It may seem paradoxical that dancing to blues music could be a path to reducing stress and living your dream. But for a longtime dancer like myself, dancing is a way to relax while working hard to achieve a big dream.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of dancing to both live music and DJed blues music at a local club. The event, organized by some dedicated local dancers, brought a dear friend of mine to town, who happens to be an internationally renowned blues dance instructor.
Damon Stone grew up learning about blues dancing and music from his grandparents and lives his big dream of traveling the world to teach the art of blues dancing. Damon is one of the most beautiful dancers I’ve ever seen–so fluid in his liquid movements, so full of groove and soul. I admired Damon’s moves long before we ever became friends. I was intimidated by him when I first watched him dance some years ago.
He was a dance “rock star,” and I was a “newbie” to Lindy Hop, the original swing dance from the ballrooms of Harlem, back in 1999. I was so nervous the first time we danced, but Damon is such a sweetheart, and he made me feel at ease. Lucky dancers get the distinct pleasure of getting to dance with him.
Shake Your Groove Thing
Partnered blues dancing allows dancers to share the experience of interpreting a song and also gives room to insert your personality into the mix. Most blues dancing is performed in what is called “closed position,” with dancers in a close embrace. Still, it can also be in open position, with dancers connected by just one hand or even just doing their own thing but maybe playing or riffing off the other person’s groove or style.
As you can imagine, there is plenty of hip-shaking (as we like to call it, “shake your moneymaker”). There is room for body rolls and shimmies and shoulder lifts.
Blues dancing can be smolderingly sexy. Sometimes, after a blues dance, one almost needs a cigarette. There is room for any stylistic impulse that fits the music. Dancers can find the room to express their unique personalities within the confines of the dance, although in a more subtle way than one might in modern, hip hop, or another expressive form of performance dance.
The purpose of the dance is to connect to your partner while interpreting the music. It’s a conversation on multiple levels: with your partner, with the musicians playing the music, and with yourself, as you feel into the soul of the song and let it play through you, enabling the body to be the instrument.
Workshops and a Soul Food Dinner
The event I attended included multiple dance workshops, a soul food dinner, live dances, and spoken word performances, sponsored by the African American Cultural Center. I took a workshop on Blues Vocabulary, showcasing different styles of blues dancing, and one on connecting with your partner.
For a few hours, we were steeped in the basics of blues dancing. Then, it was time to enjoy some delicious homemade soul food.
I am a pescatarian, and I skipped the fried and barbecue chicken but got to enjoy collard greens, green beans, and potato salad. We were treated to powerful spoken word performances, including essays, poetry, and dramatic monologues.
All were a reminder of the importance of the fight for civil liberties and of how far the world still has to go to treat all people as equal. I was moved to tears by the powerful performances. The overall message was that we are all brothers and sisters on this planet and that we need to stand together and stand up for each other.
Dance As a Cultural Passport
I have always felt that dance and music are powerful ways to connect cultures. When I traveled to the Middle East for a grad school friend’s wedding in Amman, Jordan, my ability to belly dance was my “cultural passport.” People loved it that an American girl could belly dance, and they frequently asked me to perform, tying scarves around my hips, clapping for me, even the grandmothers cheering me on.
Having women in the hijab cheer me on was one of the most fun and surreal moments of my life. Dance and music transcend language. Art crosses all cultural boundaries, uniting people in the universal love of beauty and expression.
We all experience love and joy as well as sorrow as we work hard on making our dreams come true, and art in all forms allows us to relax and reconnect with our hearts. I love art in all shapes, from the visual arts to literature to music to dance. Dance is a personal favorite, however, as I have taught professionally and I have studied various dance forms, like Lindy Hop, blues, and belly dancing.
Sharing Dance with Others
I have always felt fortunate to be able to share Lindy Hop with the world, since it is a form of American vernacular jazz dance that originated in the ballrooms of Harlem, and is an integral part of our country’s history. Becoming a Lindy Hop teacher was a welcome surprise in my life, something that naturally arose out of my love for the dance, and my partnership with my former husband and dance teacher.
Through teaching and performing Lindy Hop I have made and continue to make beautiful memories through the experiences created by this type of dance. Dancing is a global subculture and community for Lindy Hop and blues dancing, and I am fortunate enough to be a part of it.
It brings me great joy to use my body as an instrument to interpret music and to share this incredible experience with a partner. Every single time you dance, it’s a new experience. Just like the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus’ expression, “You can’t step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing in,” you can’t repeat a dance, because every time you dance even the same song with a different partner, it’s a new interpretation of the music.
Dance over the years has been one of my primary ways to generate high levels of joy. Before I ever learned how to meditate, it was also the first way I was able to move beyond the thinking mind and not to be trapped in my head, which is essential when you are trying to figure out what step to take next on your dream journey.
I’ve always been very cerebral, so practices that allow me to drop into my body and not stay centered on the thinking mind. Meditation and dancing have been lifesavers for me in this way.
Consider adding a hobby you enjoy while working on your big dream so that you have an outlet for your mind and heart that reenergizes your spirit. Participating in an exercise you love, like dancing, can relieve stress and also improve your mental awareness–vital to supporting you while you cultivate your big dream.
Lisa Powell Graham
Lisa Graham is an inspirational writer, life coach, motivational speaker, and globe-trotter whose passion is to help others to find happiness and meaning their daily lives. A political activist at heart, Lisa would like to empower more women to run for political office as a way to create positive change in the world. You can find her on the Madam President Project or watch her TEDx speech on YouTube.
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