Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing

I don’t dig that two-beat jive the New Orleans cats play. My boys and I have to have four heavy beats to the bar and no cheating.
— Count Basie

Recently I have been visiting a lot of venues. These are small scenes that are often somewhat isolated. I have been thinking about the music choices played there by the DJs, which frankly baffle me at times. This post which I read recently over at the blog, The Casual Discourse of a Socially Awkward Lindy Hopper, the author writes about her experience saying some of the things I have been tempted to say in public, but refrained from due to apprehension of the exact situation she experienced.

For those of you who want the quick summary, the author visited a venue she used to regularly attend. In this visit she experienced mostly songs that were simply undanceable. The songs that were danceable consisted of the cliché neo-swing (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy) material that makes most experienced Lindy Hoppers cringe. In result people (including herself) were complaining to other regular swing dancers at the venue about the music. The DJ maturely responded to this by leaving a nasty comment on her facebook wall referring to her friends and herself as “snobs” and defriending her on Facebook.

Honestly, I wish there was a more tactful way of going about this then complaining to the venue organizer/DJ or trying to politely suggest to the venue organizer/DJ something. (Better then handing the DJ what is pictured in Figure 1.0 below) But as I am keenly aware of being a DJ myself, it is often a very personal endeavor and unfortunately we can be quick to take offense to people who criticize our abilities.

[Figure 1.0]: DJing for Dummies

I am not going to write a guide about how to be a better swing dance DJ, that is covered in multiple places over the internet. Just a message for be organizers and people who are concerned for their local venues or scene in general.

What music is DJed greatly affects not just how your dancers at your venue dance, but the reputation your venue has.

Frankly, one could be surprised how fast things via word of mouth can travel in the Lindy Hop community. I know several venues, in different states, that intermediate and above dancers avoid because of their reputation for bad music. There tends to also be a correlation with bad dancing and bad music as well. How can you expect your new dancers to be able to dance on beat if they rarely hear swing dance music with a decent rhythm section or be musical when they can’t make out clear phrasing? It confuses me how some places will go to great lengths to create an inviting and fun atmosphere then overlook this one big aspect of running a venue.

Carl Nelson, a jack of all Lindy related trades (teacher/competitor/performer/organizer) wrote this in his blog which provides some insight,

As a traveling dancer I’ve seen far too many communities on the decline or, worse yet, falling apart altogether.  Why is that?

As dancers we’re all too often misled into believing that a passion for dance is enough, that effective business strategies don’t apply to performance art.  Yet what happens when your classes are empty, your teachers are disheartened by the lack of interest (and a paycheck), and your events are poorly attended.- – Carl Nelson

Carl makes the very valid point that running an effective scene is just like a business. DJing, like teaching is something that should be done by someone who takes the position seriously and is qualified. I have seen many venues let people who shouldn’t touch a DJ booth, do so because they do not want to hurt that person’s feelings or create drama. Organizers, avoid that common trap and have people who know what they are doing as DJs. In result you will foster an environment for dancers to improve and a positive reputation for your venue.

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