Drag Those Blues

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For this week we have what I’d say is an excellent example of Ballroomin’, brought to you by the Dean of Drag, Joe DeMers! Hopefully by now you all have been detecting a theme in these interviews: choreographers who pay close attention to both their modern and historical contexts turn out the best, most engaging works.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

This routine was originally choreographed for our dance team, the Woodside Jumpers. It was our way of bringing the spirit and joy of Blues to a group of dancers that specialized in performance Lindy Hop. We wanted to use a traditional jazz song with similar Blues movements to Vernacular Jazz. The goal of the choreography was to bring new forms of movement and musicality to these dancers. This jazzier style of movement was also fairly new to the Blues performance arena and we wanted to encourage more dancers to dance it.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

The first impression that an audience makes is based on one’s music. When choosing a song, I try to firstly make sure it has a high quality sound. I believe that we should be able to listen to it on the radio. Choreographic songs should have many highs and lows, as well as a variety of instruments, and strong musical phrasing. Following this phrasing, there are times that while listening a storyline comes to fruition. Wild Man Blues was one of them. Once I started visualizing it, it seemed like the choreography pieces just “fit” into place.

I had also been listening to a lot of Sidney Bechet’s music. Around the time, I was diving deeper into Blues dancing and this song just spoke to me. The highs and lows, breaks and trills, and sweet clarinet melodies were just calling for some sweet Blues dancing. I became a huge Sidney Bechet fan! I even attempted his “I’ve Found a New Baby” as the first song to learn on the trumpet; needless to say it was not the best rendition ever.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

Before Blues, I was a Lindy Hopper. I crossed over into Blues at Cheap Thrills 2006 (the predecessor of BluesShout). At the time of crossing over I was practicing a dance that I called Slow Drag, now I call Drag Blues. It was the style of Blues seen on The Spirit Moves. This was my primary source of inspiration for the style of movement, but I also integrated movement and performance qualities of Belly Dancing! Believe it or not, I was taking a semester of Belly Dancing at my school (yes, I was 1 of 2 guys in the class) and I felt inspired to include some of these hip and arm movements into the Blues piece. The arch back and arm waves were a direct reflection of this influence.

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?

I tend to choreograph by considering the theme, storyline, or concept of a piece. The song plays a huge role in this decision, but so does creative decision making. It took me a long time to learn that there is no perfect choreography for a particular song. Two people can take the same song, choreograph with very different rhythms and movements, and perform at the same event, and each could be equally powerful to the other. Sometimes it just comes down to commitment in terms of which direction one wishes to go.

I considered the nuances of the song and to which elements an audience will relate and react. I would sometimes improvise to the song dancing over and over again until certain movements attach themselves to particular sections in the music. This repetition also makes me feel more in tune with the nuances that make the song so unique, so that I can dance true to the song’s vibe, even when it’s choreography.

I also cared very much about engaging an audience through contrast. This included having smooth and rhythmic moments, clean and flashy moves, and partnered and individual-styled movements. Keeping these elements in mind and reflecting on my goal of presenting a jazzier Blues routine, the choreography came together.

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