Working with Flouer Evelyn in NYC and at several blues dance events, we created a series of classes to cater to the needs of the people and events we were hired for. One of these, a survey class, offered a basic introduction to blues music history and basic regional types of blues dance such as Delta, Chicago, and others.
Since then I have moved to China and began working with Miriam Grill. While thinking of what classes to offer, I considered the survey class. Thinking about our target audience – mostly Chinese adults who for the most part, have little to no knowledge of American history, especially from the blues music/dance perspective – Miriam suggested (and I agreed) that it would be beneficial to our clients to add a short history lesson from the Civil War/reconstruction era to the present with stills, sound, and video clips to support the intoduction.
The responses have been hugely positive. Most people have said that they were completely unaware of the history behind the music and having the material presented to them made learning the dance a richer experience.
Basking in the glow of the positive feedback, I thought quite a bit about our brief history lesson. I think generally, we take for granted other peoples’ (even other Americans’) awareness of US history from any lens – whether it be political, social, or any variation of either. These assumptions manifest themselves in many of our interactions. In the world of partner dance, there is a parallel in the way teaching and learning about some dances are approached.
Non-studio originated partner dances (or “street dances”, as I like to refer to them) have very strong cultural histories that have a physical effect on the way these dances are properly done (from an aesthetic and sometimes technical point of view). For example, the mambo is a latin dance that was named and stylized in Cuba that combines elements of Caribbean Indian, central/west African, and European dance movement. Does not knowing what it means to add African movement to the mambo make it impossible for someone to dance it? Of course not, but that knowledge does make the mambo dance experience richer and communication between partners stronger, clearer, and more interesting.
The same holds true for candombe, cha-cha-cha, lindy hop, blues, samba gafeira, and any of the street dances like them.
I strongly encourage dance instructors and students to increase your dance knowledge. Take the time to understand why movements and styles are the way they are in the dance you’re specializing in, and share that knowledge. It will only make us better at what we do and add to the complete dance experience for all involved.