Lindy Hop & Blues: The Upward Battle In Harmonious Dancing

Blues dancing is definitely a hot topic these days. There’s a lot of heat brewing between lindy hoppers and blues dancers in regards to respecting each other’s dance forms, not to mention the contention of what blues dancing even is amongst blues dancers.

For the sake of argument here, when I refer to blues dancing, I’m referring to what blues dancers call “pureists”. I’m not even going to touch fusion dancing with a 10-foot pole.

Overall, I’ve found that most lindy hoppers don’t really care about blues dancing or blues dancers. There’s little respect to be had, and they don’t pay much attention to what blues dancers are even doing. When I first started dancing though, all of the lindy hoppers in Albuquerque also went blues dancing.  There was no harsh distinction between the two like there is now. We would regularly drive to Santa Fe for Juke, a bimonthly dance that was billed as lindy and blues, and it was my favorite dance. They consistently oscillated between swing music, soul and funk and traditional 12 bar blues from the 30’s and 40’s. It was  the only dance like it at the time, and it was so much fun.

That was over 5 years ago now. Today, there’s a entire blues scene in Albuquerque, with dancing every week, and none of the lindy hoppers go anymore. And the blues dancers don’t come to our dances.

We all have our own reasons for why we don’t go to each other’s dances now, and we all know what those reasons are, so there’s no point in me spelling it out for everyone. Besides, I don’t really care to get daggers thrown at me for a point I’m not trying to argue. Needless to say, the scenes are very separated, and following the national trend, there’s some tension between the two scenes every now and again.

Back in January, I began a monthly Swing, Soul & Blues dance. I created it for a few reasons. I wanted there to be more dancing in Albuquerque, I wanted to revive Juke in some fashion, and I wanted to bring the two scenes back together. Just for 3 hours a month, I wanted for everyone to throw away any misconception, any judgement or animosity or whatever it is that keeps the two scenes from typically integrating to come together and have some fun.

For me, it was easy to get lindy hoppers on board for the dance. They were all over it. The former DJ’s and facilitators of Juke were eager to drive down from Santa Fe to come as well (which, as a quick side note, it can take a LOT to get people from Santa Fe to make the 1 hour drive here). And while the dance hasn’t always been packed, it’s been a ton of fun and the music is varied enough for any kind of dancer to come and enjoy themselves. However, the blues dancers have yet to really make an appearance at the dance. I’ve advertised to them, I regularly hire some of their DJ’s (who are really good). This past month I finally got 1 regular blues dancer who doesn’t do any lindy hop. But that was it. And he hardly danced at all. I actually don’t know if I even saw him dance once.

I would not consider myself to be a part of the blues scene, but I would say that I’m a supporter and advocator of it. The main blues organizer in town, Aaron Cabral, and I go way back, and I’ve got his back no matter what. While I don’t always dance, I usually go to the blues dances every week, to support them, to talk with my friends who are blues dancers, and to kill my non-travelling Friday nights (Seriously, what do regular people do on a Friday night? If I’m not travelling, I usually sit around the house looking like this):

What is it going to take to get the blues dancers to the SS&B dance? Is it the day or time of the dance? Are they intimated of dancing with lindy hoppers? Do they not want to attend a dance that’s organized by a lindy hopper? Do they just not care?

Am I fighting a losing battle here? Should I just throw in the towel with the blues dancers, stop caring about what they’re doing and just continue having fun with the people who are actually showing up? I mean, what’s not to love here: Swing music? Check. Soul and funk? Check. Blues? Check. Awesome amounts of fun? Check.

As someone who is an organizer in Albuquerque, I feel responsible for keeping everyone as cohesive as possible, and personally, I think it’s stupid that the lindy hop scene and blues scene, locally and nationally, are so separate. I understand if some people don’t like blues music or blues dancing, or if people don’t see the magic in swing music. Lots of people don’t, and that’s cool. I just feel like there should be some crossover. By someone. Even just a brown M&M’s worth of crossover. Even if that one blues dancer who had come to our SS&B dance had danced all night long, that would’ve been something.

Are there any dance scenes out there who’ve successfully integrated both their lindy hop and blues scenes without just constantly smushing the two together in every dance? If so, tell me your secret to how you did it. I’m dying to know.


About Rachel

Rachel Green is an avid lindy hopper, instructor, performer and bad mamma jamma. She's also the co-owner of Rhythm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a community-oriented venue dedicated to Lindy hop and to freelance dance instructors. When Rachel isn't dancing, teaching, or organizing, she's usually picking pennies up off the ground or trying to win at dutch blitz. View all posts by Rachel

6 responses to “Lindy Hop & Blues: The Upward Battle In Harmonious Dancing

  • Anna

    As one of the few people who is heavily involved in both scenes, this also irks me. I know the passion for dancing in both the communities, and I often hear, from both sides, that they wish there was more dancing to be had. But then I show up to the monthly swing soul and blues dance and, like you say, Rachel, rarely do I find a familiar face from the blues scene. I commend you on your effort to meld the two together, and I say give it some more time. You DO hang out at the blues dances, you DO advertise the monthly dance both at their events and on FB. Keep the event going, keep the word spreading. *cue Kevin Costner* “If you build it, they will come.”

