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
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
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
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*
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
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
in a single ballroom and had been invented
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
David Ljung Madison