I was a Lindy Hopper first – Blues helped me to be a better dancer
It feels like forever ago since I started dancing. I hardly want to admit how long, as it will show my age, but I’m soon to reach my 16th Swingaversery. Yep, 16 years in swing and oh boy did it change my life. But I didn’t start as a Blues Dancer. When I first fell in love with all things Swing back in my home town of Brisbane, Australia, Blues wasn’t around. It had not yet reached the sunny shores of Bris Vegas and when I think back on it now, we were pretty well starved for learning opportunities with only one venue running 3 nights a week and only one teaching couple. A massive contrast to what Swing Patrol offers here in London!
This didn’t mean however that we didn’t want to learn, or that we didn’t jump at any opportunity to go out social dancing. In fact I think I had been to exactly 2 classes before I went out with other dancers to the Brisbane Jazz Club to try and dance to a band that were not exactly swing but close enough! We would also go to these crazy rock and roll clubs with 70s style velvet and mirrors walls just to have the opportunity for some social dancing. We took what we could get.
So as you can imagine whenever any teachers from interstate or overseas came to our fair city we clambered over each other to get a spot in that workshop. My very first workshop with a visiting teacher was actually with Scott Cupit. I had been dancing about 3 months when he came to Brisbane. At the social dance that evening it took me all night to build up the courage to ask Scott to dance. In fact, it took so long, that it wasn’t until the bands last song of the night that we actually danced. Throughout the song they did these extremely long drum solos which were impossible to dance to and made my first ever dance with Mr Cupit somewhat awkward.
After this I jumped at any chance for workshops and as the opportunities were limited we didn’t discriminate about what we learned. If someone offered Lindy, we’d do it. If it was Charleston, we were there. Balboa, bring it on. It was about 18 months or 2 years into my Swing Dance journey before the first ever Blues teachers came to Brisbane. Solomon Douglas and Noni Clarke taught a workshop and right away I knew I was hooked. I loved the music, I loved the style of movement and I loved that Noni said I was good at it. From that workshop about 14 years ago in a primary school gym in my home town, I was never looking back. That was it, I was going to be a great Blues Dancer and do all the workshops and go to all the Blues parties and attend every festival, only, there weren’t any…
It wasn’t until I moved to Philadelphia in 2007 that I managed to re-connect with Blues on a more regular basis. Philly at the time (and I’m sure still does) had some fantastic Blues events and teachers and here my love of the dance grew and grew. What I found however, and what I still find to this day, is that Blues helped me be a better dancer. Not just a better Blues dancer but a better Lindy Hopper and better Balboa Dancer and basically a better dancer all round. It opened up my thinking about my body movement and control and the slower music enabled me to get a better understanding of connection, not just to my partner but also the to the floor (which let’s face it is important if you don’t want to fall over) and to the music.
Blues Dancing taught me the importance of play in my dancing. All of the dances that fall under the Swing umbrella are fun, they have a lively energy and joyful spirit that is fundamentally why we all love these dances so much. Blues allowed me the time and space to develop a dance style that wasn’t just about being a technically good dancer and a good follower but also about having fun, connecting with my partner in a way we as human’s often don’t have the courage to do off the dance floor. It gave me licence to express who I am at the same time as discovering something about the person I was dancing with.
Now I know some of you may have heard that Blues is all intense and sexy. This is not my experience. Blues is whatever you make it, but I rarely meet a Blues dancer who isn’t just wanting to have a brilliant dance and connect with another dancer in a way that is unique to the Blues floor. Blues made me a better Lindy hopper, not only because of all the technique and fundamental connection blues classes provide but because it also taught me to take the time out to play, no matter what dance I am doing!