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Just like many other beginnings, how I discovered blues involves a love story. Girl falls for boy, boy and girl break up, but the girl is left with something better. Luckily, the boy was not mine. My story begins with theirs. The girl in the love story is actually a friend of mine. She came over with her soon to be boyfriend. We stayed up all night as he showed us blues dancing in my living room. That’s the first time I felt the spark. It’s the excitement I get every time I blues dance. So I have to thank them both for allowing me to discover a new world. A world where you can be yourself, express who you are on the dance floor, find friends unlike any other, and have many unique experiences and adventures. I have now been blues dancing for 8 years and I can’t imagine my life without it. This world we discovered is ever-changing. Sometimes the changes are nice and easy, sometimes they can challenge you to become a better person or dancer, but it is our world and I love it. If you are new to blues, don’t be afraid to ask me to dance. If I’ve known you for while, I can’t wait to dance with you again. See you on the dance floor.
I started my blues dance journey in Huntsville, Alabama. I got into blues dancing in what I think is a very unconventional way. A friend from an introductory ballroom dancing class at my university knew about a local swing dance that she invited me to in the fall of 2015. If I remember correctly this should have been around October or November. I knew some basic East Coast Swing steps and so I decided I could probably hold my own at this dance. Additionally, maybe I would meet some people who I could practice different moves with. I was totally unaware that the parent organization of this local dance, Thursday Night Swing (TNS), also held classes. Nonetheless, I was SUPER excited when I learned this fact because I wanted to master all of the cool things I saw dancers executing on the social floor. I was amazed by what I witnessed at my first social dance. I saw different styles of dancing that I would later learn were mostly Lindy Hop, Blues, Charleston and Balboa. At the beginning of the next month there happened to be a beginner blues class taught by Krystal and Adam Wilkerson, two of the blues scene leaders in Huntsville. On the first Thursday night of the month I walked into the Flying Monkey Dance Theater, which is where the TNS social dances/classes usually happen. I had no idea what classes were being taught, and I definitely didn’t know that blues dancing was an actual thing, but as I gazed upon Krystal and Adam’s class, Krystal made eye contact with me and warmly welcomed me to join the class. If you know Krystal, then you know I couldn’t say no to such a pleasant invitation. They were working on pulse at the time so I joined the circle, and the rest is history. I took blues classes for the rest of the month and started social dancing blues at any chance I got.
Over the last year and a half or so, I have really enjoyed getting into the aesthetic, mechanics and history of blues dancing. To be honest, I never really listened to much blues music (other than the occasional B. B. King track) before I got into blues dancing. Now I enjoy listening and dancing to rich music from artists such as Nina Simone, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Bessie Smith, Keb’ Mo’, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Redding, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke to name a few. There are many more blues artists that I love. I am still in the process of expanding my blues library.
I am fairly new to the blues dancing scene, and I find inspiration everywhere. My main source of inspiration comes directly from the music. If good music is playing, I’m almost sure to have mostly good dances. A few local, regional and national dancers/instructors who I look up to who inevitably influence my blues dancing are Krystal Wilkerson, Adam Wilkerson, Briana McIntire, Kenneth Shipp, Mike Legenthal, Julie Brown, Damon Stone, Daniel Repsch and Mike Grosser. I hate calling names because I am inspired by so many dancers in so many ways. I just like to see people use their bodies to freely express what the music means to them.
I haven’t had much exposure to the national and international blues scenes, but I have gotten to travel regionally in the southeast of America for blues with some of the dancers from Huntsville. I plan to make it to more national and international events in my post graduate school years.
The thing I love most about blues dancing is the opportunity to communicate with another human being on an intimate level without the use of many words on the social dance floor. I love hearing what my partner has to say or feeling what they feel in the music and being able to translate that feeling into my body and vice versa. I like the magic that happens when our interpretations are not exactly the same, but everything works out because of the musical thread that connects us. I also love to express myself through solo blues dancing.
I have found the blues community to be very warm and accepting. There are people from many different backgrounds with a whole lot of hobbies and interests outside of blues dancing and we get to share these things with each other as well. I unexpectedly made some really good friends because of blues dancing (and social dancing in general), people I would have never met otherwise.
I feel like my blues story is just beginning. There are so many more things to explore, people to meet and dance with, history to learn and places to go. I’m thankful that I stumbled across this dance which has now become a significant part of my life, and I am grateful for the relationships that I have developed because of it.
The Blues and How I Lost and Found It
It was the tail end of 2015; I’d had a hell of a year — okay, a hell of a few years. I’d been transferred as a Social Worker, without much warning, from a small city not too far from my hometown to Nashville, and like many people I was swiping right looking for some semblance of a quick-fix connection. My sense of self was worn, but not so worn that suffering Internet Boi BS was my thing. Finally, I found one that gave good text, had decent enough intent, nerdy-hot, and found popsicles a perfectly acceptable outing since it was a weird December heatwave.
