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.