Have you ever seen "Dirty Dancing"? The scene where Baby carries a watermelon and she sees all the staff dancing scandalously in the employees-only section of the camp? Johnny takes her onto the floor and shows her how to move her stiff hips from side to side as everyone else hollars and gyrates around them?
That's blues. Sort of. A little more like grinding and less stylized than blues can be, but in basic terms, that is blues. And it is hot.
I've been dancing blues for about two years now. My first time was at a Blues Weekend in Connecticut. There were lessons all day and then a dance late at night in an old, converted schoolhouse with wooden floors and a poor ventilation system. So many bodies crammed close together, combined with the stiff windows, made the air thick and heavy. I was sitting on one of the chairs around the edges of the room, watching all the dancers gliding across the floor as if gravity had no control over their feet. After a moment, a skinny, dark-haired young man came up to me and asked, in a very thick French accent, if Ah wourld lahk to dence wizz him. His name was Stephan, and he was from Quebec.
I took his hand and he led me to the floor, then asked if I had danced blues much before.
"Never, actually," I replied, but I still placed my right leg in between both of his, as the teachers had instructed us at the lessons that afternoon.
Stephan chuckled and moved his right hand to the small of my back, taking my right hand in his left. "Bend your legs," he told me. "Don't keep yar back so steeff, and leesen to zee music." He was just like Patrick Swayze, if Swayze were French Canadian and smelled like eight different people's sweat.
We danced. If blues done well is like making love on the dance floor, then I was an awkward teenager fumbling around in the backseat of a Chevy. Stephan kept telling me to stop thinking, stop thinking, just leesen to zee music, you know, and by the end of the song, I finally relaxed enough to start moving zee hips and let my feet glide across the wood floor. By the end of that dance, I was hooked.
Even though I have taught jitterbug at school and know several other types of dance, it's always blues that gets me at the end of the night. Dances like this are so good because the dancers don't just dance to the music; they are the music. In most dances, you have a basic step, such as the "one-two-rock step" of east coast swing. The basic in blues, however, is just a pulse. Everything else is a feeling. The only point of blues dancing is to interpret the music with your body, to be completely connected to your partner so that you move as one--you, your partner, and the beat of the music.
On Wednesday night, good friends came over to my room; by the end of the night we were dancing blues, and I started crying right into my partner's chest as we moved together to one song. But as this article suggests, this kind of emotionally charged movement to music can be extremely therapeutic. Even as I wrote that, though, the word "therapeutic" sounded sterile and distant. Blues music is all about soul; it's about pain and struggle and release...the blues, you know? When you move to it with someone, whether your lover or a stranger or just a good friend, all that emotion seeps into you, running through your veins and swirling around you like smoke for three minutes; and when the song is done--oh, how good you feel. How clean and light.
Still, I could never say it as nicely as Lindsey Lee Keel does in her article. You should read it. And then you should probably go gitcho blues on.
[Hey, man. Look, I'm really sorry for the lack of snark in this post. It's just been like a really hard tiiime lately, y'know? Okay, well, let's talk soon. Take care.]