Cross-training is largely beneficial both for social dancing and competition. Socially, I feel more aware as a lead and better able to respond. Competition-wise, I feel better prepared to take certain risks, more confidence in my ability to move, and regardless of tempo or duration dance without fatigue. This is not to say that anything goes. I want to draw these points this way because I think of cross-training as distinct from Fusion as a philosophy/dance. Cross-training gives rise to options, abilities, and inspirations that accomplish better blues idiom dancing.
In reading Steppin' on the Blues by Jacqui Malone, cross-fertilization is discussed in reference to music: "Many African American musicians developed their artistry by composing and playing in several different, but mutually enriching arenas , including back minstrel bands, military bands, dance bands, marching bands, and bands that performed in traveling shows and musical theater”[emphasis mine] (pg. 144). Further, "many jazz musicians merged their vernacular training with the education they received from women and men schooled in European music." Historically, there has been cross-training within the music, and I do not think it is a stretch to suggest, given the writer's emphasis on the closeness of music and movement (in the same section the emphasis of cross over between military drill groups and dancers) that a person wouldn't just do one dance or kind of dance, rather participate in a range of dances and movement styles. While dancers have the ability to move in a number of ways, that movement is expressed based on the music supports..
I'm defining cross-training as training in other movement sets outside of a primary set of movements and/or aesthetic. Granted, this is pretty general, so I turned to Wikipedia, which defines cross training as 'athletic training in sports other than the athlete's usual sport. The goal is improving overall performance. It takes advantage of the particular effectiveness of one training method to negate the shortcomings of another.' Dictionary.com offers a similar definition, though with the caveat of 'to learn different, usually related, tasks, skills, jobs, etc.'
In our modern blues scene many of our leaders, teachers, and organizers have multiple dance backgrounds while still being grounded in blues idiom movement. Looking at the BluesSHOUT 2016 All-Star JnJ in particular, most of the finalists have backgrounds or experience in addition to the modern iteration of blues dances. Our competition formats are interesting in that dancers are expected to know and adapt their movement to the genre of blues that is being played (see competitions like Nocturne’s 2016 Challenge Strictly and Snowbound Blues’ All Star Strictly).
I'll divide this into two major themes: cross-training as ability and cross-training as inspiration. I think of these ideas as two broader categories that have intersections, but I will provide few examples for each from my own and other’s experiences.
Cross-training as ability (CTaA)
CTaA I think of as getting access to strength, stamina, or movement I wasn't capable of doing before, mostly coming from non-dance activities like weight lifting, running, yoga, martial arts, etc. This might be in terms of flexibility, ability to dance for longer periods of time, or in my experience comfort with weight sharing. An aspect of the personal and group training I have done at my gym is strength training. We don't skip leg day. I've found that the number of people I can do various forms of weight sharing movements with has increased, more comfort and security in lunges, basing, and other kinds of supported forms. This kind of cross-training ultimately makes me feel like I can keep up or simply be more physically present, both in social dancing and competition.
Another, less physical, example of CTaA would be musical training. Do you have an ear for what the rhythms are likely to do? Laura Chieko, for example, has an ear for clarinet tonality as well as a marching band background. She cites this as her first movement style. Marching band, for those who may be less familiar, is basically about being on beat and keeping up with the tempo of the music.
Cross-training as Inspiration (CTaI)
CTaI I think of as pulling ideas from other dance styles. This could come in two models: the surprise 'hey this thing my body knows how to do works here' or the calculated 'I wonder if I can make this fit here'. Damon Stone gave a talk on the history of Struttin' and Lonestar Strut 2016 in Austin, TX and made a comment about a dance changing naturally over time versus specifically trying to change the dance from the inside.
One example of the 'surprise' idea for me is balboa footwork in Struttin'. This can be tricky, because struttin' has a particular aesthetic, the drop and roll through the hips, whereas balboa is more upright, moving as a unit without the isolation of the hips or torso. One idea I have pulled naturally into my blues movement from balboa is moving through the entire foot, rolling from the ball to the heel or side to side. Certain triple step ideas can be modified as well. These ideas make sense with a certain kind of music. Since these things have sprung up into my dancing I can reflect on how the movements appear within aesthetic and make modifications. These aren't tactical decisions when they happen the first time, but generally happy accidents that can be refined. Early incorporation of Argentine Tango ochos and similar movements into our shared vocabulary might also fall under this framework.
An example of the calculated approach is an idea to reimagine the Dean Collins Shim Sham in the blues aesthetic, humorously dubbed the Blues Collins Shim Sham. A group of us were exploring different choreography ideas and I happened to be learning a Balboa routine at the time which involved learning the whole Dean Collins Shim Sham. The whole break at slow tempos kept inspiring me as I collected under my left foot to drop further into the ground, breaking lines and engaging my hip in a more bluesy kind of way. We came up with a modified take on the line dance thinking about how grounding, posture, and musical structure (12 bar phrases versus 8) impacted how the dance. That was a very targeted and calculated approach when drawing inspiration.
