How To Dance The Blues On Thomas Street

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Thomas Street

Dublin Enquirer – Last Thursday evening, as we made our way to our first blues-dancing class in Arthur’s on Thomas Street, my friend Siobhán and I reminisced about our previous experience with dance lessons. A hip-hop workshop in transition year of secondary school. Twitchy moves and flailing limbs. We’ve clung to more academic pursuits since.

These memories trigger some niggles and doubts. What even is blues dancing? Will I be able for it? Am I dressed right for a dance class in a bar?

Unsure how I’d get on, I climbed the stairs with Siobhán and ducked under the heavy red and gold curtains into the upstairs lounge.

The atmosphere was laid back. Our fellow beginners chatted with pints as the advanced class came to an end. There was a mix of genders and ages, and regular pub attire.

The dance club Downtown Blues has been teaching Dubliners how to slink and slide along to blues music for two years now. Still, most of the newbies who walk through the door are unsure of what exactly blues dancing entails, says Rosie Van Den Broeck, one of the founders.

It dates back to the early 1900s and developed alongside blues music. Like the music, it takes different forms and styles. Instead of a standard set of moves, blues dancing is supposed to directly reflect the music. This leaves room for plenty of interpretation and improvisation.

Often associated with Lindy hop and swing dancing, an important feature of blues dancing is working with and responding to a partner. It isn’t unlike what you’d see in Dirty Dancing.

In the last few years, there’s been something of a revival of the dance style.

Back in its heyday, people just listened to the blues and responded to it. There were no classes to learn how to do it. Now though, a trend of classes is emerging, having originally started in the US.

“It’s only in Europe the last five years or so,” says Van Den Broeck. “It was quite popular there, but then as dance teachers traveled to Europe, they brought knowledge of blues dancing.”

“Blues dancing itself, obviously, has always existed, because people would dance to it,” says another founder, Marta Martinho. “But the structure [which allows for teaching], it started fairly recently … Our research is based on the old movement and old videos.”

Martinho, who has a background in contemporary dancing, likes the fact that blues dancing is fairly new, as this leaves plenty of room for interpretation. “It gives space to express your movement through the music,” she says.

Both Van Den Broeck and Martinho learnt the style abroad, and hankered after it when they moved to Ireland. There was plenty of blues music in the city, says Van Den Broeck. Somebody just needed to add the dancing. So, two years ago they held a beginners class and a party to see if there was any interest, and about 80 people turned up. Soon after, the weekly classes began. Perfect for the Pub

At first, classes started in Against the Grain. Later, they migrated to Sin É, and then on again to The Pint. Now, Arthur’s is Downtown Blues’s home.

“We saw upstairs and it was just perfect,” says Van Den Broeck. The pub has blues bands playing there at least once a week. So it was a good fit.

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(Photo by Giovanni-Sarrubbo)


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