Daniel Martin is well known to many Juneauites as downtown’s resident bread baker, a role that became official two years ago with the opening of his business, Wild Oven Bakehouse. But the local baker has another passion, one that he plans to share with Juneau this weekend through a series of dance workshops he’s organized featuring an interesting figure in the world of social dance.
Martin has invited Wren LaFeet (otherwise known as Ryan Wren Barret), founder of Nomad Dance, to help Juneau dancers and could-be dancers learn the basics of something LaFeet calls “fusion partner dance,” a modern form of social dancing that in his mind links dancing to broader forms of social connectedness and communication.
Martin said fusion partner dance is essentially a broader version of blues dancing, a genre that’s become big down South but hasn’t quite made it’s way to Juneau yet. Based on improvisational African American dance styles of the 1920s and 1930s, blues dancing isn’t a technique as much as an approach.
“Blues dancing is a form of social dancing that is much more intuitive and less driven by specific steps and specific footwork,” Martin said. “This is a fusion workshop, but it comes out of blues dancing, it sort of broadens blues dancing to incorporate techniques from other dances.”
Similarly, LaFeet’s approach is likely to be more fluid and less systematic than what most dancers have experienced. Rather than following a pattern of steps to a certain musical genre, fusion partner dance is based on improvised response to whatever music might be playing, incorporating elements of freestyle, yoga and martial arts. Dancers can build on whatever experience they may have with traditional dances – swing, Lindy hop, waltz, salsa – and adapt it in a looser way. The emphasis will be on communicating with your partner and an awareness of your body, particularly shifting your weight to the beat and relaxing into the music — a good first step in any dance class.
“Where to put your feet isn’t the beginning,” Martin said.
LaFeet, who graduated with a bachelor’s in drama and a minor in dance from the University of Washington, has been teaching full time since 2011, the year he formed Nomad Dance. In a recent TED talk, LaFeet said dancing is a great way to facilitate “spontaneous collaborative communication,” and to remind us of the fact that we are all the same at base regardless of our differences. Our physical response to music is innate and universal, he said in his talk, citing a 2010 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which 120 babies separately exposed to different types of music began moving their bodies in rhythmic response, without exception. (Read more here: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100315161925.htm)
Martin’s initial interest in social dancing began when he met former Juneau resident John Leo, a moment he calls “pivotal” for him.
“We hit it off and he was always twisting my arm and trying to get me to break out of my inherent shyness,” Martin said.
Following Leo’s suggestion, Martin signed up for swing dancing, and after a couple false starts along the way, eventually got hooked and started teaching it himself.
“Partner dancing is a form of expression, communication and joy that I don’t get from anything else,” he said.
Over the last couple years Martin’s focus shifted to blues dancing, an interest that coincided with his appreciation for local blues band Devil’s Club, who played frequent shows over the past year prior to guitarist Sammy Burrous’ move to Anchorage.
“I discovered blues dancing and blues music pretty much at the same time because of Devil’s Club, and it just fit for me,” Martin said.
Martin came across LaFeet in a YouTube video while researching blues dancing, and invited him to town as part of a plan to spread the idea of fusion dance in Juneau.
“He’s just really passionate about social dance and what it means to try to broaden its impact and bring it back into mainstream popular culture,” Martin said.
What about after LaFeet leaves? Martin said the best way to master this kind of dancing is to find opportunities to do it.
“You go out and dance and you learn.”
Three events are planned for this weekend: a brief introductary course in fusion partner dance out at UAS Friday night, a two-part workshop offered at the Hangar Ballroom Saturday and Sunday, and a Fusion Dance Party Saturday night. Registration is encouraged for the workshops. No partner is necessary and all levels are welcome.
Here’s a look at the full schedule:
Friday, Sept. 27: Intro to Fusion Partner Dance, 8:30-10:30 p.m., UAS REC Center. $5, or free for students.
Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28-29: Weekend workshops, 12-5 p.m., The Hangar Ballroom, Wharf Mall. $100 for both days ($75 for students) or $60 for Saturday only.
Saturday, Sept. 28: Fusion Dance Party with DJ wRendition, 8-10 p.m. The Hangar Ballroom. Admission is included with weekend registration or $5-$10 sliding scale.
To register for the workshops, contact Martin by email at email@example.com or phone, 209-4837.