group of people dancing on a dance floor
Blues Dancing. Brickyard Blues Dance Festival, Atlanta, Georgia, 2019. By Brad Nathanson.

Blues Dancing and its African American Roots

“Blues dance” is a new name describing a family of dances done to blues music and created within African American communities. Today blues dancing is popular throughout the country and beyond the communities from which it originated.

This exhibit explores the history, characteristics and styles of blues dancing and presents artwork and personal stories by dancers.

Oral Histories

photo of mike Sherfield

Listen to the stories of dance in the lives of African Americans who graduated from the University of Illinois or have lived in Champaign and neighboring communities and view artwork created by a local dancer.

Oral Histories
photo of Mike Sherfield

Blues Dancing in Champaign-Urbana

There are diverse opportunities for members of the Champaign-Urbana community to engage in blues dancing. The Urbana Park District and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) often offer classes for blues dancing and other dance styles originating from African American communities. Also see BluesCENTRAL (external link), a local not-for-profit organization, founded by community members in 2011 to conduct and promote teaching, learning, appreciation, and practice of blues dancing and its African American vernacular dance heritage.

painting of a man and woman in casual clothing dancing Blues Dancing Series #1 Street Dancing
Oil on Wood, June 2019
By Laura Gillen
painting of two women in casual clothing dancing Blues Dancing Series #2
Oil on Wood, June 2019
By Laura Gillen
painting of two couples in casual clothing dancing Blues Dancing Series #3 Light from the Dark
Oil on Wood, June 2019
By Laura Gillen
painting of three couples in casual clothing dancing Blues Dancing Series #4 The Kind of Blues That Don’t Bring You Down
Oil on Wood, June 2019
By Laura Gillen

Blues Music Playlist

Here is a spotify playlist with music references in the exhibit as well as some other classic Blues songs. Feel free to listen to this playlist while perusing the exhibit.

Spotify Playlist


  • Oral History Interviewees

  • Shirley Ajayi-Carroll
  • Victoria Bostic
  • Dawn Clark
  • Toni Kersey
  • Larry Lawrence
  • Monica M. Scott
  • Mike Sherfield
  • Lisa Vernon
  • Stan West
  • Advisors

  • Grey Armstrong
  • Ronald William Bailey
  • Jessica Elizabeth Ballard
  • Thomas DeFrantz
  • Cynthia Oliver
  • Scott Schwartz
  • Kenneth Shipp
  • Damon Stone
  • Christi Jay Wells
  • Art and Photographs

  • Laura Gillen
  • Brad Nathanson
  • Michael Sherfield
  • Archival Photographs

  • Scott Shigley
  • Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University Digital Library
  • Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture
  • University of Illinois Archives
  • Exhibit Team

  • BluesCENTRAL
  • Madeline Boehm
  • Emilye Lewin
  • Dery Martiínez
  • Jacqueline Masiunas
  • Matthew Mayton
  • Anna A. Rataj
  • Monica M. Scott
  • Ria Shah
  • Kim Sheahan
  • Vil Song
  • Melissa Sotelo
  • Travis Stansel
  • Patty Templeton
  • Jack Thomas
  • Beth Watkins
  • Jennifer White
  • Hayat Zarzour
  • Funding

  • Thanks to the Donald W. and Dorothy Berkey White Endowment Fund and the Betty Ann Knight Permanent Endowment Fund for help funding this exhibit.