Photo: Illustration from Dąbrowska, Grażyna. Taniec ludowy na Mazowszu

The Importance of the Embrace

I found myself not too long ago in the basement of a old, Krakowian palace, today turned into a bar and venue. The place smelled of age and stories. As I got a drink, the bartender told me that much history had passed through the place, it being a gathering spot for political dissidents and patriots during the long years of foreign occupation.

But I wasn’t there for politics. No, I was attending a Polish folk dance, complete with traditional instruments and steps.

The music at this dance was a repetitive, atmospheric type, and I quickly found myself drifting off into imagination land. I imagined what it would be like to be a Polish peasant during the high middle ages. When knights on horseback could ride through your fields on a whim, destroying your crops and bringing famine to your family. When wars called in far away kingdoms enlisted your sons, stealing away able hands in the prime of their lives. Or when plagues flowed out from central Asia, bringing with them years of decay and death.

Photo: Ben Hejkal

Going back to Clarksdale. Where the Blues was born.

In an earlier interview, I spoke with Krystal Wilkerson about how a legacy is passed down from generation to generation in a dance community. In this interview, I speak with her husband, Adam Wilkerson about returning to the roots of where Blues music was born.

Greg Austin So even though we’re here in Zürich, Switzerland, Adam Wilkenson and I are going to talk about a really fantastic research project that he’s working on back America, in the Mississippi Delta specifically. Tell us about it.

Adam Wilkerson Sure thing.

In the Delta of Mississippi, there’s this town called Clarksdale, which is where the Blues was supposedly born. There’s legends around the place. It’s really cool. I’m originally from Tupelo, which is about 2 hours east of there. I’m very proud of the fact that Blues comes from my home state of Mississippi, and I decided to use the fact that I’m from Mississippi to be able to dive into Clarksdale and talk with the people there. Definitely ends up being advantageous when I talk to folks, that I go there and I have a bit of a Mississippi accent and I can chat with the people there about, you know, local stuff that’s happened.

So Clarksdale, being the heart of where Blues was born, people go there to make music, and they’re a lot of locals at juke joints there that will actually dance to music.

I should explain a little about our dance scene. Our dance scene was born in the 2000’s, kind of a subset of the Lindy Hop scene, maybe at the beginning, but the point is that for a long time there were debates in our scene as to what is or is not “Blues” music? What is and what is not “Blues” dancing? And as we have uncovered more historical references to what Blues dancing is, and as we have come to a better understanding of what Blues music is, we feel that we’re trying to do a better job of honoring the Blues at this point, even if we still have a ways to go.

What Dancing Does to a Band

Christine & The Blue Drags is a band that was formed out of the Blues dancing community in Warsaw. In addition to playing for “listeners” at normal gigs, they love playing for “dancers,” and the creativity that comes with having a dance floor full of muses to be inspired by. They are self-producing their first album this summer and I very much enjoyed talking with them about it.  


Greg Austin
So to introduce everyone I wanted to ask a question. It is a trope in Jazz music that a song will have the lyrics talking about food, but it’s really about sex. My question for each of y’all is what Polish food would you love to write a song about and why?

Christine the Singer What Polish food I would like to write a song about?

Greg … that’s really about sex.

Christine Oh shit, Polish food. Ugh, actually I’m a vegetarian so I have a small area to choose, but maybe… yeah, apples. Because I like them very much.

Witek the Pianist Are you talking about apples or sex?

Christine Apples! They are colorful and tasty. And very juicy.

Witek I’d probably go sausage and mashed potatoes. I don’t think I need to explain.

Janek the Drummer I am also vegetarian and I would say carrots. They’re similar to something… wink, wink.

Sławek the Harmonicist Stuffed cabbage. In Polish, gołąbki. It sounds sexy, and you can remove the cabbage to get to the meat.

Laughs all around.

 

Greg So that was the fun question. Now I want talk about how playing for the dancing community has affected your development as musicians. Has it done so?

Photo: From Top Left: Kelsey Stone, Damon Stone, Mike Legenthal, Dan Legenthal, Adam Wilkerson, Krystal Wilkerson, Dominic Hanna - Photo by Ben Hejkal

A Blues Family Lineage, with Krystal Wilkerson

I first met Krystal at the Blues Experiment in America, way back in 2014. My first impression was that she had the biggest smile in the world. Just a couple of weeks ago, I managed to catch up with her at a dance weekend in Zürich. Since we first met, she and her husband Adam have dove deep into organizing, teaching, and sharing their passion for the Blues. In this conversation, she takes us through the people who have impacted her Blues life… her “Blues Family.” And yes, she still has a huge smile.

