Blues Dancing, or Why I Need Tequila

I never to go to bars by myself and I never do tequila shots but its 10:00pm on Friday night, about 12 hours before I have to leave for the airport and I’m doing both.


Well, I’ve agreed to accompany a friend who is visiting from out of town to a blues dance. Blues, as far as I can tell, is a sort of chaotic version of swing dancing in which you can do whatever you want as long as it look vaguely burlesque-like and doesn’t follow any actual rules.


Hence my need for tequila. I like rules. Rules can be observed, figured out and eventually mastered, like when your waltzing or dancing salsa or doing the jitterbug. My friend tells me to lean back, bend my knees, and keep some-but-not-too-much tension in my elbow but after a rather ill-fated attempt at the back of the dance floor, he tells me, “You know, you really need to RELAX.”

“I know,” I reply, feeling flustered. “I’m sorry. Go find yourself a more worthy partner and I’ll go find myself a drink.”

As I grab my purse and head down the block to find a bar, I realize this must be how other people feel… You know, people who don’t know how to dance. I have several degrees in dance, I teach dance for a living, I direct a professional dance company but somehow I can’t wrap my head around this blues dancing.

“I need something strong,” I tell the bartender. “I don’t know. Maybe red wine?”

She suggests a margarita instead and since it also happens to be pomegranate flavored, I comply.

“I’m at this dance down the street,” I explain to the guy two bar stools down (as if he cares). But he flashes a green wristband and says, “Me too. I just drove up from Georgia.”

Georgia??? He’s that into this completely irrational dance form? I decide that he’s obviously some sort of anarchist but he’s a nice anarchist at least and tells me I need to slouch, that he noticed me when I first walked into the bar and thought I was some sort of ballerina and was wondering what was wrong with me for walking into a bar with “that kind of posture.”


He offers me some of his cheese fries but I decline. “You don’t understand,” I tell him. “I need to get drunk. Cheese fries will dilute the alcohol.”

But the margarita is not cutting it. I’m tipsy enough to talk to a stranger at a bar but not tipsy enough to slouch, and slouching, it seems, is the key to being a good blues dancer.

“I think I’d like to do a shot,” I tell the bar tender.

“Tequila with an orange?” She asks.

I shrug. Sure. Whatever people usually chew on with tequila is fine by me… I never did get a hang of the whole salt/lemon/shot thing when I was at Oxford.

“You need to get the orange out of the way” my fellow blues dancer instructs me as I raise the shot glass to my lips.

“Oh. Okay, yeah.” He works in a gas station. He would know about these sorts of things.

“Eat it after,” he tells me.

So I do, and that’s when it finally starts to hit me. “If you find me lying on the sidewalk in a few minutes, can you just point me back in the way of the dance?” I ask.

He agrees, so I close out my tab and head back to meet my friend.

The good thing about blues dancing (especially going blues dancing without the man you are currently dating) is that you switch partners each song. This means its not actually all that sexy although the movement vocabulary would suggest otherwise.

I dance with a man from Virginia, another one from San Diego and one from here in Philly.

“I’m surprised I haven’t seen you at one of these events before,” he says.

“Oh no,” I reply, “it’s my first time, as will soon become woefully apparent.”

Between the margarita, the shot, and my undeniable suckiness at blues dancing, I’m feeling rather chatty so I go on to tell him that I feel, “just like Baby in Dirty Dancin’ but the first half of the movie, where she’s all ‘I carried a watermelon’ and not sexy yet, you know?”

He laughs and says, “Good thing that movie has a second half” but I’m doubtful. That movie also has Patrick Swayze, and Patrick Swayze is dead. I am a lost cause.

My friend introduces me to a short and rather rotund man in a tweed suit and tie. I’m a bit skeptical when he asks me to dance but as we hit the floor I’m suddenly reminded of the last time I went salsa dancing at Brazils. Short and rather rotund men don’t get enough credit. They are often, despite their stature (or perhaps because of it) excellent dancers and this one is no exception. In fact, I feel like I sort-of-kind-of know what I’m doing for the first time all night.

Nevertheless, I’m glad I have a few other social dance forms in my tool belt because I don’t think I’m going to be mastering blues any time soon.

4 Responses to “Blues Dancing, or Why I Need Tequila”

  1. Zak

    Blues was only great, IMO, after a night of swing dancing. The times I went, it was 2-3 hours of dancing at the Spanish Ballroom or Friendship Heights (in MD) first, then we moved over to whatever other venue and danced until almost sun up. There were nights I spent the majority of the time with one partner, and if I knew then what I know now, I’d actually have managed to go home with one of those sexy women.

    That, IMO, is how blues should be. “Fun” dancing should involve less alcohol, more formal steps, etc, as you explained.

  2. New York Cliche

    Yep, sounds just like how us normal, slightly-awkward-in-body non-dancers feel around a dance floor. Without a little alcohol, the amount of dancing I do would be reduced by, I’m guessing, at least 80%. I hope the trip goes (is going?) well!

    • Kat Richter

      I know! I kept thinking “This must be how normal people feel!” (And feeling a bit bad about having subjected various non-dancing boyfriends to the dance floor over the years.)

  3. Chicago-Style Girl

    This is something new to me. I’ve been in several blues clubs, but I’ve never seen blues dancing. Unless you’re talking about that random drunken swaying people attempt when the music moves them? I’m so fascinated by this idea of a whole genre of dance. Does all the dancing stop when I enter? And why does no one dance when the husband plays a blues at one of his gigs? So many questions.


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