Another Spell On Us

First off, congratulations to Curtis & Elizabeth on winning the Sweet Molasses Blues showcase competition last year!  I’ve been holding onto this one so I could publish it now that registration is open for the next Sweet Mo’, to remind everybody of the great performances you can see there!

Art is fascinating, and artistic communities even more so.  Performers can draw on related bodies of source material with different perspectives, the same piece can be received differently in varying contexts, and related performances can become part of an ongoing conversation in a community.

Elizabeth and Curtis deal with a lot of those issues while talking about their piece, both the previous dance to the same song by Amanda and Paul, and the ongoing discussion about trigger warnings among Blues dancers.

For the record, I do have an opinion on trigger warnings, and it is that they are appropriate whenever they are referencing material that people wouldn’t naturally expect in the current context.  Since the very nature of the Blues is that it deals with a variety of heavy subjects people deal with when life isn’t particularly happy, it would take a very graphic dance to get to the point where I think a trigger warning would be appropriate in front of a Blues dance performance.

[This is narrated from Elizabeth’s voice, with Curtis’ input]


  1. Perform at BluesSHOUT
  2. Perform at Red Hot
  3. Compete at Sweet Mo
  4. Create the most badass, expressive blues piece possible
  5. Win Sweet Mo
  6. Continue a discussion of sensitive topics in the dance choreography community
  7. Perform AGAIN, as winners, to increase exposure

We knew we wanted to choreograph a piece to submit for BluesSHOUT! 2015, so we made a list of choreography ideas, because we didn’t have a song in mind in particular. (The last two pieces of ours that went to BluesSHOUT!, the inspiration began with a particular song.)

In that list of choreography ideas, we had something about puppets. At one point, someone said, “Wouldn’t it be great if the puppet overcame the puppetmaster at the end?” And so Curtis decided that one idea he wanted to definitely try for a next piece would involve that switch of roles.

Our next step was to scroll nearly at random through the songs in Curtis’ library, and “I Put A Spell On You” became a possibility – it wasn’t final yet. But when we heard Tab Benoit’s version, we had found what we were looking for. “I Put A Spell On You” was perfect. Especially because of the language of abusive ownership, it would be even more amazingly freeing when we would dance the role reversal and my character was able to overcome the challenges placed on her by her relationship. That’s when the piece started taking on a meaning more profound than just puppetry.

Another thing we try to do in our choreographed pieces is push ourselves to become characters that we do not typically embody in our daily lives. For the way that the piece ended up, Curtis got to play a controlling character with low self-esteem, which, if you have ever interacted with him in the dance world, you will know that is his absolute opposite. I began the piece as a trapped and struggling woman, which is also fairly out-of-character for me, as I tend to express power and boldness in my movement.

As far as other dances that influenced this piece, there is no getting away from the theatrical and performance background that both Curtis and I have, in multiple styles. Though, since the goal was to present the piece for consideration at BluesSHOUT!, we made sure to check each other at every new idea to ask, “Is this blues?” And if the answer was “no” or “not really,” we investigated ways of “bluesifying” the movement, which is something Curtis is also passionate about teaching. There was quite a lot of floorwork in this piece, but we tried to keep a fair distance from modern and contemporary styles – mostly because they’re usually not very bluesy.

Once we had decided on our song, plus the theme of role reversal, the goal of expression fleshed out quite significantly. It turned into the expression of a journey: beginning from any manipulative relationship, to an acknowledgement that something needs to change, to finally actually changing it and leaving behind that which doesn’t serve you. It became the ultimate empowering journey, which was so perfect for me personally as we were choreographing.

The process of choreographing was extremely piecemeal, but was always directly inspired by the music (which we edited for length and content; the organ solo was particularly uninspiring to us). One or the other of us would find something inspiring about a particular guitar lick, a lyric, or rhythm that would make us want to do something, and then we would toss ideas back and forth about options that would serve both the way we are initially inspired to move and also furthering our story.

Paul & Amanda’s Routine

Disclaimer: Contrary to popular belief, we DID NOT have ANY awareness of Paul & Amanda’s 2010 piece until after we submitted our proposal to BluesSHOUT! – where it was soundly rejected, with the aforementioned piece as part of the rationale. We were told (and we absolutely believe this) that Paul & Amanda’s piece created such palpable discomfort in the blues dance community that those waves would still be reverberating, and our piece would cause some of that discomfort to resurface. This is a concern that is totally understandable for an organizer of an event – why make audiences needlessly uncomfortable? We watched Paul & Amanda’s piece at that time and agreed that it was expressive to the point of almost graphic. But we also agreed that our piece was saying something different and important enough that it still deserved to be assembled and displayed, even if it wouldn’t be performed at the event for which it was initially intended. So we decided to continue choreographing and working, targeting the release for a performance at Red Hot Blues & BBQ in the months ahead.

At Red Hot, we were entirely unsure of what was going to happen. We were nervous, Curtis was injured and on whiskey, and we really wanted to do a great job. Hearing the crowd cheer and being thanked by audience members afterward really made us aware that we had created something special that not only communicated what we wanted to get across, but also resonated with the audience emotionally. That gave us the courage to throw our hat in the ring at Sweet Molasses in the first place.

In the wake of having performed our piece so publicly at Red Hot and at Sweet Molasses, many dancers approached us and commented about the difference between our routine and Paul & Amanda’s. They mostly were expressing a hearty approval for the shift in roles and the hope that implies, and for the way that that very shift seems to more accurately reflect the culture of our dance community at the moment.

Community Response

Sensitive Topics in Art

At Red Hot, organizers were very deliberate in delivering a trigger warning about the two pieces that were to be performed, in advance. At Sweet Molasses, there was no trigger warning announced prior to the Finals competition. To be honest, I was a little surprised by the warning issued at Red Hot. The organizers didn’t tell US (the performers) ahead of time that they would be giving a small speech about triggers, and it changed the focus of my pre-performance anxiety a bit. But it seemed to be such a beautiful, well-intentioned gesture in keeping with their Safe Space policy that it was all well and good. At Sweet Mo, by contrast, the competition in finals went pretty much according to how I expected it – just a brief introduction of the group and the piece, and then we were on. The difference really happened afterwards, when a concerned and affected community member publicly expressed a wish that there had been a trigger warning issued. This caused maybe as much of a stir at the event as had Paul & Amanda’s original piece. People had a lot of thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the approach of that individual, the response of the organizers, trigger warnings in general, and art as as expressive mode – and, happily, they seemed to feel very free about expressing those thoughts, feelings, and opinions to us directly. We don’t have an official opinion one way or the other about whether including trigger warnings as a preface to art is good or bad, necessary or superfluous. We do stand by our piece as an empowering journey that has to come from a character in a disempowered place, at the very least. But primarily, I cannot overemphasize the importance that I felt we had as artists to bring a piece to the community that sparked this conversation about art reflecting life, which is uncomfortable, and various ways of approaching people’s trauma when reflecting that discomfort in art. I have never felt more like my artistic contribution really mattered and made a difference (other than maybe inspiring individuals to dance more awesomely).


Because of how proud we are of this piece, we reached out to another organizer inquiring whether we would be able to perform it at their event – which is finalized to be Winter Blues in January 2016. This is special and exciting for us because this will be the first time in our history of choreographing together that we will have let a piece lie dormant for awhile and then resurrected it for another event. It will be fabulous, and so good for us!


In keeping with the empowering spirit of the dance, we want you to know that if you or someone you know has experienced domestic violence or trauma, you don’t have to escape alone. Please reach out. 1-800-656-HOPE


Noir Blues

Here’s another great example of where the quality of the performance really makes the piece.  I’ve seen a lot of performances which try to use a blank or neutral look to seem mysterious or thought provoking, but really not have the depth to pull it off.  Here Shawn, Julie and Natalya take that attitude and use it consistently and creatively in a way that really draws me in!

What did you want to express with this choreography?

Natalya: We wanted this piece to have a “Film Noir” feel and experiment with lots of interesting, tangley 3-person shapes and partnering.  We started with the idea of us playing the roles of typical film noir characters – the detective, the secretary and the femme fatale – and we thought of the song as being narrated by the detective, expressing his heartbreak at having found a letter left behind by a lover who has gone.  

