“How long have you been dancing?” I’ve been asked that question hundreds of times while dancing with a new lead. It’s always stymied me why that would matter. A much better question to ask a newly met lead/follow would be, “When was the last time you took a class? What did you learn?”
Years of dancing frequently equate to better dancing, but that is not always the case. Once the first rush of passion for this new hobby (or new style of dance) passes, many people stop attending classes, stop improving, and reach a plateau of dance quality. Often, it’s scary and difficult to learn new things, and without the excitement and interest generated by the freshness of a new hobby, there’s no incentive to move past the discomfort of learning something new. People become content to dance in the same comfortable way for years. Frankly, I can’t deny that I fall into the exact same rut myself every couple years. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the comfortable approach, there are quite a few reasons why you should fight inertia and keep working on your blues dancing, whether that’s through classes or in other ways.
First, and let’s be honest here, most of us aren’t as good as we think we are. Judging the quality of social dancing is a subjective undertaking, so what works for one lead/follow might not work for another one. Classes, particularly private or small group lessons, are a good way to get honest feedback on the areas where improvement is warranted. More importantly, professional or semi-professional instructors can teach you how to improve. The better you are as a dancer, the more people will want to dance with you and, chances are, the more fun you’ll have while dancing.
Perhaps you already have a humongous amount of fun dancing and everyone is always lining up to dance with you. If so, good for you! But wouldn’t it be neat to learn something new? Whether it’s a very old move reincarnated by a dedicated instructor who searched through archive videos for months or crossover styling introduced by someone who’s an expert in another type of dance, it is thrilling to throw in a new move just at that amazing moment when the music calls for it. Classes or dedicated experimentation with a partner are both great ways to expand your toolbox so you’ll never be left hanging, wishing you knew how to truly express your reaction to the music.
I’m lucky enough to live in Los Angeles, which has developed a thriving blues scene over the years thanks to some extremely dedicated folks, but in my travels I’ve met plenty of people who live in smaller towns or places where blues dancing is a niche hobby, at best. For anyone in that situation, I strongly encourage you to travel to classes, workshops, or exchanges to learn more about blues dance and bring that knowledge back with you. Alternatively, you can work with the growing cadre of traveling instructors to have them bring workshops to you. Classes are a great way to revitalize a small dance scene and build a strong sense of community.
If traveling or bringing in instructors isn’t an option, the internet has a plethora of dancing videos. Watch them, imitate them, add your own style. To get a sense of where you’re at with your own dancing, get someone to make a video of you dancing with different leads/follows and study the tapes of yourself. Where do you look goofy? Does your lead/follow ever look like they’re just putting up with you to be nice? Is there anything that looks really good that you want to continue doing or a place where it would be good to add a little polish? Practice, practice, practice, and then repeat.
Other reasons to keep working on your blues dancing have to do with age and injury. Let’s face it: nobody is getting any younger. As you get older, it becomes harder to ignore the fact that gravity, genetics, old injuries, and life in general can work together to make it harder to dance like you used to. Even if you’re still young and spry, dancing is a full body pursuit. Whether caused by dancing or something else entirely, an injury to any part of your body can wreak havoc on your ability to do certain things while you dance. Don’t let age and injury keep you from the joys of blues dancing and the amazing community that goes along with it. Yet another benefit of taking classes or working with dance instructors one-on-one is that they have a wide variety of experience at teaching dancers how to adapt to their personal, physical needs. Some instructors will do this better than others, and it’s important to remember that they’re not doctors or sports therapists (note: unless they actually are). However, there is no group of people more knowledgeable about how to adapt and keep dancing. If you have a problem with some part of your body not working the way you think it should, they’ve probably run across it before and can give you advice on how to work around it.
Finally, keep working on all kinds of dancing, not just blues dancing. Learning other kinds of dance—swing, tango, hip hop, ballroom, African, and beyond—can have a measurable effect on your blues dancing ability, too. The stronger you are as a dancer and the more you work on the craft of dancing in general, the better your blues dancing will be. The best blues dancers I know are the best overall dancers I know, too. It’s not a coincidence.
And whatever you do, keep dancing! I’ll see you out there.