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Blues is a Street Dance

The evolution of a dance and the instruction of a dance is an interesting beast. There is no governing body that determines which teachers or teaching institutions should be 'accredited,' and the choice of teachers is determined largely by the students, the mass of which are beginners or new to the dance, and arguably are those least capable of determining who should and shouldn't be teaching.

This issue is worse for 'street' dances than it is for 'ballroom' dances. To clarify, dances usually manifest themselves in the real world through one or more of the following:

  • Social dance events or venues
  • Dance classes
  • Competitions

A ballroom dance is one that mostly exists via ballroom dance classes. Often times while there isn't a governing body to choose teachers, ballroom dances have an agreed upon set of rules that compose the dance. One can think of these rules as being the 'perfect form' of the dance, and this form is one that generally does not evolve much. This form, for example, is generally used to judge one's place in a competition.

The teachers that help their students get closest to this judged form of the dance are the teachers who tend to flourish.

On the other side we have street dances. Street dances exist in the largest capacity as a social dance. Contemporary dances that lend themselves to improvisation are likely to be street dances, and they evolve over time.

Street dances may often have competitions, but the placement of the competitors is subjective instead of objective as it is in the ballroom dances.

Even though a street dance evolves, this is not to say the historical form of a street dance is not of interest. It's definitely useful to know where a dance comes from, but most of the dancers can be found on the dance floor being a part of creating and interpreting the present dance as it grows.

Sometimes dances mutually exist in many forms, such as the Tango scene, which is a formalized dance that doesn't really evolve, as well as the "Neuvo Tango" scene which is an evolving street dance based off of Tango.

Both of these dances happily coexist because they both have their own scenes of dancers (many whom crossover) and their own sets of teachers, and they also feed off of each other's energy in a mutually beneficial way.

Blues, however, is a street dance. There are many tens of thousands of Blues dancers across the world who social dance. The dance evolves, and has no one 'correct' way to be done.

Because of this, who teaches and who doesn't is fairly arbitrary.

In my opinion, the people you want to have teaching the dance are the ones who are actually *doing* the dance.

And since Blues is a very young dance (at least in it's current form), this has created a couple of interesting situations where this is not the case.

Many of the Blues weekend workshop organizers are also Lindy dancers (due to the roots of the contemporary Blues scene coming out of the Lindy scene.

Some of these organizers have taken advantage of their succesful Blues workshops as a venue to hire and work with some of the best Lindy dancers. This is because they care more about hanging out with Rockstars more than they care about the dance, which is why I call such people "Starfuckers".

Oddly, these are dancers who often have never gone to a Blues dance. Many times the workshop they are teaching Blues at is, in fact, their first exposure to Blues. The argument often goes that these are such good dancers that they have much to offer in terms of general body movement.

But by that argument we should hire Pilates instructors, Ballet teachers and even soccer players. The simple fact is, though, that these people have no connection to our dance. If you want to bring in a Tango teacher to teach Blues dancers how they can use Tango methods while Blues dancing, or perhaps teach a fusion dance, then that's one thing. But to have a Tango dancer teaching a Blues dancer how to Blues dance is ludicruous. We would never put up with this in any other discipline, but because of the question of how teachers are chosen, we overlook this in Blues.

Because ballrooms (as companies) are commercial organizations, it should be no surprise that they often capitalize on the more popular street dances, often teaching classes on these dances. It has been my experience, with very little exception, that these classes are taught by dancers who learn a variety of ballroom dances to teach and are not part of the scene. It should come as no surprise, then that the dance they are doing bears little resemblance to what is happening on the social dance floor.

As another example, a large and influential Lindy dance camp recently decided to involve some Blues education as part of their extra-curricular activities. Instead of choosing dancers from inside the Blues scene to teach this dance, the organizers chose a ballroom teacher.

This teacher came from one of the bigger cities for Blues dancing, yet nobody in the Blues scene had heard of this teacher. Not surprisingly, the teacher ended up teaching material that was an entirely different dance from what was happening on the "street." It turned out that the dance being taught was one that existed only in a single ballroom and had been invented in that ballroom. I find this to be a great insult to the entire Blues scene. The students were misled and many people were confused about what it meant to dance "Blues".

If the teacher had started class with an explanation that the dance they were teaching did not exist as the Blues social dance that many of the Lindy Hoppers had heard of, then I would only be saddened by the lost opportunity of having proper education of the dance at this camp.

But instead we had a situation where the students were essentially fed a lie about the dance. I think there are very few things that are as insulting as lying about something that is a great passion and love to other people.

These days I can often be found teaching in Europe where dancers are just learning about Blues. Many of the students have never even seen Blues yet, and have only heard about it. Oftentimes they are very suspicious about the dance because they are unsure of what it is. And this is precisely why, at the beginning of every workshop I teach in Europe I explain what we are teaching, and that it is based on what is happening in the contemporary social dance scene. That way if they would rather learn some artificial dance that exists only in one dance studio, they can take classes elsewhere. It hasn't happened yet. :)

Because of this situation in the dance, street dancing has a special dilemna.

For me, because the vast majority of students aren't educated enough to choose the teachers, this leaves a great responsibility on the event organizers. If the event organizers choose instructors based on personal friendships or marketing or based on hero worship of teachers from other dances, then the dance as an entirety will suffer. But If the event organizers properly respect the creation of the dance and choose teachers who are best at teaching students about what is happning in the dance scene, then the dance will evolve and flourish.


David Ljung Madison



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