Greg Austin Hello!

Krystal Wilkerson Hello!

Greg I always like to start with the origin story, like how you came into the dancing world. So what were you doing before you were a dancer?

Krystal Ok, so like in terms of my hobbies before dancing? Or where I was in my life before I started dancing?

Greg If someone is a non-dancer reading this, often times they want to know, “What do you do in life?” So for non-dancers I think it is interesting for them to hear how you came to dancing.

Krystal So before I started partner dancing, I was in grad school. Under-grad, grad school, that was pretty much my life. Laughs. In terms of things I did for fun, in grad school, I used to be really big into Metal and Rock, going to Metal and Rock concerts.

At some point, I decided to go to a Ballroom dance class, at Mississippi State University. From there, I started doing Ballroom partner dancing, and I had a friend from South Korea that was into Lindy Hop. He started showing me how to do Lindy Hop. From Lindy Hop I got into Blues. And now we Blues dance and we rock climb, and we hike, and we have greyhounds.

Greg Let’s talk about who this “we” is. You just posted a great picture that you referred to as your “Blues family.” Take us through all the faces in that picture.

RESULTS – Organizer Survey on DJ’s

I am pleased to publish the results from the first survey that Dancers Say What has conducted. I reached out to as many dance event organizers as I could to ask them to take a short survey about DJ’s and their events.

First of all, I must note that this survey exposed my own biases.  My network is very much skewed towards the Blues and Swing worlds.

For the next survey, I desperately need to expand out into the other dance worlds. Does anyone want to help me with this? If you are knowledgeable and passionate about some of the other dance styles, and are interested in contributing to this project, please email me. Let’s chat!

Now on to the results of the survey. We had 79 respondents, which I think is quite solid for a first survey. Listed below you will find the results, along with some of my own commentary on them. Lastly, I closed this post out with a selection of responses to the question, “What do you wish DJ’s would do more often?”

 

Most of the respondents organize events in the Blues and Swing worlds. Brazilian Zouk composed the majority of the “other” responses. In general, responses tended to fall into “families.” There is the “Swing family,” the “Blues & Fusion family,” and the “Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba family.”

Looking deeper into the data, Lindy Hop events tended to be the largest, with over 65% of 200 plus people events dancing Lindy Hop. This being said, there was a lot of diversity in the sizes of events across the spectrum of dance styles.

I’m speculating as to why most organizations are non-profit, but my guess would be because most people do it for the love of the dance, not as a job. Maybe in the future, I should ask DJ’s if they DJ because of a profit motive, or because of the love of the performance?

One take away from this question was that the dance style that hired musicians the least was Zouk, of which 75% said they never hire live musicians. I admit that the sample size was smaller than the other styles, but it makes me curious to learn more about the live music dynamic in the Zouk scene.

For me, this was one of the most important questions. In talking with my DJ friends, getting paid for their work is always an issue that is brought up.

Out of all of the styles of dance who had more than 10 responses, the style that almost always hired DJ’s was… Balboa, with 95% of organizers saying that they pay for DJ’s services. Cheers to them!

Comparing whether organizers hire musicians and/or DJ’s, we can see that while live musicians are often hired, DJ’s are much more likely to be a part of the event. Which leads up to the next question. If DJ’s are more likely to be hired than musicians, are they promoted the same?

Interesting, no? I guess this also gets into the classic dilemma of picking the headliner for your event. Promotion can be tricky stuff.

It seems like the local community is the big winner here. The logical follow up question for me is if you are a DJ, how do you be a part of that local community?

Are there ways that organizers encourage the development of DJ’s in their local communities? How often to DJ’s travel to other communities? How do DJ’s develop their reputations in local communities outside of their own? Do organizers have tools to find DJ’s from other local communities?  Lots of potential future questions here…

And finally, a selection of answers to the question “What do you wish DJ’s would do more often?”

“Play for the audience, not for themselves, listen to organizer.”

“Pay attention to the audience.”

“Pay closer attention to the floor.”

“Promote our events as we are promoting them.”

“Producing usable promotional images of themselves instead of stupid selfies with thumbs up.”

“Highlight some of their songs and tell us a little bit about what inspired their set or if there’s an artist or song they are really excited about sharing.”

“Surprise us.”

“Improvise ;)”

“Get paid!”

So yes, I hope the results of this survey helps both DJ’s and organizers with their events. As I mentioned at the start, this survey process has illustrated some weaknesses in my dance network. I really need to find some help with someone who knows the dance scenes outside of my expertise. Please contact me if you want to help me with the next survey!