I will begin this conversation about blues dance with an introduction to the dance form. This NPR interview by my friend Lindsey Lee sums it up beautifully. Blues dance, more than any of the other dozen or so dances I have tried, fosters connection between partners. I have learned, literally, to be more sensitive. For an American male, this is a lesson worth learning.
When I tried blues dancing for the first time in 2011 I had sweaty palms, couldn’t breathe, and almost certainly looked the part. That was almost seven years after taking my first dance class but up until 2011 I had only ever been a solo dancer – breaking it down among break dancers at Portland’s Goodfoot or taking modern dance classes at ODC. The idea of taking responsibility for another person’s movement – especially a charming, attractive woman – and getting her to do moves like everyone else on the dance floor…? Impossible.
Probably what drew me back after that first nervous night of blues dancing was the friendliness and forgiving nature of most of my partners. I stepped on toes, lead my partners into other dancers and generally made a fool of myself. But once or twice that first evening I lost myself in the music and the connection with my partner, and I returned to the dance venue for more of those intimate experiences.
Dance has the capacity to teach us to listen to another person, subtly, delicately and intimately in a way that most people never get – or perhaps only experience through intimacy with a lover. In a litigious world where nearly all physical contact is sexualized, we rarely have the opportunity to learn how to touch with delicacy. Especially for men who might have little other experience with physical connection, learning how to touch a dance partner and learn to lead without pressure is one of the most useful lessons I know.