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

Repost: Are lindy and blues exchanges losing their way?

This is a repost of a note that I originally read on facebook written by Bill Speidel, a well known and respected Lindy and Blues DJ out here on the East Coast.  To rephrase what I originally sent to Bill when asking for permission to repost this, I believe this note expresses a sentiment that many of us who consistently visit smaller scenes and smaller events have, but often do not publicly voice due to not wanting to be seen as “elitist”.

Lost

Who is running this event and what is supposed to be about?

Are lindy and blues exchanges losing their way?

(or “I smell what you’re offering to exchange and I don’t want to step in it”)

For about the last year I’ve been making the argument that the poor economy has led to an influx of novice or bargain basement organizers throwing a growing number of sketchy events that leave me wondering where is the value for the price they’re charging and what they are hyping?

Words have specific meanings and create certain expectations – “nationally known DJ’s”, “live swing bands”, “hosting available”, “free”… even the terms “lindy” or “blues exchange” themselves.  Truthfully, I believe, if your home lindy or blues “scene” can fit in one or two vehicles, you can’t throw an exchange, you can merely throw a party.  Also, a list of recommended hotel accommodations is not “offering housing”.   Lindy bombing a street festival where the local municipality has hired an Elvis impersonator is not “4 hours of continuous lindy dancing”, neglecting to point out someone has to pay a $7 parking or entrance fee to some third party doesn’t constitute “Free” just because the organizer didn’t get the money.  Lastly, a local laptop owner who has also played his usual setlist somewhere else while visiting his parents out of state does not make a DJ headliner.

In the last month I’ve been invited to a couple “exchanges” that have me particularly shaking my head and wondering where things are headed.

The first incident was a trio of new organizers who were completely forthright (although misinformed) in their advertising of their new blues event, which, they said, would bring blues to the southeast, where there has never been any blues scenes or events before.  They explained blues has gotten too prissy with its ballrooms and instruction & their event was a dirty, raw, blues bomb to bar bands w/ plenty of drunken grinding & beer.  They mentioned the local swing club had told them they weren’t cool enough to hang out with since they didn’t care about the techniques of partnered dancing, just blues and enough beer to enjoy the dirty thrill of it.  To drive their point home, they’ve added a soul, modern tango, and fusion pajama party late night and a “blues ball” that pokes fun at the blues elite by “deconstructing traditional black-tie attire and replace it with an attitude that says “Hey, I’m awesome, and I know you’re jealous” man-smile.”

The other was a lindy exchange tacked onto an annual Winter Festival at a national historic site by an instructor whose scene is mostly 14-16 year old children.  She contacted me to say although she had no budget to hire me to DJ she wondered if I’d burn a CD full of my best mp3’s to play for dancers?  She’s since gotten a fife and drum processional, a bluegrass/hot trio, and put out a call landing DJ’s willing to work for free.  “Hosting” is any available hotel space not booked by visiting holiday tourists.

Honestly, I love fun as much as the next person, but seriously, this recent explosion of every single collection of 2 or more blues or lindy dancers feeling they need “to throw their own exchange to be taken seriously and make a name for themselves” is a load of crap.  When I first started DJ’ing, one of the top DJ’s on the east coast approached me after a set to say, “I owe you an apology.  I’ve heard your name for a while but never took you seriously because I heard you were from Virginia Beach and automatically assumed you sucked.”  Trust me, sometimes there are worse things in life than not having made a name for yourself.

Before deciding you need to have your name on the marquis, consider helping established organizers run respected events and find out why they don’t embellish their marketing or short change their musicians, teachers or DJ’s; also, why they confirm their logistical arrangements and are aware of what others are doing in scenes around them.

I’m sorry to wrap myself in my “blanket of elitism” but we’re fast approaching the point where we don’t need any more half-baked, poorly planned events that underwhelm but overcharge.  They do everyone a disservice and just provide unnecessary noise and distraction that cloud the water.  If you don’t have a burning passion for this that goes beyond your own ego, please leave it to those who do.

As someone who organizes smaller events, please just be honest in your advertising. I’ve danced to bands like Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five and the Boilermakers in multiple states, please don’t bill the local band who is playing borderline concert jazz as ‘one of the best swing bands you ever heard’. Don’t bill your event as a Lindy Hop event then have half the DJ set be Blues or West Coast Swing music. As a customer I take it as an insult when you attempt to mislead me and I will not attend your events or recommend them to other dancers in the future.

If you have any comments regarding this note, I encourage you to post below.

PS: Bill also has a blog that can be found at this link: http://auralmajority.blogspot.com/

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5 responses

  1. http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=146972158671105&topic=279

    An Open Letter to Bill Speidel

    November 1, 2010 at 11:42 pm

  2. What’s that commercial…you never get a second chance to make a first impression?

    November 3, 2010 at 3:32 am

  3. Angela Carpenter Gildner

    “I’ve danced to bands like Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five and the Boilermakers in multiple states,”

    Seems to be that when exchanges started they were about showing off the best that THAT CITY/REGION had to offer.

    Good music is a wonderful thing, and the bands mentioned are popular for a reason. And I love when they come to my town. On the other hand, what’s the point of traveling around to different places if you hear the same bands and the same DJs at every event? It is rather arrogant to think that just because a band isn’t one of the “in” bands they don’t provide quality music.

    Life situation means I don’t travel now. But when I do, I want to experience something different. Not just the same event over and over in a different city.

    November 16, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    • Angela, the point I was trying to get across was with the line that followed the quote you used from my post, “please don’t bill the local band who is playing borderline concert jazz as ‘one of the best swing bands you ever heard’”.

      If a local band is awesome, then by all means please bill them as ‘one of the best swing bands’. They don’t need to be a big name, they just need to be up to the expectations ones is creating by that type of advertisement. I am just referring to the situations I have heard of and in some cases experienced personally, when I have or friends have gone to events and those advertised amazing bands… were not so amazing, or in some cases playing borderline rockabilly music.

      I also agree with you on exchanges. It seems some exchanges instead of showcasing their own local talent, tries to bring as many out of town influences as possible. Which at least to me conflicts, with the classic idea of exchanges when they were started back in the way.

      November 16, 2010 at 5:01 pm

      • Angela Carpenter Gildner

        Point taken. Although really, who isn’t going to say their band is good. Advertising is, after all, advertising.

        November 16, 2010 at 5:09 pm

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