Dancing the blues . . .

6 Aug

Blues2A friend of mine regularly declares that she can’t possibly live with an evening of suicidal blues… it’s OK for a while, she says, but it’s too sad for a whole evening.

So why do I love the blues, when I’m allergic to the minor chord and eschew sad songs (and will leave the room if anyone plays Nilsson’s “Without You”, (which has to be the most terminally depressing song ever written, surely)). Why is that my favourite dance style is one that’s practically named after sadness? Why is it that of all the dance styles I have tried, I come back to the blues?

Maybe it’s the history of the blues, where an oppressed race, ripped from their homes by a cruel enslaving oppressor, were taken thousands of miles to work in servitude to the white man, where their beliefs and their dreams were destroyed and ground underfoot, to the point where they weren’t even allowed to dance the dances of celebration of their ancestors. Perhaps I feel, at the core of the blues, a link to that defiance of their captors, an echo of the certainty that they will survive, that they will triumph.. that no man can truly break their spirits – so much so that the dances they created – and the music that accompanied them – live on and suffuse the culture that sought to destroy them.

Perhaps I find the echo in my own soul that there is hope beyond the sadness, that there is an underlying certainty and faith, a fury and rage, even, at an unjust and cruel world – a knowledge that I, too, remain unbroken, proud, true to myself despite the sadnesses that I’ve experienced personally, and buoyed by the effervescent joy that continually runs through my being – a defiant, true and certain happiness that will not let itself remain hidden.

Maybe it’s to be found in the dance itself, where at last I am freed from the lockstep of dancing to the beat, no longer a slave to the rhythm, but set free to dance beyond its heartbeat and into the very soul of the music itself.. to  catch the emotion and the passion of the performer who has poured so much of himself into the song. Here I can dance in an interplay with the runs and soaring edginess of a guitar that betrays the taut emotion of the player, where notes are held, bent and bullied into releasing their fragile beauty.. where I can follow the dirty roar of the saxophone as the brass section push the envelope of their own instruments and create a deep soulful texture that tears through the background. Here I can lock myself to the ripple of a piano, running chords and arpeggios that cause the music to speed up and just as abruptly pause in a freeze frame moment of anticipation. And yet too there is a chance to follow the urgent underpinning of a keyboard wash, stabbing through the mix to create a rainbow road to dance along – to soar with the melody and pause at the high cliff of a break or transition. Or even to step back for a moment to the rhythm that underpins the song, and to dance beyond that into that uncertainty of a drum fill or off the edge into a moment of empty space – a moment of time outside of the signature – to hold that space before the rhythm kicks back in again.

dancing (11)Blues allows me to dance below the obvious – while the rhythm always remains, the dance allows the melody to come to the fore – no longer locked as puppets to the beat, but free to play with both rhythm and melody as we will.

And for me, the dance allows two to create their own interpretation – no longer the slave to following the leader, my partner is free to create her own interpretation in the frame that I provide – sometimes taking her own space as I release the leadership to her for a moment, or sometimes stealing it, sabotaging the lead as she demands her own space and her own interpretation. There are no ‘mistakes’ – there is just the embrace of the dance. We cannot dance without connection between the two of us – without a continual understanding of each others mood and position, taking our lead from the closeness of that connection rather than the mere physics of push and pull. Here the interplay moves beyond lead and follow into an interpretation of the music between two partners, almost as the instruments might play off each other, rebounding the melody between them as each part echoes the whole. For a moment we can flirt in the safety of the song, aware of each others movements, catching a twinkle in each others eyes yet knowing that it doesn’t have to have a meaning beyond the moment – unless it does. Here we can dance to different components, knowing that each of us dance to the same song, yet weave a similar partnership of interpretation – freed from being locked together at the mercy of the rhythm we can explore the nuance and interplay of the music itself, stepping beyond the drumbeat and the bassline to explore the richness of musical texture.

Perhaps this is one of the few dance styles that allows me to explore the music that I love, that best reveals my own history and my own love for the passion and power in music. Where else would I dance to Alice Cooper, Metallica and Pat Benatar, to Korn or to the guitar greats like Bonamassa, Lee, Moore and White. And every now and then a gem appears from an unexpected direction. here a moment from Kylie, a shard from Rihanna, an anthem from Vangelis…

Perhaps, one step removed, I find in the blues an echo of my own work in the world, when I am always seeking to look beyond the surface structure and the obvious to find what is really going on for someone – to search beyond the words and looking to the light and shade of emotion to reveal what is truly happening in someone’s soul, to dance in dialog with another, helping to release that, to uncover its beauty and power and allow the true melody of that individual into the light.

At my best I can feel something of the emotion underlying the searing guitar duet that plays out the heart of Alvin Lee’s ‘The Bluest Blues’ or the saxophone that pulls us past the mid song break in Hazel O’Connor’s ‘Will You’. I find myself caught up into the tongue in cheek sensuality of ‘Sweat’, the playful lasciviousness of ‘Heart Attack and Vine’. I can step beyond the pervasive cowbells of ‘Freeze’ to dance to the melody below, or play with the challenges in ‘Le Ballet’, the pace change and fury of ‘Poison’…so many wonderful songs, so little time to dance them all in . . .

stokiesFor sure, in modern jive, in salsa, in a cornucopia of dances we throw off our troubles, cast aside our cares and our travails to dance to the heartbeat of the music – but in blues, it seems I step through the doorway and into the depths of the emotion – to dance beyond the outer world, willingly entering into an underworld that allows us to experience the emotion and passion of our lives, expressing the depth, the pain, the longing, the unstoppable fury of life that simply will not be tamed.

So maybe – just maybe – it’s all of these that keeps me coming back to dancing the blues…


Best Modern Blues venue in the country? Gotta be Sara White’s Blues Nites (Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire) where I was first introduced to the blues, and where I can usually be found causing chaos… http://jivenites.co.uk/



3 Responses to “Dancing the blues . . .”

  1. Christina August 6, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    SO well written, a pleasure to read! Thank you for sharing!!

  2. Gordon Mullan August 6, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    Definitely with you on this on Tim – I’ve loved the blues since I found it a couple of years ago. Straight Ceroc/modern jive just doesn’t do it for me any more – not by a long shot…

  3. Adam hamilton September 19, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    I’ve been having more fun with Blues this year than with any other dance style. I love the music (though not necessarily more than other styles). The dance, for me, gives me more freedom than any other style and (as far as I can see) that applies doubly so for the followers. I just LOVE followers who can show me something I didn’t see/hear/feel/notice in the music without disrupting what I’m leading. And I also like to take the occasional visit to the dark side (something I also get from tango). Different emotions – greater emotional release.
    Blues. so good.

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