In anticipation of beginning my blog anew with reflections on the dance journey that I will be enjoying while in Asia, I decided that I finally have a moment to share that made me super excited for things to come.
Miriam Grill and I took a stroll over to the local blues bar in the Banglamphu section of Thailand. Why the bar is called “Adhere the 13th” is beyond me, but, happily, as a dive bar, this space didn’t disappoint. Somewhere around 12ft wide and perhaps 100ft deep (damn, I’m going to have to learn the metric equivalent of that). There were six or seven small, short, colorful round tables with even smaller stools around them for seating, and the bar in the back.
We arrived early enough to sit by the band (not that you could really avoid sitting by the band very much here). There were a few others around. A young European couple, a small group of Thai friends, an older American couple, another older European pair.
The warm up act was a solo acoustic guitarist, apparently, one of a great many in Thailand (every bar we went by had its own resident solo acoustic guitarist playing originals, Thai songs, and American covers). At one point, fear began to take a hold of us, worried that we may not get to enjoy any blues music this evening.
When the soloist finished, the server set up the ambient music, which, thankfully was a blues album. A great sigh of relief, and a toast to getting some blues.
After bopping along to the Chicago style of the CD for the first two songs, we couldn’t resist any longer and got up to dance. Navigating around 4-5 irregular square feet of dance space is typical on the dance floor, and the worry about bumping into others isn’t very high. Quite a different story when you’ve got the safety of other peoples’ drinks to keep in mind. Still, manageable. The sheer joy on Miriam’s face was delightful to see considering the last time she danced blues was the last time she and I danced blues in February.
Over the next few minutes, the band began to roll in and set themselves up. The guitarist, keeping it old school, used an amp powered with vacuum tubes. The drummer, bassist, and singer/harp player all got themselves situated, keyed up, and began to play their favorite Chicago style covers which involved a lot of Little Walter and Sonny Boy WIlliamson II.
We continued to dance on and off, sometimes getting applause, or kudos from the band. The room began to fill with more guests including a small group of South Korean reporters who we later found out were invited by the government the last week and were enjoying their last night in Bangkok. They were very gracious with their applause to us and the band.
The reporters were seated right in front of the band and were bopping and boogying along with the music. I lean to Miriam and say to her, as I pointed to the very enthusiastic guy toe tapping in the front, “I bet you he’d dance if you asked. ” And on the next song, she did. Excitedly, he accepted and I asked the woman next to him to join me on the floor as well. Nervously and happily, she accepted.
Now, as a lead, when dancing with someone brand new to you, with no knowledge of their dance experience or ability to pick up material, one of the safest things to do is play “monkey see, monkey do.” I held her hand and proceeded to do repeats of blues patters for her to see and copy, which she did amazingly.
I then sped up the shapes, check.
I changed the shapes more quickly. Check.
I invited her to turn. Check
Two minutes in we were getting down in and out of frame, she made her own shapes, I did mine, and by the end of the song, our little dance floor was filled with joy.
Our new South Korean pals were very excited about the prospect of our upcoming visit to Seoul to teach blues dancing. We exchanged information and will hopefully see our intrepid reporters again very soon.
Later, during the second set, the band played their first slow song. A highlight for us since, by then, the band was really getting a kick out of our dancing, especially the guitarist, who turned to us during his solo and literally played for us! I had my eyes on his hands, he played, and we joined together with him in a way that makes dancing to live music still one of the most satisfying experiences a dancer can have. The crowd and the rest of the band went nuts with applause.
The singer bought us drinks as the band wrapped up. We got to talk with them about music, blues, playing for dancers, the local scene, where to get decent harmonicas, alcohol, the whole nine.
There’s something about blues music that talks to people. No matter what culture, age, experience. It has a way of tapping into the soul. I believe it’s still one of America’s strongest exports. And here we are, ready to distribute up and down Asia.
This dance journey will be a wonderful one.