Stepping outside of our normal movement routines can be a great way to get out of a dance rut. If nothing else, spending some gym time with a workout buddy or personal trainer can be a good way to correct movement technique and protect the all important knees. Try the fencing class, some running, yoga, or something else. Ultimately, our understanding of how we move can be informed by working another skill set and give us a different kind of ability and inspiration.
Boogie Chilluns Playhouse by Donnie Williams
-Subtitled: when the internet doesn't have all the answers
I found this song off the album 'Fernwood Rhythm 'N' Blues From Memphis'. I originally bought this album to get a song by Willie Cobb (see this post on You Don't Love Me, Baby). I finally got around to sorting the rest of it, and I got to this song that I kept coming back to listen to. It has some similarities with Mississippi Hill Country blues, in that it vamps with sparse vocals. A harmonica and saxophone line bring in different layers, providing a driving melodic line that the vocals do not carry. It has a hypnotic groove punctuated by occasional stops, the electric guitar sustaining a note until the drums kick back in. It was a surprise find from this album, and one I wanted to write about.
The challenge? There is very little I could find about the artist, Donnie Williams. Most references to the song point to a John Lee Hooker song called 'Boogie Chillen' written in 1948. There are some rhythmic similarities, the vamp or repetition of the song. John Lee Hooker's version is just his voice, guitar, and foot stomps without any additional instrumentation. The stops are evident as well, with great opportunities for rhythmic play (from a dancer's perspective).
Wikipedia does have an article on the song itself. Like my initial reactions, "it resembles early North Mississippi Hill country blues rather than the boogie-woogie piano-derived style of the 1930s and 1940s". The chillen/chillun part of the name comes from 'is a phonetical approximation of Hooker's pronunciation of "children"'.
Donnie Williams' version, recorded in 1964, is almost certainly a cover of Hooker's. While the lyrics are absent or don't line up, the characteristic groove of the song is hard to dismiss. 'Boogie Chillen' has been extensively covered, ultimately leading to a suit against ZZ Top for their song 'La Grange', a suit that was settled out of court in 1997. Congress, in 1998, amended the Copyright Act protections for 'many songs recorded before 1978 from entering the public domain'.
As far as the album, Steve Leggett has a review on Allmusic.com, saying this history of the album stems from a garage recording studio set up by Slim Wallace on Fernwood Street in Memphis. Most of the songs apparently never saw reprinting after their initial release. Fernwood also had subsidiary studios, Pure Gold among them, and it was on the Pure Gold label that 'Boogie Chilluns Playhouse' was released.
I couldn't find anything more on Donnie Williams. As far as I could find he had two songs cut on the subsidiary of Fernwood. I really enjoy this recording, and it was a good exercise in research where the information isn't readily available. Hopefully someone will be able to find something more on this artist.
I've been inspired by Katie Alexa of the Blues Dance World podcast to do my own digging into the history of an artist or a particular song I have been enjoying. This led me to thinking about the artist Robert Belfour and his song 'Go Ahead On'. It's one of my favorite songs to listen and move to. I've tried to quote him where I can to let his description of his work and music speak.
Belfour's music is characterized as Hill Country Blues. Other artists that exemplify this sound are Junior Kimborough, R.L. Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill . Branching off from the wikipedia page I found http://www.hillcountryharmonica.com/hillcountryblues.html, a site that offers more detail and history. Hill Country Blues is described in contrast to the Chicago style blues of Muddy Waters, and also as distinct for Delta blues, as a subgenre of country blues "characterized by a strong emphasis on rhythm and percussion, steady guitar riffs, few chord changes, unconventional song structures, and heavy emphasis on the "groove" - more affectionately known as "the hypnotic boogie."" Another description that stood out to me was "Hill country blues is functional: it's all about the groove, and the dancers who move to the groove." 
In an interview with BluesinLondon.com Belfour said in response to a question about his career, "I'd been playing all my life - I thought myself by ear listening to the radio... started off by chord and I changed over - I wanted to do notes... I wanted something somebody else wasn't doing, because everybody was imitating somebody else you know - chords and stuff - and I wanted my own thing". Belfour is distinguished by his own style of "percussive attack and alternate tunings" . In the same London interview he described his tuning as 'cross tuned Spanish so that's the reason why can't nobody tune their guitar to find what I do - because it's cross tuned Spanish tuning." 
Belfour expands on how he learned to play by telling a story about an older woman teaching him John Lee Hooker.'s 'Crawling Kingsnake'. As he tells it "she told me "I'm gonna show you how to play this song, I want you to learn this." I sat there and she showed me. She did it about three or four times and then she handed me the guitar". He continued practicing and playing for his community, eventually in the 80s playin on Beale Street. He was able to tour extensively at home and abroad before his death in 2015 .
I credit Anna Washenko for introducing me to Robert Belfour during the BluesSHOUT 2015 Solo Cuttin' finals. For the final pairing, Anna threw on a song with a different character and feel than I'd heard all weekend, 'Breaking My Heart' by Robert Belfour. I purchased the album 'Pushing My Luck' the next day.
BluesSHOUT 2015 Cuttin' Finals - 21:40 for Song
More information about Report Belfour is available from the Fat Possum label: