How to Dance to Cajun Music

This page is covers basic Cajun jitterbug footwork and moves. The material was originally written as a supplement to a dance class given in the Boston area by Jim Whinfield. For some interesting thoughts on the "authenticity" of Cajun Jitterbug, see Notes on the Origin of Cajun Jitterbug.

Basic Cajun Dancing Notes

Jim Whinfield, March 1992

Footwork

The Cajun jitterbug that you learned in this class is a classic two-step. This means that there are two beats to every measure of the music, with the emphasis on the second beat (one-TWO, one-TWO, one-TWO). The version of the two-step that we learned is the urban style that is typically danced in a large city such as New Orleans. To perform this version of the two-step, go up on the ball of one foot (either foot will do) and leave the other foot flat on the floor. On one, push up on the "cocked" foot. On two, drop down into the flat foot. Repeat this basic motion -- push-DROP, push-DROP, push-DROP -- until the music stops. (You can change your "cocked" foot when one leg gets tired.)

To add an extra bit of styling to the basic step, try twisting your "cocked" foot out to the side on the DROP part of the step. (Imagine that you are extinguishing a cigarette with your "cocked" foot.)

The Two Basic Positions

The Cajun two-step is an improvisational couple dance. Since it is not planned out in advance, one person (the leader) assumes responsibility for deciding which move to do next, and the other person follows (guess what this person is called?). Traditionally, the man has been the leader, but as we have seen in this class, the woman can lead just as well. (Note: to simplify the descriptions of the moves in these notes, we will use the term "he" to describe the leader, and "she to describe the follower. Sorry...it was just too awkward and confusing any other way).

All Cajun moves are initiated from one of two basic positions: open-handed position and cross-handed position. In the open-handed position, the partners face one another and join right hand to left (and left to right) slightly below waist level. Cross-handed position is identical, except the hands are crossed (right hands joined on top, left hands below).

It is essential for both partners to maintain a firmness, or tension, in the forearms (not too tight, but not too loose) in either of the basic positions. This makes it easier for the leader to provide signals as to which move is coming next. Try both leaning backwards and supporting one another to get a feel for the tension that is required.

In all, we learned nine moves that you can do from the open-handed position, and seven that you do from the cross-handed position. (All of the open-handed moves typically flow together; so do the cross-handed moves). We also taught two ways to get from open- handed position to cross-handed position. All of these are described below.

Open-Handed Moves

The following moves are all performed from the open-handed position:

Getting From Open-Handed to Cross-Handed Position

We learned two ways to get from the open-handed to the cross-handed position: Scissorhands and Hand on the Stomach.

Cross-Handed Moves

These moves are initiated from the cross-handed position. (Remember: At the start of each move, the right hand is always on top.)

Thanks to Hedy Sladovich for typing in this guide.

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