We did most of the choreographing with just these inspirations, and then later worked out the specifics of the story.  The plot line we had in mind was that the secretary (Julie), was the detective’s ex lover who he was not over when he started being involved with the femme fatale (Natalya).  So the detective is being pulled away from the femme fatale by memories of the secretary.  In the end, the femme fatale leaves him too, leaving behind the letter saying “there’s no use you lookin’, or ever hoping to get me back”, and the detective is left alllll alone :(.  

We thought of the piece as him remembering back to what happened like a day dream – that’s the mental image that probably resulted in the neutral affect we ended up having.  We didn’t want to spell this plot out for the audience though – we wanted the audience to be able to get the feel of the piece and leave the specifics of the plot up for interpretation.  I think this was achieved given the feedback we got!  

Julie: Also, when choosing the roles of the secretary and femme fatale in our “plot,” we purposefully chose the secretary to be the one drawing the detective away from the femme fatale. We wanted to be careful with that choice a) to not be too predictable or fall into tropes, and b) to avoid reinforcing any messages about your man/person being “drawn away” by someone more attractive/sexy.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

Natalya: Julie picked the song, and again, it all stemmed from the Film Noir theme.  The song itself has the right dark, dramatic feel and the lyrics describe a typical film noir plot.

Julie: The 3 of us wanted to do a piece together, so I offered up a few songs + concepts, and this was the one we decided to do. For me, it had a good dramatic feel, and as Natalya said, felt like a Film Noir. I think it’s those horns in the beginning and the cymbal tap…Seems Noir-y.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

Julie: We didn’t draw too much on other dances/dancers for this. I looked at a bunch of Chicago-style Steppin trio dancing videos for inspiration for the parts where all 3 of us partnered together, but I don’t know if we ended up using anything from that.

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

Natalya: We choreographed the first half of the piece remotely, when Shawn and I were in New York and Julie was in Boston.  Julie would send Shawn and I a few written ideas, Shawn and I would work out the details and fill in the blanks and send a video to Julie for feedback.  Our early videos even featured guest artists such as Josh Fialkoff in the role of Julie Brown.  

Then we met all together for a couple of long sessions when we were all together in the same room to set the tangley bits that finish the piece.  Our process there was to throw out a series of rather ridiculous ideas (e.g. “what if we both just jump on Shawn now?  hahaha”), try them out and see what worked.  There was a lot of playful “what if…” and “yes and…”, which made the choreographic process super fun.

Shawn: Yeah!  It was an incredibly fun process.  Natalya and Julie are both a fountain of good ideas.

Julie: Yeah, the whole process was really fun! It was cool to do the remote-choreographing thing–I give an outline/some ideas, and Natalya & Shawn bring it to life! And choreographing the 3-person parts was particularly fun! Lots of silly ideas, trying things…I still can’t believe that 3-person lift worked out, but it’s awesome!

Triple Heart Breakers

Here’s another choreography that was performed at North Star Blues this year!   What really strikes me about it is how good Megan, Feonix, and Erin are at always being present in the piece, even when they’re not in the spotlight.  It’s not just a matter of the moves they’re doing, they’re always actively engaging the audience and each other, which keeps me engaged in the piece overall.  Aspiring choreographers take note: this is one of the most frequent notes that comes up during Sweet Molasses that separates good performances from great ones!

They’ve also been working together to teach a class in DC to make a dance to another Ray Charles song … and have even considered doing a whole Ray Charles Cycle.  I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see that!

What did you want to express with this choreography?

In this choreography we expressed three different versions of a heartbreaker–hence the coordination in color. One was the sweet girl-next-door (you’ll hear that Ray talks about a bobby soxer in the song), another was the classic femme fatale, and the third was the intelligent powerful woman (although we were thinking more about the badass, sexy PhD candidate rather than the sexy librarian stereotype). As the piece progresses we move into staggered unison movement to indicate the lines between each character blurring – they each become a different facet of the same person. Overall we were hoping to reclaim the negative voice Ray uses to describe a woman as heartbreaker by dancing as happy, sassy, empowered women having fun and owning it.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

We chose the story about the three versions of a heartbreaker after we chose the song. We listened to a lot of music and went with the song that had plenty of instrumental variation to play with, fun lyrics, and clearly defined sections that inspired each of us. This piece was a true collaboration between the three of us, so often it involved bringing back ideas we’d come up with, running them by the other women, massaging each section until we were satisfied, and then working through transitions. We loved this piece because it had each of us go outside our normal way of dancing–it required each of us learn the others’ styles. I’d never thought about how many variations there are on a camel walks or a tabby the cat, but each of us did our moves very differently.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

I always loved the choreography to New Orleans Bump at Lindy Focus. I’d also done some work with my own girl’s group in New York called the Sugar Foot Follies. Sharon Davis had a solo class and we took a lot of thoughts about variations of movement (especially pimp walks) and blues aesthetic from her.

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

The songs we initially considered were all very different, so the theme and story line came after our decision to go with Heartbreaker. Similar to the New Orleans Bump piece, we created a lot of shapes together–in particular in what we call the “tableau section” that starts at 1:40. The heart of the piece is the feeling of collaboration itself and the playful moments we had while putting it together. The concept is important but secondary to the energy of the music and our friendship. We were really focused on finding different ways to break apart and come back together, both with staging and timing.

Recommendations for other choreographers: We had some amazing rehearsals where all we did was watch one person do her solos, or two people perform the piece. These were our first “performances” of Heartbreaker and we all saw drastic improvement in quality of movement and facial expressions, as well as more creativity with styling. Feonix, Erin, and I trust each other and are all open to constructive criticism. That’s part of what makes us a powerful team. We had a great working relationship in terms of boundaries; it was easy to let the person with the most enthusiasm and powerful vision take lead from moment to moment. We were also very clear about expectations from one practice to the next and supported each other in accomplishing these intermediary goals.

My favorite secret about this piece: A lot of Heartbreaker was choreographed at Erin’s work gym where national security employees go to work out. One of my favorite moments was rehearsing as a guy sprinted on the treadmill behind us with a gas mask on. I don’t know who was more entertained–him or us!

A Dance About Us!

I love this dance, but it’s not just about the dancing.  So often in our community I feel like we are dancing other people’s stories … the stories of musicians and a people from a far different time and place than the average attendee of a blues dance exchange.  We really mature as artists when we start creating pieces about our own lives instead of mirroring others’.

This piece really hits that on the head.  Joey took a really powerful experience of their own and has turned it into a performance that all the dancers I’ve talked to relate to because it portrays the kind of friendships, hopes, and loss that we’ve all had.  Sharing who we are with each other; it’s what art’s about.

What did you want to express with this choreography?
Joey: A few years ago, my best friend died unexpectedly due to complications with the flu. For the first long while, I would see her everywhere. Any one with even a slightly similar body or hair style would trigger all of the bits of my brain that were associated with her. I’d think about everything I had to tell her about what had happened since we’d last met. Of course, it was never her, and I knew that. So the stories would hang in my mind, and the realization that she wasn’t really there would sink in and hit me like a brick in the chest.

I wanted to honor that pain and in honoring that pain, the impact of her life on mine. I also wanted to highlight the importance of non-romantic relationships, and how they can be as uplifting and essential to our lives.

Laney: Joey really provided the concept for the piece, but while we were working on it we talked a lot about what kinds of movement gave the impression of a friend-type relationship vs. a romantic relationship. We also talked about expressing not just the “everything is wonderful!” part of being friends, but also the “life is really hard right now and I need support” part of those kinds of relationships.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?
Laney: Joey picked the song, so I’ll defer to their answer on this one.

Joey: I spent three years thinking about this piece before a song was ever picked. I never had any more details in mind, and at first it was too fresh. I was introduced to Albanie and Her Fellas by Mike Roberts in a class at Swing Out New Hampshire in 2014, and was all too stoked to throw the band my money. I had listened to the album maybe a dozen times (it’s reeeeeally good, guys. Like so good) before I was hit with December Song hard one day. I don’t know what made that listen different, but it threw me under the bus that day.

