When we started the first BluesGeek track at Mo’ Better Blues, we had a few simple ideas: Give the community space to present what was on their mind. Allow them to craft and lead panels they were passionate about. The community responded and showed us how much of a desire there was to have those opportunities. It dovetailed into what we did next.
The next year, we expanded that track to encompass a full weekend, tapping into the national community’s goals and projecting our values through the event. With more and more dancers exploring Blues idioms, we wanted to provide a solid structure for new and experienced dancers to learn them in a fun, dynamic way. We also planted the seeds of change from that weekend on. BluesGeek would be adaptable, able to rapidly adjust each year to better fit what the community needed. From our musical focus on woman artists, to experimenting with new audition processes, to even having our DJs perform experimental sets, almost nothing was off the table.
However, as we started to wrap BluesGeek 2018, we realized that even as we harness resources and foster collective knowledge in our international community, there were some challenges an annual event simply couldn’t effectively address.
“Organizers wear too many hats”
Many organizers have said this phrase or something like it too many times. As we met with many of you and heard your concerns, it became abundantly clear that to develop healthier scenes, we needed to find a way to take some of the burden off scene leaders.
“What is Blues dancing?”
It’s the question our community faces on a regular basis as we all strive to educate the public on our dance. While we have fantastic competition videos from events across the world, there are plenty of bad examples out there. The myriad of written resources are not always publicly available and we don’t have a single resource hub.
“I have this cool idea, but I don’t know how to get started”
The panel submissions we receive each year have shown us just how talented and creative our community members are. They also inspired to provide as much support and guidance as we could to help our presenters turn those ideas into realities. We want to develop ways for people to move away from saying “if only we could do that” and start saying “Yes, we can accomplish that.”
After much thought and community conversations on these issues, we set out to create the tools that would answer the call. Enter the BluesGeek Foundation…or rather the Ujima Blues Foundation. While we initially went with a name that honored our the event that set us on this path, we knew that our name needed to better convey what we wanted to accomplish.
Ujima (oo-JEE-mah), a word meaning “collective work and responsibility” or “to build and maintain our community together and make our [sibling’s] problems our problems and to solve them together,” was the perfect choice to point back to the African-American roots of Blues dance while perfectly summarizing what the Foundation will be doing in years to come.