How to acquire the blues balance

More from the Nottingham Evening post, this time is a description of how to dance blues in an English ballroom in 1930. This NoW advert with these fantastic shoes appears on the same page.

“ON WITH THE DANCE”

How to acquire the blues balance.

Points to remember

[By Victor Silvester]

The term Blues refers more to a kind of music than to any arrangement of steps. It is the slow, plaintive music of the negro people, perhaps a legacy from slavery. There should be a “sob” in it, but few ballroom bands can play it as well as that.

We have danced to Blues music, on and off, ever since the war. It has flared up to front-rank  popularity several times. Black Bottom was essentially a form of Blues. The Yale, which was the rage two seasons ago, was another.

The Yale. Despite its American name, and the fact that it was done to music of negro origin, was thoroughly British. It was thought at the time that a name with an American association would add to its chances of success, such was the domination of American ideas ! Luckily, we are escaping from that.

The Yale is now dead and gone. It contained a strong tango flavour which has been entirely eliminated from this season’s Blues. The dance now consists of combinations of slow walks and chasses. A few Black Bottom steps may still be introduced, mainly on the side steps, but I should not advise any but expert dancers to attempt them.

I said last week that balance is the rock on which most Blues dancers strike. Balance is of course, the foundation of all ballroom dancing, but it is possible to get into a ballroom and enjoy yourself without being able to balance yourself. Thousands do it, and get away with it – until they come to the Blues. Then they make fools of themselves, and know it. They can’t balance at this speed. They don’t have to pretend to in the Quickstep. They can prance round and feel quite proud of themselves. The lively music takes their minds off dancing. How then can a dance improve his or her balance so as to enjoy the Blues?

The essential fact to remember is this: In the slow steps – that is, those taking two beats or half a bar – keep the support of the back foot (in moving forwards; the front one of course in moving backwards) until the last possible moment. You must dance strictly on time, but do not let either foot leave its position on the floor until the actual second of the beat. If you fail to observe this you will find yourself taking a run at the steps and you will be immediately thrown off your balance. Do not forget – hold every step till the last possible moment, then move so that you step exactly on the beat.

Let me describe how this works out in practice as applied to the walk forward and backward.

In walking forward take a long step straight from the hips going first on to the heel and then immediately on to the flat of the foot. As soon as your heel meets the floor your weight should be transferred to your front foot, but do not move your back foot forward until the exact second of the appropriate beat. Then, as it comes forward, the opposite knee should be relaxed very slightly and gradually to make than slight lilt which is peculiar to the Blues. Do not exaggerate this movement.

In the backwards walk swing your leg back from the hips, first going on to the ball of the foot, but keeping your weight on the front foot. The weight should now be transferred gradually on to the ball of the back foot while the toe of the front foot is raised from the ground and all the pressure is on the front heel. At this point the weight of the body is evenly distributed between the feet, and does not pass entirely to the back foot until the front one actually begins to move back. The back heel should never be allowed to touch the floor until the other foot passes it.

Another important point to remember is not to make your strides too long. Many people impressed with the slowness of the Blues, try to stride forward so far that they cannot possibly transfer the weight smoothly.

Always keep your feet close together in passing each other and do not let your toes turn out; keep the feet perfectly straight.

Let all your muscles be relaxed, but at the same time prevent your arms from moving about, and make no muscular movement which is unnecessary. This control of the muscles without effort is a matter of practice, and is one of the chief aids to a good balance.

(NEXT WEEK: BLUES STEPS)

From the Nottingham Evening Post, Friday, January 31, 1930

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3 responses to “How to acquire the blues balance”

  1. Sara says :

    Wow! Do you have the next article? I wonder if this is about ballroom blues/ballrooming, which I gather travels more?

    • sleepingglitter says :

      This is definitely about ballroom blues. I know nothing about the history of blues dancing in the UK – I assumed blues dancing was a 100% modern American import (and I think modern blues dancing is) but it’s interesting to get a glimpse of what was going on in British dance halls when blues/slow music was played in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

      I have the next article but it might take me a while to write up (don’t think I can post the PDFs due to copyright issues). I also have an article about something called Charleston Blues.

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  1. 1934 Blues Are Lively « Lindy Hop variations for followers - January 3, 2012

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