The lyrics are about just bumping into an old friend, and catching up, but there’s something wistful underneath it. The last lines of the song drive that home, “But now, once again it’s December. You know that time, really does move too fast”.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?
Joey: I feel really weird saying this, but none specifically. I’m sure others’ staging choices and framings did subconsciously influenced Laney and I while we were working on this, because we’ve definitely both watched our fair share of dance choreographies. But while we were working, we just jammed in our own bodies, and then experimented together, and went from there.

Laney: Agreed. It was pretty organic, we didn’t really draw inspiration from any specific piece or pieces. Workshopping it at Sweet Molasses was really helpful – it got us thinking about our blocking in a new way, and gave us lots of ideas for development going forward and how to make the story more clear.

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?
Joey: I guess I started to answer that a bit before. I asked Laney if she might want to work with me in…late April? I had been sitting on the idea for so long that I knew I would just not get anywhere without someone to be accountable to. So Laney and I both listened to the song independently in our separate cities, and worked on it and thought about it. Then we got together during LindyCON and spent a few hours jamming on stuff together. Living in different cities has presented some odd challenges to finishing and polishing the piece. We got some great feedback at Sweet Molasses, and had a little bit of time to work before North Star to make one more change that we thought would benefit the quality of the dance. We went back and forth about how much hint to give that there was something off, but in the end, I still feel like the shock value of Laney’s dismissal is more powerful and more like what I felt than something that had more foreshadowing.

Laney: Yeah, it was interesting doing long-distance choreography. I do think that made us use the time we had together efficiently though. For me, especially initially, there was a lot of just listening to the piece over and over and over again and messing around solo. After we met the first time and had a better idea of the arc of the piece, we split things up a little – Joey would work on this section, I would work on that section. Then we came back together and put those together and finessed transitions/beginnings/endings. Toward the end we talked *a lot* about how to make the ending less abrupt, or…ease the audience into it somehow? We still might change some things and perform it again, but I do like the punch-in-the-gut feeling it currently has.

Flouer Does the Suzie-Q

So, I’ve really loved watching Flouer make her name in the blues dance community over the last few years, and I’m super happy that the final BluesSHOUT! performance interview from this year is her’s!

I asked her to write a bit about what it was like to get into blues dancing and figure out what it’s about as someone who came to it with a lot of experience in other dance styles, and what she writes at the end is really inspiring – it gets to the heart of having soul.  Discovering the music in your self, and your own sense of confidence.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

In short… I wanted to be a badass old man in a jam circle.

The kind of jam that starts when you’re just sitting, smoking your pipe, watching all the young whippersnappers jump and strut and tire themselves out showing one another up.  Finally there is a lull and everyone points at you.  They start calling your name, hoping that you will get up and dance just one song for the masses.  So you put down your pipe and get your old bones on up from that chair, creakin’ and a poppin’ like they do these days.  A good wink and a nod at Miss Suzie over there.  She’s a pretty little thing and you always knew she wanted to dance with you back in the day.……

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

The song sort-of chose me.  I love Lightnin’ Hopkins, he is my introverted happy place. With only his voice and a guitar he creates whole worlds around you, enveloping you in a cocoon of music to play in.  There is so much intrinsic rhythm that pours out of him.  It doesn’t come from a metronome.  It comes from his gut.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

— Awhile ago I saw an old clip of a “bucking” jam from an old black & white movie.  Something about the casual, yet self-confident way the men were dancing captured my imagination.

— Looking at old pictures of Lightnin’ Hopkins from his album covers… the way he sits in a chair is so interesting!

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

So here’s the story…

Since January I have been working with new images based off some applied anatomy classes I was taking and a free writing session I did on what I thought of as my “Blues Dancing Body”.  (I highly recommend writing about your own Blues Dancing Body.  Its a fascinating practice!)

I wrote about how I imagine my flesh dripping off me, sinking into the floor.
I thought about my spine as this energetic column of power at the center of my being, my organs and other body bits falling into place rotating around it in various ways.

Then, I brought the wrong kind socks to rehearsal!  They were far too slippery for the funk-blues music material that I was working on, and it was a mess.  So instead I put on my go-to chill-out happy-place Lightnin’ Hopkins album and just danced, playing around.

