Cake Walk • Slow Drag • Black Bottom • Jookin' • Struttin' • Ballroomin' • Drag Blues

Since there are so many different styles of Blues Music, there are also many different styles of Blues Dance.


The swing dance revival in the 1980s-1990s brought on the desire to resurrect and research the roots of the early 1900s swing-era dances to give dancers a full understanding of the dance. The same is true to for the blues dancers. Just like there are several forms of swing dance, there are several forms of blues dance. The biggest difference stems from the type of music being played. Fast, slow, upbeat, sad, happy and sassy.


While maintaining its aesthetic of its own throughout the history of African dances in America, Blues dance has been researched and also gained interest across the U.S. and the world.



No matter what style of Blues Dance you dance, they all should maintain a "Blues Aesthetic":



  • Athletic stance and grounded movement characterized by the weight being shifted to the balls of the feet, the knees bent, the hips pushed back, and the chest forward. Similar to a "ready stances" of a football player, wrestler, dribbling a basketball or bouncing on the edge of a diving board.
  • Rhythmic movement: Your entire body should show the beat of the music. No matter if it is your feet, hands, chest, or hips, each part emphasizes the beats and pulses.
  • Improvising is essential since each dancer brings their own feelings and emotions to the dance floor. Whether it is between dancers or on their own.
  • The dancers show what they hear in the music and portray it in their body movement.


POSITIONS: There are several ways in which dancers physically connect with one another.

  • SOLO: a dancer is by themselves and dancing alone or "at" another dancer.
  • OPEN: dancers are connected by either hand holds or around the shoulderblade.
  • CLOSED: dancers are connected with the Lead's forearm across the Follow's back or shoulderblades.
  • CLOSE-EMBRACE: dancers are connected sternum to sternum. Almost resembling a hug.




The Cakewalk dance was developed from a "Prize Walk" done in the days of slavery, generally at get-togethers on plantations in the Southern United States. Alternative names for the original form of the dance were "chalkline-walk", and the "walk-around". At the conclusion of a performance of the original form of the dance in an exhibit at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, an enormous cake was awarded to the winning couple.


Thereafter it was performed in minstrel shows, exclusively by men until the 1890s. The inclusion of women in the cast "made possible all sorts of improvisations in the Walk, and the original was soon changed into a grotesque dance" which became very popular across the country.






The Slow Drag dance is somewhat what its name suggests. Originally very popular in the Juke Joints of the South. In the early evening the music was up tempo, but later during the night the music changed to slow, low-down blues and this dance was done to very slow, sensual music, so it fit perfectly. The couples would hold each other tight, bump & grind in rhythmic motions, and travel across the floor while maintaining the close connection.


The Slow Drag was first reported in New Orleans during the 1890s as a social dance, then later became popular in the early 1900s. The Slow Drag was also a featured dance in the traveling Medicine Shows and Gillie's in the early 1900s. Broadway introduced this social dance style in 1929 on stage play called "Harlem!" with most critics in exasperation at the undulating and writhing of the bodies and news reports exclaiming that the police had to stop the orgiastic exhibition on stage. The dance was eventually toned down due to many Harlem groups objecting to the dance and at the request of the authorities.


Ragtime composers, including Scott Joplin, wrote a number of slow-tempo tunes appropriate for the dance. "They would just hang onto each other and just grind back and forth in one spot all night". A cornetist who played during the 1890s described the music where the Slow drag was done, in the "less fashionable groups in town", as "more raggy" than the music that was played for the more "high toned" dances. "They did the Slow Drag all over Louisiana."

Slow Drag was one of ten dance themes Joplin included in "The Ragtime Dance". "The Ragtime Dance" was written in 1899 and consisted of a vocal introduction followed by a series of dance themes introduced by a vocalist.

"Let me see you do the rag-time dance, Turn left and do the cakewalk prance,

Turn the other way and do the slow drag - Now take you lady to the World's Fair

And do the rag-time dance."


"A down home shout; Characteristic slow-drag two step" by Herman Carle was published in 1907. Another description of the dance, by a woman born in the 1890s was "hanging on each other and barely moving."

In the late 1930s Jelly Roll Morton's music was considered old fashioned and obsolete. Morton recorded "Slow Drag" ragtime songs that were by then out of step with mainstream jazz by the time Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines recorded together in 1928. His creole melodies and rhythms are closely connected to the Caribbean with its mixture of African, French, Spanish and Mexican people. "The Dream" (c. 1880) is a slow drag, whorehouse number; popular with the musicians of the generation before Morton. They called it "Spanish" because of its tango or habaniera beat. The habaniera had previously arrived in the Caribbean from West Africa. In the decades that followed, it spread throughout the American South and was most popular in semi-rural juke joints, where it was danced to the blues.


Buster Pickens, who was born in 1916, described people doing the slow drag to "slow low-down dirty blues" in barrelhouse joints. In 1929, the slow drag became the first African American social dance to be introduced to Broadway audiences, in the play Harlem. One description of the dance as performed in the play was "a couple dance in which a man and a woman press their bodies tightly together in a smooth bump and grind as they kept the rhythm of the music". It scandalized white critics with its raw sensuality. Many members of the black community were incensed by this picture of the underside of black urban life.


The Slow Drag never gained the popularity of other dances derived from African American dance forms, such as the Charleston. Few films of the dance survive. Dancers from Philadelphia stated that the dance was often used to announce a special relationship between the couples who danced it, "you didn't just slow drag with anyone." The "cling and sway" characteristic of the slow drag can be seen in rock and roll movies from the late 1950s. It was also popular in the 1960s when dancing without touching was more popular than "partner dancing", and remains popular. In these cases it is referred to as "slow dancing".


