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Just do it!

Some people seem to think that good dancers are born, but all the good dancers I have known are taught or trained. – Fred Astaire
If you say you can't dance, may I ask you – how long have you spent learning to dance? You wouldn't expect to learn to play guitar overnight, would you? Talent may be 10%, but 90% of dancing is a learned skill, like learning a language. Ride out the inevitable awkward phase and be rewarded with a new social world and a new appreciation of your own body. You don't need to bring a partner to participate in most classes and socials. These are organised with frequent rotation of partners to help you learn faster.

It's common to hear people talk about musical or dance talent by saying, 'it's in your blood.' It's a stereotype about black people in particular, but it's not much of a compliment. It fails to recognise the skill and accomplishment of the person, the richness of their culture. Culture is not in the blood, it's not in DNA. It's communicated by teaching and learning. Depending on the style it can take more or less time, but give it at least a few hours regularly, like learning to drive a car.

You are probably familiar with blues and jazz – globally popular and influential music styles first developed by African Americans in the 1900s, 20s, 30s and 40s. Blues and Swing partner dances were the black vernacular dances of the era. Like blues and jazz music, these dances provide a timeless source of tradition and improvisation, joy and connection. The language of partner dance allows even strangers to meet in creative collaboration and intimacy. In fact, this is the expectation of a 'social' dance – to arrive alone or with a partner and dance with everyone.

Why dance?

Who needs more of this?
1) happiness, endorphins
2) exercise
3) creative expression
4) community
5) touch/intimacy
6) music and culture
7) a language that’s understood around the world
Discover natural highs, in a social scene where alcohol takes a backseat. While we sometimes dance in bars, we're just as happy in a church hall, town hall or public square. Partner dance gives all of these benefits.

What is Swing Dancing? 

Swing is a family of dances that includes Lindy Hop, Balboa, Charleston and more. It takes about 6 sessions of class, plus a few hours of social dancing for most people to learn the basics. Here's an example that shows what a sporty, fun dance it is.

and this video shows a mix of swing and blues, from a 2015 dance event

What is Blues Dancing? 

Blues is a family of dances that includes Jookin, Ballroomin, One step, Slow Drag and more. The basics of One step and Step touch are very easy to learn, one class may be enough…but if you stick with it you'll be rewarded with the deeper skills of movement, polyrhythms and connection. Here's what the pros look like:

This video shows the richness of the tradition, and how egalitarian the roles are – lead and follow can contribute equally to flow, connection, playfulness. Other blues dance aesthetics are explored in this video showing Savoy Walk and Funky Butt. Read to the end if you would like to see more examples of different blues dance languages for different blues music styles.

Fusion is a contemporary dance form that draws on blues, but doesn't stay true to blues dance aesthetics. The fusion scene 'fuses' elements of blues with various dance styles such as tango, bachata and contemporary movement. Fusion dance is a response to music that's equally post-modern in its tendency to cultural 'remixing' from many sources. Hopefully your fusion teachers are knowledgeable enough to talk about the original dance origins and sources – otherwise there's a risk of cultural appropriation. This is an example of advanced 'fusion' where the music is more contemporary:

What is Contact Improvisation?

This is not a vintage partner dance but a form of contemporary dance. Anyone can learn the basics very quickly. Not even rhythm is required – the dance often takes place with no music or ambient music. However, Contact Improv is also an art form that can be explored to a high technical, acrobatic level. The feeling and dynamic of the partnership is very individual depending on the ability and skill of each participant. People who get filmed tend to be more advanced.

And where do I learn?

Google 'blues dancing' with your city name to find your local scene. Or google 'lindy hop' for swing, and so on for other styles. You can learn enough partner dance skills to have fun in less time than it takes to learn to drive a car. By the way, like driving a car, it works better if you can let go of the booze – at least until the end of the social. If you want to get to the performance standards that you see on YouTube, yes, that will take more time. But if you just want to have fun, just give it a proper go!

Dance your world

Dancers, musicians or event organisers can connect with the world-wide dance community with the two online calendars below. The calendars show two main types of festival – those called exchanges usually feature social dances to live music. Workshop weekends are more intensive, with the option to take dance classes all day and party all night with dancers from beyond your local scene.

Competition adds an extra level of excitement and showmanship for those who desire it – most often seen at the international dance events listed in the calendars above. For completeness, I include a more comprehensive overview of the blues dance languages (idioms) for different types of blues music, in this collection of training and competition videos


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