During that little improv session “Suzie Q” just sort of happened… the old man developed from the sinking flesh, the lyrics of the song, and envisioning Lightnin’ himself.  The ideas of internal rotation fell into place around the Suzie Q & Corkscrew movements.  I was watching videos of James Brown from working on the funk-blues material, and his old man antics fit right in with the rest of what was developing.

My choreographic process for this piece was different than it has been for my blues works in the past.  I spent a whole lot of time thinking about who this person was onstage and the movement that person would create, and much less time putting together the actual choreography.

So I was asked to speak towards the “Blues Aesthetic” of this piece…

Hilariously, I showed my “groundbreaking” choreography to my mother and her reaction was “Oh, that looks like some of the stuff you were doing 10 years ago!”

Which made me laugh, because its true.  From the beginning, this piece has felt like I’m cycling back to an old/new way of moving and creating.  I may be working from a new angle, but this dance has always been there.
I will say that if anyone would have told me that I had to make a dance that was super “blues-y”, I would never have let this piece slide out of my body the way it did.

We as a community put a lot of emphasis in our speech about what is “not blues” in order to define our dance form.  We spend a lot of time imitating movements from the outside in, and have difficulty finding the depth of internal understanding or the weight of cultural associations behind them.  They have become “moves” and not “ways of moving”.

But we are a community that refuses to go the easy route and define our dance by the basic steps.  Blues is defined by how you do something, and not what you do.  How you do something begins from the inside out.

So if you think I may have “cracked the code” on “being blues-y”  …  well, I don’t think I have, I’m just listening to my body in new/old ways.  I could give you a thousand academic reasons why this piece seems more authentically blues, from structure to subject matter, etc… , but mostly I just stopped caring if everyone thought I was blues-y or not.  🙂

red rum … Red Rum … Red SHOES!

The story of a blues musician selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads is such classic imagery, I’m surprised nobody has thought to make a piece like this before!  As always, Julie nails her interpretation of her theme through dance.  When I look back over the series of dances she’s choreographed, I’m really impressed with the versatility of her movement – it’s always so different, but always exactly what is needed at the moment.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

For a little while now, I’ve been playing with the idea of being not-in-control of my movement and with movement that doesn’t look controlled.  I started exploring that in my last solo piece, “Blue Midnight,” where I danced as a drunk character, and “Red Shoes” continues that exploration with a character whose shoes possess her & make her dance awesomely but not in ways she controls. The title and very basic concept came from the ballet titled “the red shoes,” which I saw when I was younger. I also thought a piece focusing on foot and legwork would fun and different for me.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?
I had started choreographing this to Memphis Minnie’s “Bad Luck Wiman” because I liked the rhythms, and Memphis Minnie is a boss. But around the same time, I was somewhere where Jenny Sowden DJed “Who Will Be Next” by Howlin Wolf, which I thought was really awesome and also had some great rhythm to play with (thank you, Jenny!). The Howlin Wolf song also had a darker and I guess more demonic feel to it, so it seemed appropriate for a piece that involved possession.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?
While talking about the concept, I got pointed to a cool LXD video called “Elliot’s Shoes,” which is basically the same concept. That piece have me a lot of ideas for the beginning of my piece. I also watched A LOT of James Brown and Michael Jackson clips, as well as my usual dose of looking at cool hip hop & breaking floor work videos.

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?
Creating this piece was really fun but also extremely challenging. It involved a lot of fun experimentation to create the movements–lots of rolling on the floor, and a lot of “what else can I do with my feet?,” “how can I make this movement look like my feet are generating it?”. That was really fun. There were many challenging aspects thought too. It was physically challenging in many parts to get the look I wanted, and also challenging in terms of the dramatic arc of the piece–the song has a structure that’s repetitive and, other than the climactic instrumental section, there’s not a large change in the song that would indicate some change in the character, which I wanted to have for plot/interest reasons. I also went back and forth a lot with the balance of comedy vs fear/darkness in the tone if the piece, feeling out how my character reacted to the possession at different points in the piece; something I might play with in later performances. The last challenge was to physically execute some of the stuff while still playing a character & expressing how I’m reacting to the possession. If I’m able to perform this again, I’ll definitely be working on that.

