When most people discover blues dancing, they are not really sure what it is and where it comes from. Most people are familiar with Blues music, but commonly ask, “How do you dance to blues music?” My response is usually, “The best way to really discover blues dancing?…You’ll have to come and check it out.” So, What is Blues Dancing Anyways? Blues Dance is a way to describe a combination of African American dances. It was traditionally danced at house, or “rent,” parties, juke joints, and even in the larger ballrooms like the Savoy Ballroom. Blues dancers learn all the varieties of blues dance like slow drag, ballroomin’, fishtallin’, etc. … and I’m sure more information will come out about the dance and blues music in future posts…but for the sake of a quick read, we will look at the music blues dance was and is danced to. If you ever want to talk shop about blues music, come find me. Although I can spend hours digging deeper into the various types of blues music and the different regions blues music comes from, the simplest way it to group the music into four categories:
- Chicago / Electric Blues
- Delta Blues
- Slow Jazz
- Contemporary Blues
Chicago / Electric Blues: This is probably the most well known type of blues music. Almost everyone has heard or at least is familiar with the sounds that came out of sweet home Chicago under Chess Records. Artists include Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Holwin’ Wolf. Chicago Blues is charaterized by amplified electric guitar, harp (harmonica), drums, and bass.
Delta Blues: The stereotypical blues musician was a one man band with an acoustic, or steel drum, guitar. The blues man would travel far and wide using any cheap method of transportation available. Delta blues has a variety of sub-genres that came from the Delta. Delta blues features acoustic instruments with no amplification. Artists include Robert Johnson, Son House, Charlie Patton, and Skip James.
Slow Jazz: Before there was “Swing,” a lot of early jazz can fall under blues. Some of my favorite blues music falls under slow jazz. Slow jazz could be a small combination of instruments (piano, drums, clarinet, trumpet, etc.) or a larger big band. Check out W.C. Handy, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and my favorite jazz musician, Sidney Bechet. There will be another post about slow jazz and how it relates to blues dancing later…
Contemporary Blues: You’ll hear contemporary blues if you go to the many blues bars around Chicago and the country. As blues musicians started competing with Rock n’ Roll it became evident that more guitar solos and performance based antics needed to be added to blues music. As a result, not all contemporary blues music is ideal for blues dancing. However, there are many contemporary blues musicians that combine characteristics from the other three categories listed and are great for blues dancing. Some artists include, Taj Mahal, Brother Yousef, and Keb’ Mo. Hopefully, that gives a brief overview of the music you’ll hear at Bluetopia.
So, What is Blues Dancing Anyways? I guess, you’ll have to come see it for yourself…