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Blues Dancing at the Big Easy

Dropping in on Luther and the Healers

They're dancing to Miles Davis," Liz tells me as soon as we walk into The Big Easy (5731 Kirby Drive, 713-523-9999).

"What?"

"They're dancing to Miles Davis," says Liz, pointing to two adventurous couples out on the dance floor. "That's 'All Blues' by Miles."

The Big Easy's crowd does "Twyla Tharp meets Muddy Waters"-type blues dancing.
The Big Easy's crowd does "Twyla Tharp meets Muddy Waters"-type blues dancing.

Since jazz is what Liz does for a living, I don't question her; besides, I'm looking for someplace to sit. The Big Easy is full -- there's a crowd around a couple of pool tables in the back, and more folks are clustered around the bar. The tables that ring the dance floor are filled with an assortment of happy, sweaty dancers waiting for the next non-Miles Davis tune.

A guy in a hat sees me looking around and immediately gets up, giving me and Liz his table. Liz scoots in, still mesmerized by the dancers, while I ask the guy if I can buy him a beer. "No, no," he waves me away.

"You sure?" I insist.

"No, no, I'm fine."

In my head that translates into, "I don't want to have to dance with you later," but I'm not insulted. If the two couples out on the floor are any indication, I couldn't keep up anyway. They're doing a sort of slow-motion tango. They slide around and then stop, pose, do some funny little jerky movements in their shoulders -- like something somewhere is dislocated -- and then slide into another pose. Nothing on me is dislocated, so I'm not gonna try it.

I go over to the bar, leaving Liz, who has a decidedly puzzled look on her face, to guard my purse. I glance back over at her while I'm waiting for our drinks. She's still watching the dancers, but her head is cocked way over to one side, making it look like her neck is broken. Dang, maybe everyone in here is dislocated, I think.

A lady walks in wearing a doo rag and carrying a pizza box. She goes over to a man sitting a few stools down from where I'm standing.

Liz, I notice, still has a broken neck, then I catch a glimpse of what she's looking at. One of the guys dancing is dipping his partner, a tall, beautiful woman wearing a striped shirt. Dipping her, like they do at the end of ballroom dances. She's almost on the floor, he's holding her so low, and they're both doing that dislocated shoulder move. I can feel my head starting to fall to one side as I watch them, following the arch of their movements.

"Eight bucks," the bartender tells me, handing me back my credit card and receipt to sign.

"Keep the tab open," I tell him, not taking my eyes off the dancers. I can't deal with my bill now; what if he drops her and I miss it because I'm signing my name?

The Miles Davis tune is finally over, and a nice-looking blond guy jumps up on stage. "Jukebox, please!" he says into the microphone. The bartender turns off the piped-in music, and the couple that had the pizza join him on stage. He picks up his bass, she gets behind the drum set. A few seconds later, a bald guy settles in at the organ.

The dance floor is crowded now. "I wonder how that lady's gonna do that thing where she almost lies down with so many people on the dance floor. I bet somebody steps on her," says Liz, sounding hopeful.

"You want them to step on her?" I ask disapprovingly, adding my "Jesus wouldn't want you to lie" stare just for effect.

"No, no," she mumbles, "that wouldn't be good."

"That would not be anywhere near good."

"Hey, look! It's Luther and the Healers," Liz says, trying to distract me, nodding toward the band onstage.

Luther and the Healers is, of course, exactly why we came to the Big Easy. Most Thursday nights, Luther and his friends are playing blues here. They call themselves "the hardest working band in Texas," a claim I've heard from lots of groups, but I believe it about the Healers. From the first note on, they are burning. And the dancers love them. Liz and I sit, slack-jawed, watching the crowd. There's a real "what if Twyla Tharp met Muddy Waters" vibe to it all.

After about half an hour, the woman in the striped shirt takes a breather and sits at the next table.

"What do you call that kind of dancing?" I ask her.

"We're kinda like doing a mix of blues and Lindy and whatever," she laughs.

"Where did you learn it?"

"I started swing dancing in Washington, D.C., and then I started Lindy Hop there. Then when I was in Nashville this summer, they were blues dancing. I saw blues dancing and just fell in love with it."

Blues dancing. I've heard of blues music, but blues dancing is new to me.

"It's a social dance," she tells me, "but it's definitely more free. We're just kind of reacting to the music and being part of it, not just doing an eight count, you know, swing out or a Lindy circle. We're really moving with the music.

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