Cuttin’ Choreography

Well, it’s high time I start posting interviews from my favorite choreographed pieces that debuted at BluesSHOUT! this year!

Let’s start with this one, which is a direct response to Dexter’s I Prefer You piece from last year.  It’s always a special moment when an artistic community becomes self-referential, isn’t it?  Actually, poking fun at your competitors has a long history in dances with an African aesthetic, and it’s great to see that expressed here.  I particularly like reading how Jenn and Julie worked to make sure this piece had bite, but still remained respectful.  I also wish you all could have been there to see Dexter’s reaction when it was performed!

What did you want to express with this choreography?

Julie: This one was all Jenn’s idea, and I was her happy accomplice. We wanted to cut Dexter & Heriberto’s piece from last year, pushing the concept that they had danced over into the range of clearly-comedic, while also poking fun at/paying homage to Dexter.
Jenn:  I can’t take full credit for it, actually. While working on my puppet piece last year, Jonathan Pechon suggested that I do a routine where I dance like Dexter. I found the idea intriguing, but at the same time, I like to tell a story and/or bring something new to the blues table with my pieces. Going out and dancing like a second-rate Dexter just wasn’t enough. And then Shout happened. After Dexter and Heriberto performed, I found Julie as fast as I could because I knew she would be the perfect partner-in-crime.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

Julie: We tried out 2 different Etta James songs, since we wanted a similar sound, but not identical to the original piece. We ulitmately chose “You Can Leave Your Hat On” because right from the beginning of the song, the guitar sound is very over the top bow-chika-wow-wow, which helps people understand right away that the piece is comedic. Also when we were dancing to the song, we were already cracking ourselves up.
Jenn: The song choice really did make us establish our priorities. The other Etta James tune had a more similar feel to I Prefer You. We went back and forth between the two for most of our first meeting, unsure of which one would make the cut funnier. Words failed us, so we got up, danced, and ridiculousness won.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

Julie: Obviously, we drew most of the inspiration from Dexter & Heriberto’s “I Prefer You,” but we also drew on many other of Dexter’s pieces & piece’s he’s been in. There are direct references to “Even Swingers Get the Blues,” “Hound Dog,” and probably a few others I’m forgetting. And I’m also only half-ashamed to admit that we watched a few Chippendale’s and Magic Mike videos for inspiration as well.
Jenn: We also watched videos of some of his class summaries. “In a Groovy Solo Blues Mood” was a particularly big inspiration for me, and we looked to his masculine movement classes to help with styling. There’s even something we saw him do at Steel City Blues. I like to think of the result as a bit of a game: how many Dexter references can you spot? As for our other sources… the Chippendale videos were a bit of bust, but I feel no shame in what we stole from Magic Mike. We wanted to be as a ridiculous as possible, after all.

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

Julie: We knew we were walking a fine line with this: we wanted to be comedic and poke some fun, but we didn’t want to be mean or hurtful. We also definitely wanted to display good dancing in an interesting choreography. To accomplish our goals, we made sure to get ridiculous and do some silly moves, as well as take a few moves & ideas from “I Prefer You,” but then make them more over-the-top. To ensure quality, we studied Dexter’s movements and tried to recreate the style as much as we could. We spent a lot of time on movement quality and making sure we looked good, again to ensure that our comedy was backed up by actually-good dancing
Jenn: The original piece was used to block out the structure and flow of ours. We picked out the statement moves from it to include in our own. Patterns can be found in anyone’s movement, so we tried to identify and use some of Dexter’s. And, for proper cuttin’s sake, we took a few parts of the routine and tried to make them even cooler. To meet the submission deadline we had to divide up the first 1:45 or so and choreograph them separately, and we each choreographed our own solos. There was a lot of geeking out and analyzing what makes Dexter’s style so unique. A lot. I even grabbed Julie during Steel City’s Blues Clinic just for this purpose. And, naturally, we had to include the underwear toss. It had to be bigger though, closer to a shower. So, we leaked the piece to a few friends and asked them to, um, participate. The thrown shoes, however, were not our doing.