changes in the blues scene: an emphasis on personal space

This weekend in Atlanta has been host to Enter the Blues, a well-established and well-run Blues event. It was the first blues event I ever attended – and in fact, it was actually the first event I ever attended. It is also home to one of the first events at which I performed. Even though I have long fell out of love with blues as a dance, EtB holds a special place in my heart. I can really see how it’s grown as an event over the years as an event. More importantly, though, this year has shown me that blues as a dance has grown a lot since I developed a nearly monogamous Love of Lindy Hop and stopped blues dancing entirely.

I struggle a lot with blues dancing. About three years ago, I developed an extreme case of Personal Space Anxiety (PSA), which many blues dancers – from beginning to intermediate and even advanced dancers – unconsciously violate on a regular basis. I don’t blame them: it’s easy to step over that boundary, and I have more Personal Space Needs than most. As a result of my PSA, I have choose blues dances like I choose sex partners: it’s an intimate dance which should only be undertaken with those to whom I am extremely attracted or those whom I trust implicitly – and those two qualities usually go hand in hand.

I think that Sexy Blues is incredible, when done right (great example: the blues comps at Lindy Focus this year). However, my challenge is that I don’t want to be sexy with most people. I want to be sexy with specific people – and sometimes, not even then. I have never had much faith in my own “inner sexy,” and it takes a lot of trust (and some attraction) in my dance partner to let the sexy out. Instead, I much more often only feel comfortable letting out my “inner goofy,” which is not always welcome or appreciated when the lead is trying to interpret the music.*

However, I was pleasantly surprised at Enter the Blues. Maybe I was only dancing with amazing dancers who respected my Personal Space without question, or maybe I just got lucky. It is more likely, though, that blues dancing has changed dramatically in the three or so years I’ve been absent. I think there is a very strong emphasis on connecting outside of sexiness. I think there is a lot of more open embraces, and an extreme avoidance of leading body rolls. And I think that if this is the case, and not just my luck, I could learn to love blues again.

The biggest relief of all is that I have experienced a significantly higher incidence of close but not closed embrace, if that makes sense (I’m not familiar with the actual terminology) – where the connection is more reminiscent of swing than of balboa, and my chest and pelvis have all the breathing room they desire. I have only had to repeatedly back away from one dancer who couldn’t understand my Personal Space Needs, but even then, I didn’t feel the need to voice my discomfort.

In comparison, the majority of the blues dances I had just before I left the scene were dominated by leads who had never been taught the meaning of the phrase “Leave room for Baby Jesus.” It was frustrating and invasive and it made me run away, regardless of how much fun I was having with a few particular dancers. Moreover, I have seen a similar trend towards more comfortable and respectful dancing in specific scenes, too; for example, when I traveled to Philly, I was pleasantly surprised to wholly enjoy the night I went blues dancing.

This movement away from Sexy Blues does not mean that blues is encouraging the un-sexy. It is one of the most sensual, expressive dances, capable of conveying a wide range of emotion, and it would be boring without the frequent hint of sexual tension. But most of the time, Sexy Blues just isn’t where I am in my life, and I really appreciate that there might be space for me in the blues scene again.

***

*Sometimes, my inner goofy is actually an appropriate interpretation of the music, and there are many less-experienced leads who miss this. But realistically, I’m more often than not trying to lighten the sexy mood, because that’s not where I want to be, regardless of what the music is saying.

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