The swing dance revival helped renew interest in the Slow Drag, which is acknowledged as one of the many antecedents of swing dancing. A modern version of the Slow Drag is taught today in blues dancing.

~adapted by Wikipedia-Slow Drag




The Black Bottom (aka Swanee Bottom) was originally from New Orleans, later worked its way to Georgia and finally New York. Some say the Black Bottom was introduced by blues singer "Alberta Hunter" (which is probably true as many songs & dances were "stolen" and reproduced by someone else). However, it has been reported that the Black Bottom was derived from an earlier and similar dance called the "Echo." The dance was done all over the South before Bradford wrote his song in 1919.


The dance is said to originally be an imitation of a cow's hind legs stuck in the mud.


Perry Bradford's sheet music had the music as well as the dance instructions printed on them. Bradford says that he first saw the Dance done in Jacksonville and decided to write a song about it in 1907 called the 'Jacksonville Rounders Dance' which used the term "Black Bottom" to describe the dance, but the song was not popular because "Rounder" meant "Pimp" (for the Pimp Walk) and no one wanted to dance to it, so he re-wrote the song and titled it the 'Original Black Bottom Dance' in 1919 which he introduced in Nashville Tennessee.


The stage Play "Dinah" in 1924 introduced the Black Bottom to the public and almost overnight became as popular as the Charleston. Ann Pennington and Tom Patricola did a famous rendition of the black bottom in the George White Scandals of 1926 which he bought from the earlier show Dinah. White hired Desylva, Henderson and Brown to write the song for the show, however it was based on the Charleston dance rhythm and the songs lyrics were vague for the dance, however it did become popular but Bradford's song was the base for all to come and even Jelly Roll Morton wrote a song called 'Black Bottom Stomp.' There was a town called 'Black Bottom' in Detroit, Michigan from 1900 to 1960 (it's supposed birth place, Marshall Stearns [1964] says Atlanta, but more has been found since 1964).


The Black bottom was basically a solo challenge dance. Predominately danced on the "Off Beat" and was the prototype for the modern Tap dance phrasing. The Dance featured the slapping of the backside while hopping forward and backward, stamping the feet and gyrations of the torso and pelvis/Hips like the Grind, while occasionally making arm movements to music with an occasional 'Heel-Toe Scoop' which was very erotic in those days. The dance eventually got refined and entered the ballroom with ballroom couples doing the dance.


In 1926 the "Black Bottom" became the rage and replaced the Charleston all together with the exception of it being done in the Breakaway, with the Lindy Hop eventually replacing the Black Bottom all together. The Black Bottom was also done at the Apollo theater in 1927 with the George White Scandals. The Roseland Ballroom (New York) hosted a Black Bottom endurance (marathon) contest in 1927. Some original pattern names for this dance are "The Flick, The Side Shuffle, The Walk." The Dance called the Five Step is said to be a variation of the Black Bottom Dance around 1928.


In 1942 dancer and actress Ginger Rogers does a very good Black Bottom in the RKO film Roxie Hart which was the inspiration for the 2002 movie, Chicago, that featured Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere. The 2002 film "Chicago", has no Black Bottom in it but Roxie Hart does. It is not just a brief screenshot of her doing it but a full routine, it is very good. If your interested in the Black Bottom dance it is a good film to get.


The Five Step, Varsity Drag and the Lowdown tried to replace the Black Bottom, but only the Low Down (a sensuous shiver and a flutter of the hips) actually made a real attempt. The Lowdown and Five Step were actually just variations of the Black Bottom.

~adapted by




Jookin' blues is one of the more primitive form of blues dance that was done originally on rural plantations anywhere laborers could find a space and instruments to dance. People just danced the way the music moved them. The dance movements and techniques are pushed into the ground with each step, with dancers typically staying in a limited place because there was often not very much room and dancers try to improvise with sharp, repetitive hip movements.


The dancing transitioned into the cities when house parties and rent parties became very common. Then moved to Juke Joints in the rural areas where the term Jookin' blues got its name. These joints were typically small bars that played live music.




Keep cool and strut your stuff! This is a classic dance step done to up-tempo blues, ragtime, or jazz music. When early blues dancers ventured out to social dance, the music was jazzy and ragtime. So one adpapted their dance form to the musical art form of their modern music which was fast and upbeat.


This fun dance style will definitely raise your heartbeat especially with high-energy live blues music and kickin' tunes. Dancers were is close-embrace posture and moved around the dance floor traveling at fast speeds. It almost resembled "jogging with a partner" but still maintaining the style and the Blues Aesthetics.




Ballroomin' blues began as jazz and swing music was being played in ballrooms like the Savoy Club and Cotton Clubs when the bands would play slower songs as well as the fast swing songs. Similar to the earlier techniques of Slow Drag, the dancers would dance to these slower songs slightly more upright, traveling across the floor, and with larger moves because they would have more space to dance in.



DRAG BLUES by Joe and Nelle DeMers

Drag Blues is a modern variation of Ballroomin’ and Slow Drag, both close-embrace vintage dances, danced to the swinging rhythms found in Blues music. While based on vintage traveling Blues dances, Drag Blues has a more defined technique and incorporates swing moves and movements. The term was coined by Joe and Nelle DeMers with the production of their Drag Blues DVDs.


Everyone used to call it Slow Drag; however, after being educated on the histories of Blues styles, it definitely was not. We don't want to claim to be the first to do Drag Blues, because many dancers danced similarly to us, but I would say that we are important proponents of the dance. We often see other instructors teaching a dance similar to Drag Blues, but we wouldn't consider it as such. They often blend Slow Drag with Struttin' or Ballroomin', when Drag Blues is a hybrid with Swing.

~Joe DeMers

AUG 23-26, 2018 • VIRGINIA BEACH, VA

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