oh YES!

NPR’s story on The Healing Power of Blues Dancing:

LAURA SULLIVAN, host: We’re going to take a turn now on the dance floor.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “I PUT A SPELL ON YOU”)
SULLIVAN: There’s a style called blues dancing. It’s a kind of marriage between European and African-American styles, born in the Jim Crow South.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “I PUT A SPELL ON YOU”)
SULLIVAN: They say that dancing to the blues is like falling in love. That’s what attracted reporter Lindsey Lee Keel. Here’s what she found.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “I PUT A SPELL ON YOU”)
NINA SIMONE: (Singing) I put a spell on you.
LINDSEY LEE KEEL: You hear that? It’s Nina Simone. And this is the blues.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “I PUT A SPELL ON YOU”)
SIMONE: (Singing) ‘Cause you’re mine. Du, du, du, du, du, du, du, du, du, du…
KEEL: It’s Monday night in San Francisco’s Mission District, and I’ve just arrived at the Polish Club. It’s not a bar. It’s a community center that tonight, and every Monday night, attracts a crowd of devout blues dancers.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEEL: The room is warm, the windows have begun to fog, the lighting is dim. Couples are close, dancing slowly, arms around necks, heads on shoulders, foreheads pressed together.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEEL: Hips pulsate at the beat. Partners spin out for a moment of space between them, and then they move together again like molecules that can’t resist each other.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEEL: Though it might look like it, these dancers are not in love with each other. Some may not even know the name of the person they’re dancing with. But everyone is here for that connection, for that feeling.
CAT HUGHES: It’s falling in love, that’s what it is. It’s crazy.
KEEL: This is Cat Hughes. She’s been a blues dancer for three years.
HUGHES: Every dance is like a love affair. You’re falling in love for three minutes with the music, with your partner, with your connection. And it can be dangerous because you’re falling in love like, a million times a night, and it can really screw with your emotions. But it can also be amazing.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEEL: Dancing this way takes some getting used to. Back when she was first starting, blues dancer Krystal Wanberg remembers telling a prominent dancer in the scene how nervous she was.
KRYSTAL WANBERG: And he was like, OK, just play along with me. Pretend that I am your one, true love. And I kind of gave him this weird look. He’s like, wait, wait, wait. I am your one, true love, and I have been called off to war, and I’m leaving tomorrow. You may never see me again. He’s like, dance with me like that. I was just like, ah.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KEEL: Wanberg was hesitant, but then she gave in.
WANBERG: And then we danced, and it was just the most incredibly connected dance. I was completely, completely done. Like, I was a blues dancer after that. It was done.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEEL: Many dancers talk about before blues and after blues. Vhary Leggat started dancing almost two years ago. She says before blues, she had a drinking problem. She struggled with a negative body image. She sometimes felt suicidal. But after blues…
VHARY LEGGAT: I have become more connected to my body. You can’t go to a dance and say, I don’t want to be reminded that my body exists – because that’s what dancing is. And so that’s extremely important for me because I had never before found a situation where I wanted that to be true.
KEEL: For Leggat, blues dancing is about transformation.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LEGGAT: My release from fear and sadness started with getting sober, and ended with learning to dance.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LEGGAT: Because of those two things, I am awake, and I am healing.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEEL: Blues music was once called the devil’s music.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEEL: But for so many, blues has saved them.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEEL: Though the Polish Club may not have a neon sign that says Blues Saves – shining like a guiding light for the wayward – and you won’t see dancers at your door holding pamphlets, for Hughes, Wanberg and Leggat, the road to a better life began at the Church of Blues.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEEL: For NPR News, I’m Lindsey Lee Keel.

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