[Edit: Unfortunately, the original video I posted of Sharon dancing her Sandra’s Stroll was removed from youtube, but here’s another version of it danced as a group piece in Boston]
This week we have a routine choreographed by Sharon Davis! Accomplished at Lindy Hop, 1920s Charleston, authentic jazz, blues and burlesque dancing, you may have seen her teach at Enter the Blues last month. The blues dance community has a much more clear sense of identity in 2013 than it did in 2006; choreographers like Sharon who kept exposing dancers to authentic blues movement had a large contribution to that development.
What did you want to express with this choreography?
I choreographed this piece for my students as a class routine for Perth Girl Jam way back in 2006. Solo blues didn’t have much of a strong following at that stage, and my idea was to create a piece that was approachable for Lindy Hoppers, incorporating movement from their familiar jazz step repertoire, but injected with blues feeling. Strolls were all the rage in my hometown (Perth) back then, so presenting it in that format made sense. Good lord, we used to dance so many line dances and strolls each night at our weekly dances, I don’t know how we found the time for partner dancing! But I guess perhaps I was hoping to create a routine sticky enough to enter that lineup. That didn’t really happen, but Sandra’s Stroll sure has got around! It still surprises me.
Why did you choose the song for the piece?
The song is Duke Ellington’s The Mooche, and Ellington is one of my all-time favourites. Dancing to very slow blues music can be intimidating, or at least I think it was to a bunch of Lindy Hoppers back in 2006, so I chose this song because it’s really not that slow – maybe 120bpm. But It’s definitely oozing with that Ellington jungle sound and a lot of blues feeling. It also has an interesting structure – phrases of 8 bars and others 6 bars, a bridge thrown in for good measure, typical Ellington. So choreographically it was interesting to me.
What other dances and dancers influenced or inspired this one?
Stylistically this piece is dedicated to Sandra “Boogie” Gibson, and specifically was inspired by the provocative footage of her dancing in Mura Dehn’s documentary The Spirit Moves, from the early 1950s. Hence the name, Sandra’s Stroll. Sometimes it bothers me that my students are familiar with male dancers from the history of our dance, but if I mention a female dancer’s name I get blank stares. Sandra’s Stroll was my attempt to raise awareness of one particular – and wonderful – female dancer from the history of swing and blues dancing. I hope more people know the name Sandra Gibson now.
How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?
I always dance my choreographies. First I break the song down in my own notation. And perhaps I start with a short list of a few moves I know I’d like to include, or a story or structure I’d like to follow. Then I just play the music over and over, note down what works, and dance it until I’ve got something solid. I remember that in 2006 it took me much longer than it does now!