I’ll spare you all the details, but in chatting with Bug* I mentioned how years back, I loved dancing. Thanks to a now ex-husband, my body had been injured to the point where walking across a parking lot had been a challenge not that long ago, but I had patched up enough where thankfully at least walking wasn’t an issue. It was time to push myself again, I was in a new city with new people who didn’t know me, and enjoying a new guy who also enjoyed dancing…blues dancing. I had seen a tiny bit of blues dancing at a lindy hop event as a repressed, still slightly-Fundamentalist-Baptist teenager; it was close, incredibly close. While I had shaken most of the Christian guilt after the ex, I was barely comfortable holding hands with someone; but it was time for new experiences, so I convinced myself I could trust someone enough to attempt physical proximity for the three and a half minutes a song takes.
While I was jittery as all get out, a song with a stranger turned into a song with a different stranger. One of the things I still remember clearly from that first dance was constantly apologizing to the leads. I was dancing with one of the leads that obviously knew how to dance, he calmly reassuring me I was fine; enjoy the dance, they knew I was new there and I was okay. After dancing with him, I grabbed a dance with Bug and realized I was actually enjoying the dance…the music…myself…him – it was safe to say I was hooked. The following week I was in class Thursday night, and the next month I signed up for Blues Dance Nashville’s yearly workshop.
Blues dance wasn’t the only thing I fell into headfirst that February. Bug’s fiancé, Lib* came into town for an extended visit. I went out for a drink before class with her during her first week here, and without hesitation went home with her after class that night – I still regret nothing. I spent the weekend of Mo’ Better with the two of them. I was pushed in class by this new dance style, pushed by her with her infectious openness, yet soothed by his quiet grounding. Months went by, I got bolder, I didn’t feel like an irreparably damaged person for once – I was connecting, I was dancing.
As with all relationship seasons, they eventually come to an end, and this one was an abrupt end. Dancing in my home scene, it ached. So as many a dancer has done, I sulked and licked my wounds outside my home scene. I spent the next few months dancing with sweet engineers in Huntsville; breaking bad follow habits with a friend in Knoxville who excitedly exclaimed, “Oh wow, you really are heartbroken! This is a great time to drill.”; later dramatically wailing on the sofa of an Atlanta dancer that I was never falling for dancers again – this wasn’t worth it. In that low that had more factors than just a breakup, thanks to the surrounding dance community, I was able to explore myself and what truly drove me, that I was enough on my own.
Once my sulk tour and a hit of clinical depression during the summer of ’16 was winding down, my dance scene was still there for me. They cared for me even though depression brain was real, and when I was exhausted from another hopeless work case. Walks in the parks with puppies, late night texts, dance trips to exchanges and workshops…these dancers reaching out and trying to connect with me however I would connect; I cannot say with certainty if I would be here without the dance community. Their persistence and support continued – better living through psychopharmacology kicked in, and later on I was able to apply the honesty and vulnerability that I found through blues dancing in other ways in my life.
Fast-forward a year later. I of course have given romantic connections with dancers another chance. I have traveled to events with my dance home scene all over. From girls’ trips to Chicago, passing a chocolate pie and solitary fork in a carpool on the way to an event a couple hours away: some of these people have become my chosen family. The joy, the discovery, the honestly, the laughter . My life is entirely different than it was. I am strong again, and it started with letting go and trusting that stranger in a single dance.
What a difference a year makes…
(ok, technically 18 months, but what kind of opening line is that?)
Last year, a friend invited me to check out blues dancing here in Nashville with them. My friend knew I enjoyed swing dance from afar, but also that I think it looks exhausting.
I had never done any partner dancing before. I did not bring a dance partner. But I was welcomed at Blues Dance Nashville with open arms. I had many lovely dances with patient partners. I had no idea what I was doing, but we had fun anyway.
So I went back the next night. And the week after that. And the week after that. And every time I felt welcome and had fun, regardless of my skill level.
Now I have been dancing over a year. Not only have I gained skill as a dancer, I’ve gained great friends at BDN.
I appreciate the support and kindness from so many group members at Blues Dance Nashville- from those I met when I first started, to new friends who just started blues dancing themselves!
It’s a friendly, fun, and some times silly (okay often silly!) group and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Hi there! Let me tell you story of how I got into the blues. Though I grew-up in the backwoods of Arkansas, a place where there is no blues shortage, I didn’t fall in love with the music or dance until much later in life. For this to happen, I had to move to Montreal, Qc, Canada where I’d meet my now wife, Myriam. While listening to blues music for years, the thought that one could dance to it never crossed my mind. For our first date, Myriam invited me to a blues dance, which also happened to be held at a scotch bar. How could I not accept? We arrived, said our awkward hellos, and dived into a drop-in class. I was off-beat and trying to stay out of the personal space of other dancers as much as possible. Today, I realize dancers don’t have much in the way of a personal bubble space. After the drop-in lesson, Myriam left to dance with the rest of the crowd. At the time, I remember this seeming a little odd for a first date, but she bought me a scotch so I certainly wanted a second date. Following their lead, I danced on into the night. The energy of the community was exceptionally welcoming. I was hooked on Myriam and blues all at the same time. In the end, we went on several more dates together. She came into Montreal for every blues dance, and this was a good excuse for us to spend time together. We attended blues dances 2-3 nights a week. The rest is history from there.
We moved to Nashville about a year and half later, got married, and have dived further into the local blues community together. I’ve since honed in my blues dancing here with lots of practice. Myriam has become a blues instructor and I’ve since picked-up on DJing. Blues has grown to be a part of our lives together. Forever.