fusion is not blues.

      “Real blues” features certain characteristics, the most fundamental being the pulse. Some scenes have tango blues, balboa blues, etc., but those are a fusion of blues with something else.

      It really sounds to me like your dance scene is much like mine in Vancouver, where what is referred to as “blues” is really fusion.

  4. Dj POcail

    Montreal Quebec is with you (Well I know at least a dozen of dancers and blues lovers are). I was dancing blues since I was 10 years old (I’m 47 😉 and learned it from my parents and grand-ma! I Also went from MOntreal to New Orleans with my motorcycle and went to juke joints, small blues clubs and danced the real thing to the real music. I can assure you that blues will never die. It is always somewhere in some little town or on someone’s music list. I’m a dancer but also one of the first Blues Dj in montreal. I had my share of *This is too slow, This isn’t blues, When are you gona put some real music*! I sticked with my style and I’m proud to say that I survived and will always have my crowed. Be strong..Stay cool…stay blues. Dj Pocail (Daniel, Montreal Quebec)

    • I’m with you in that I don’t believe that blues will die. I am just saddened to see so many real blues dances fail or just barely stay afloat because people are more interested in fusion dancing than learning how to dance real blues.

      Good for you for sticking with it!

  5. Connie Snider

    Hey!
    We have a small but very strong Blues scene in Halifax Nova Scotia and have lost many of our “blues” dancers to Vancouver where they lament the loss of our small scene. I love attending Bagel and Blues in Montreal each year and continue to be astounded in how many slide over to the Fusion room. I personally look at it as what we did many years ago as wiggle dancing with a bit of partner connection thrown in.( Fusion dancers will growl at this) I am a lover of old style gritty Blues and we are blessed to have it live here in Halifax to dance to often. We have a well attended weekly dance here for Blues and it continues to grow. Oddly enough the person responsible for this growth now lives in Seattle…Thank you Mark Pavoliski we miss you and are so grateful to you for creating a place for us to do our blues dancing. So gang if you ever get out this way join us and we would love to dance Blues with you. Hang in there teachers and remember this is not the first time this has happened to blues, it will survive and will always be part of the dance scene if we make it so!

  6. Just a Lurker

    I think that your laziness comment actually goes a lot further than you think.
    “Fusion” as it is danced in Vancouver is often thought of as “Anything goes”, but when you actually dance with some of these dancers, there is no technique from any style of dance… No connection, no rhythm, nothing!

    Having danced Fusion with dancers from the Bay Area, from Texas, from NYC, I know what good Fusion can feel like – that really is an exercise of adapting elements from Salsa/Tango/Foxtrot/Waltz/Lindy/etc into your Blues (and when the music calls for it, vice versa). Good Fusion is actually harder than good Blues. The person who commented about “wiggle dancing” (and yes, I experienced that too!) hit the nail right on the head.

    • Agreed. In my opinion, good fusion takes more work than any other dance, because fusion is the mixing of dance styles you know well. A lot of dancers take a few fundamentals classes and think that they now know how to dance a dance, and add it to their “fusion” repertoire. The best fusion dancers are those who have taken their time to learn each dance in their repertoire, so that if they throw something in from a dance style, they know exactly what they are doing, and not simply faking it. They know the rules, so that they can feel out whether they want to follow or break them. What it comes down to is that they took the time to learn the rules in the first place. Blues is one dance that dancers can learn the rules of and throw into fusion.

      I have taken progressive lessons in each of the major partner dances and have social danced them all. Believe me when I say I understand your comment.

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