  • Lindyspice

    We’re working on the same idea here in the bay area with For Dancers Only, a twice-monthly social dance that some friends and I started up last fall. The five of us have eclectic tastes that include a love of lindy hop, solo jazz, charleston, blues, balboa, shag, boogie woogie and soul, so we figured why not make a dance event that gives people the chance to do a little of everything once in a while?

    The thing that we’ve found to be challenging is that DJs often specialize and develop a distinctive style, which means it can be difficult to get a good mix (of music *or* dancers) in a single night, as opposed to having a somewhat different kind of event each time. If you’re trying to create an environment that’s welcoming to more than one kind of dance addict, you have to have a DJ who can read the floor and rotate the music style as well as tempo, to keep people dancing. As soon as the DJ plays too many of the same kind of songs in a row, anyone who isn’t dancing starts changing their shoes and packing up!

    To that end, we try to invite a variety of DJs to spin for us, sometime one for the whole night and sometimes two DJs with contrasting styles. We also work hard to cultivate a casual Friday night vibe, where people feel okay about intentionally sitting out a few songs to talk with friends- more like a house party, and less like an aerobics class.

    Good luck with your event, and come visit us if you’re ever in the bay area! 🙂

  • Claire

    I’ve had the good fortune of living in a few cities that have crossover between Lindy and Blues; when I lived in Boston, I would see the same people at the weekly lindy AND blues events; since this was two years ago, I’m not sure how much that has changed but I’m hoping its still the same! While I had no hand in organizing any of the events, I had the pleasure of being a part of a scene that welcomed everyone, no matter what. I think this sense of acceptance made going to three + nights of dancing a week a pleasure and made me miss it once I left.
    Another scene that embraces crossover is that of Atlanta; having danced there for the last 3 years, I can safely say that they deal with crossover quite well. Lindy, blues (and balboa) events are populated by mostly the same people. While you do have those who prefer one style and therefore attend more of those events, you tend to see the same people each week, no matter the dance type. Having been part of this community, I can say the reason for the intermingling is just that: community! Put it down as Southern Hospitality, but you never feel as if these different types of dancing within the scene are separate. I would go out dancing, no matter if I loved the DJ or the music that night, for the people. I would go because I loved dancing with my friends – who cares about the dance style?
    For me, sometimes its not about what kind of music is being played. If you know how to dance, then learning another type of dance should make you a better dancer. I feel lucky that I’ve had the chance to live in dance scenes that value community over who dances what style; in the last couple of months in Atlanta, I’ve seen so many new people join and actually stay past the second night of dancing. I think that says something.

  • James Guglielmo

    I’ve danced and taught country western a lot in the past 20 years (just the couples stuff: two step, schottisce, cha-cha, waltz and west coast). In the last few years, I’ve been dancing more tango, which of course I use in my blues dancing extensively. I took a few Lindy classes too, and indeed, found them fun.

    Let me back up. When I first learned to ski, and obtained at least a basic proficiency, it was all about “go fast, take jumps.” It was a superb connection to adrenalin and fun. It wasn’t until I witnessed the beauty and grace of an expert carving clean lines along the contours of the mountain that I was attracted to such an elegant form. I then endeavored to be a pleasant harmony to the mountain on each descent. Doing so somehow connected me so much more closely to the universe than my previous experience, which had only exposed me to adrenaline and fun, but no real connection.

    Fast forward again. A blues or tango connection is far more intimate and personal than that of Lindy-Hop. I have discovered that many (not all) Lindy Hoppers have either an inability or an unwillingness to listen to their partner in a way that would constitute a satisfactory blues connection. More often than not, those individuals don’t, won’t or can’t follow a subtle lead, and when I make it more pronounced, they get upset and complain I’m too stiff, which has NEVER been my dance style. (One person even insisted to me that blues and Lindy-Hop are exactly the same dance, which, as evidenced by your challenge, is categorically false.)

    I enjoy the graceful connection, and borrowed from tango, the “invitation” for the follower to move a specific direction. In this respect, the connection that is formed also permits the lead to listen to the follower, thus creating a beautiful, unique collaboration between the two. When the follower back-leads a dance the leader is not performing, neither will enjoy the dance, as it not collaborative, nor beautiful, but two individuals dancing individually.

    I hypothesize that this is your source of rift between Lindy and Blues: Both are perfectly enjoyable dances, but the type of connection desired by the participants are very different from one another.

  • dogpossum

    The blues and lindy scenes are fairly well integrated in most Australian cities. Partly because the same people teach lindy hop and blues in most cities, and partly because they’re seen as complementary rather than conflicting. It’s not as huge a scene as lindy hop, but it’s definitely popular, and I very rarely hear lindy hoppers badmouthing blues of vice versa. In fact, it’d be a bit weird for blues dancers to badmouth blues because very few of them are not lindy hoppers as well.

    It’s all good, yo.

  • dogpossum

    Woah, that last sentence was not good.

    I very rarely hear lindy hoppers badmouthing blues or vice versa. In fact, it’d be a bit weird for blues dancers to badmouth lindy hop because very few of them are not lindy hoppers as well.

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