12 Blues Dancing Tips

Here are some tips for increasing your “skill” in blues dancing — which really means increasing your partner's enjoyment of (blues) dancing with you.

  1. Understand that blues dancing is basically improvisational partner dancing to blues music.  Because it is improvisational, there is no “basic” step.
  2. Although there is no basic step, there is a tradition of pulsing — either up or down — when the weight is mostly on one foot or the other (not when your weight is equally on both feet).  Yet remember that ultimately everything, including pulsing, is improvisational.
  3. Lag behind the music.  In European-based music, the music's rhythm is typically very predictable (in timing and intensity), so European-based dances tend to involve stepping exactly on the beat.  In African-American based blues (and zydeco) music, the rhythm is typically rich, complex, and less predictable, so it's appropriate to give yourself time to react to each beat.
  4. Feel the music.  If you can't feel the music, “listen” to your partner's feel of the music, or watch how others interpret the music.  Leads, if you still can't feel the music, at least focus on using tip 5 (and tip 3).
  5. Use variety.  Leads, when you notice a pattern to what you're leading, change it.  If you've been going from side to side, try turning.  When you notice you're tending to turn in the same direction, try turning the other direction.  For other variations, try going forward and back, pausing sometimes instead of pulsing, leading a twirl, or whatever else is different from what you've been doing most recently.  Ideally start a variation when the music changes (which it commonly does about every eight counts).
  6. Move from your “core”.  You can consider your core to be your center of gravity which (when your hands are at your side) is slightly below your navel and midway between front and back.  To oversimplify this concept, don't move your hips or shoulders without also moving your core.  As a further clarification, leads, be sure that your torso and shoulders and right arm and right hand are all moving together in unison.  Follows, if the lead is doing different movements with his torso (core) compared to his arm (and hand), ask which movements he is wanting you to follow.
  7. Don't confuse sensuality with sexuality.  Blues dancing has an element of sensuality because of feeling the music, moving from the core, and being physically close (with the follow choosing how close).  However, there is a big difference — in intent — between sensuality and sexuality.  If this isn't clear, recognize that the emotions shared during the dance are only for the duration of the song, and any further interaction (including dancing another dance together) must be negotiated without any expectations.
  8. Follows, use occasional (not frequent) resistance or slight surges to introduce variation into a repetitive pattern.  The resistance or surge should say something like “let's try slowing down here” or “let's get playful here” rather than “let's do this different move now”.
  9. Leads, if you can, meet the follow halfway in terms of how she is feeling the music.  Follows, recognize that in blues dancing you are doing the impossible, which is feeling the music yourself and yet also following how the lead is feeling the music.  Both leads and follows, recognize that blues dancing for males is extremely challenging because, for most males, the idea of “feeling the music” is terrifying, especially when first learning to dance.
  10. Follows, tend to slightly back away (using your feet, not your back) from your partner enough to feel the lead's right hand on your back.  Why?  The lead can easily pull you in his direction (by increasing the pressure on your back), but the signal for you stepping back is to reduce pressure on your back.  You can't feel reduced pressure if initially there is no pressure.
  11. Follows (especially beginners), pay attention to a difference in pressure between the palm and fingers of the lead's right hand.  Typically a good lead presses more with his fingers or his palm as needed to keep the follow's shoulders parallel to the lead's shoulders.  This alignment (parallel and offset) reduces stepping on each other's feet and bumping knees.  As an added clarification: follows, keep your right foot under your right shoulder; leads, avoid stepping at the place that is below the follow's right shoulder.
  12. Leads, allow for reaction time.  If a follow isn't reacting as quickly as you want, give advance notice.  Especially, try using an upward movement on the follow's back in advance of starting a weight shift or step.  This is analogous to using a car's turn signal.  You want to give notice that you are about to do something different.

The above tips apply to standard lead-and-follow dancing, which can be closer to a dictatorship than a conversation.  If you are an advanced dancer who wants to achieve a greater degree of conversation, focus on continuing to give the lead responsibility for movements of the feet and legs, and give the follow responsibility for compatible movements in the torso.  In a full dance-based conversation, the dancers take turns being in “control”, similar to what happens in a verbal conversation.  Even better is when the “connection” between dancers results in losing track of who and when each partner is leading and following.

These tips were written by Richard Fobes, author of The Creative Problem Solver's Toolbox (which is a how-to book on creative problem solving) and Ending The Hidden Unfairness In U.S. Elections, both of which are now available in e-book formats.

© Copyright 2008 by Richard Fobes