Three cheers and a kangaroo fillet for Sophie of SwingZing, who organized the Hand-me-down Blues workshop, held over the weekend of the 14th and 15th of June. It was thoroughly enjoyable, with Damon and Heidi, who traveled from California, taking us through the foundation and essence of blues dancing and explaining the nuances of each move, giving us time to practise – and to recuperate, as they told us something of the history of the blues.

Like swing, blues is a category that includes several dances. It was begun in the late 19th century by Afro-Americans as an expression of intense emotion that was drawn out by the music and was a response to it, for others to see and share. Often held in “jookies” – cramped one-room shacks rank with tobacco and old sweat, where the music reverberated from the abysmal acoustics and there was no space for a cat to swing himself: imagine Northbridge on a Saturday night but without the bogans – blues dancing was the chief stylistic influence on later styles such as the Lindy Hop.

Damon and Heidi taught us several kinds of blues: jookin’, struttin’, ballroomin’ and Gospel: the latter is clearly the odd one out because it doesn’t have an apostrophe. They showed us how even the simplest steps could be crammed with attitude and coated with style; this was encouraging because complex moves like the Shake-and-Bake left me feeling like a marionette tied to a pack of dogs at a cat convention.

We learned that one of the keys to truly dancing the blues is that both partners must relax. The lead is to dance as if he had no partner while the follower does almost nothing active; so the lead must place her where he wants her – but as if she weren’t there. It sounds like a misogynist’s fantasy world; however, it makes for splendidly smooth dancing, and it is only by relaxing that you can effectively let your body express your innermost self, which in my case appears to be an emotionally-repressed white male.

I would be remiss not to mention the sublime performance of The Darling Buds of May on the first night of the workshop. That they have an impressive repertoire is the least that could be said of them: when last I heard them they were covering both swing classics and modern pop; on Saturday night they brought out a completely different selection, ideal for practicing what we’d learned, as well as several songs that were ideal for Lindy or Balboa. Their musical interpretation is original and skilful: their rendition of My sister Kate is the best of the several I recall hearing. (Surely that panegyric must be enough to get me a free demo disk?)

Damon and Heidi also gave two extra classes on Tuesday night. The deceptively simple Slow Groove isn’t a form of blues but can be danced to several styles of music. We added new dimensions to our dancing in the riffin’ and cuttin’ class as we learned how moves can be done in masculine or feminine ways. The classes finished with dance-offs, a hilariously fun way to both improve our dancing and experience it as a community, not just as an individual or a couple.

In summary, the Hand-me-down workshops gave me a new perspective on what dance is meant to be, and it can only improve the way I strut my groovy stuff on the floor – even if my innermost self is whiter than an albino in a milkbath – and I’m looking forward to more blues events in Perth.

by Squinty Ginkgo Page.
see here to learn how to create your own blues name.

NB. I’m indebted to Craig for the “repressed white male” quip.

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