As dancers, it's always important to know a thing or two about the music that makes us move. In this workshop, we'll be taking a deeper look at that music in order to develop our dances and give them structure, depth, and meaning.
Join me Santa Cruz as we improve our dancing through a better understanding of music!
Building Basic Steps (1:00 to 1:50)
In blues dancing, there exists no prescribed “basic step” to guide your movement. After all, why should any dance have to be restricted to some prescribed basic step in the first place? Well, it turns out basic steps can be pretty helpful: just like the bass line or drum beat of the music we dance to, basic steps help give our dances foundation. But every song isn’t the same—so what basic step should we use? In this class, we’ll explore how we can build our own, unique basic steps to serve as the foundation of each dance—and then we’ll learn how to build upon those basic steps in a way that can make each dance unique and memorable.
Beat Breakdown (2:00 to 2:50)
Some beats out there just make you want to swing. Others make you want to bounce up and down with joy. Yet others make you want to glide smoothly across the dance floor. But what is it about these beats that make us dance so differently? And why do some beats make us want to dance blues? In this class, we’ll be dancing to music from a variety of styles, ranging from raw African beats to blues and more modern music, to learn more about how it makes us want to move. The goal of this class is to open your ears to the wide variety of music out there, expanding the possibilities of what makes a song “bluesable.”
Song Structure (3:00 to 3:50)
Blues jams are unique environments. Musicians of all types from all locks of life show up to play music together. Half of them have never even seen each other before, but somehow, when they get on that stage, they all know exactly what to do—even though they’re all improvising. How is that possible? Turns out all songs have some sort of structure to them, and once you know that structure, playing those songs—and dancing to them—can become second nature. In this class, we’ll be giving our dances some shape and structure by analyzing the structure of the very music we’re moving to. In addition to analyzing the twelve-bar blues, we’ll be discuss introductions, endings, and the verse-chorus song structure used most often in more modern music.
Riffs, Breaks, & Turnarounds (4:00 to 4:50)
Ready to start digging deep? It’s time to start looking in and between the phrases and study what’s going on at every moment. Music is rife with patterns, and many of the patterns present in modern music started with African roots that later made their way into blues. Blues musicians use a variety of riffs, breaks, turnarounds, and other techniques in order to give their music structure and variety. In this class, we’ll be listening to riffs (like the “Mannish Boy” riff), breaks (too many to list!) and several different turnarounds so that we can identify them and dance to them. By the end of this class, you won’t just be able to know what to do when you hear these patterns—you’ll be able to hear them coming a mile away.
About the Instructor:
The musician: Ryan Johnson has been playing saxophone for over 15 years. His primary horn, a Selmer Mark VI tenor named Phoebe, is his pride and joy. They’re inseparable. It’s really cute. Anyway, at age 18, he met up with his dad, a professional blues harmonica player, who taught him the ways of blues. He has been in the bay area jazz and blues circuit for the past 5 years, having played in quartets and trios everywhere from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Highlights of his musical career thus far include heading his own jazz group, the Ryan Johnson quartet, performing with Let’s Play Jazz! at the San Jose Jazz Festival in 2010, and playing the blues alongside vocalist Karen Maria Capo in Seattle.
The instructor: As a former teacher, Mr. Johnson’s got plenty of teaching tricks up his sleeve. Having taught everyone from Kindergarten to college students and adults, he has developed a diverse range of skills that help him communicate ideas effectively and clearly. Starting at age 19, Ryan Primary taught English to children at after-school tutoring centers and eventually developed his own curriculum with which he ran his own tutoring center for a year before moving to Santa Cruz to study education reform. In addition to English, Ryan has tutored others in accounting, economics, statistics, music theory, and saxophone technique.
The dancer: Ryan has been dancing blues obsessively for two years now. And when I say “obsessively,” I don’t use that term lightly: for his first year of dancing, he danced four to five times a week and attended five national dance events. And since then, it’s only been worse: he’s constantly practicing his dancing. He won’t stop talking about it. I mean, think about it: the guy travels from Santa Cruz to the bay area several times a week—just to dance. Can you believe that? Personally, I think he should see a therapist about this before it becomes even more of a problem. I mean, he already thinks he can teach and DJ blues, and he’s only been dancing for two years. What’s wrong with this guy?
He must hope his students have a very well-developed sense of humor.