Photo: Carl Van Vechten

W. C. Handy – Making Fusion in 1914?

One of the underlying themes of this project is to explore the concept of “fusion” music and dance, as it happens today.

In the dance community, there is this thing we call “fusion.” Nobody has a strong definition for it, but it is a concept that all musicians, organizers, and dancers have to grapple with, in one form or another. I have no pretenses that this little project of mine will solidify such a nebulous concept into a definite form, but I do think it is helpful that we spend some time looking into it. I would argue that one way art forms evolve is through fusion. Let’s look at what happened over a hundred years ago in the United States.

W.C. Handy was an American composer and musician. He began his musical career in the first decade of the 20th century, and penned his first commercial hits in the late 1910s. Today he is known as the Father of the Blues. His is credited with taking the sounds of the Southern African American and putting them to paper using the European musical note system. Incidentally, he was also a huge commercial success. I would say he was an all-American success story, Soul + Structure = Father of the Blues. Taking a few moments to read up on Handy on Wikipedia and listen to his recordings is well worth the time.

Today, in the social dance world, I get the feeling that our fusion equation looks something like this: “Something + Something Else = Fusion.” We intuitively know the end result, but have a hard time figuring out the two things we fused together!

This being said, I don’t think this is necessarily a problem that has to be solved. Maybe it is better that each fusion occasion is a unique offspring of some two, unnamed forces? Maybe if we name the two forces, it will kill off the magic? Why does fusion always come on late at night at dance parties? Does the mood just have to be right?

Of course, these musings come from a Blues, Jazz, and Swing background. I would be very curious to hear the opinions from the Latin side of the dance world. What happens at Latin fusion parties? What about Argentine Tango? Tango has an unbroken lineage of over a hundred years, is it still making new fusion?

All readers feel welcome to pen some thoughts if you want. Send them on to editor@dancerssaywhat.com