Inspiration and DJing for newbies

Just when I was thinking that Melbourne’s social lindy hop scene is on the slide (see this entry), it jumps back up and takes me by surprise. First there was the good fun vibe of the Easter Hop, which seems to keep on keeping on from year to year. Then last Sunday’s Cairo Club performance, which packed a very meaty punch for a lot of us, and has been a source of energy for a lot of the CRR crew since. Then last night we headed to CBD and there was a nice crowd that included a few from interstate and overseas. I can’t say the music grabbed me much, but I did enjoy quite a few nice dances. And tonight was one of the best vibes at the Fun Pit for me for a long time. There were heaps of people and it didn’t seem at all too dominated by cliques (an inevitable but frustrating part of any swing scene). The super-friendly Tim approached me and asked if I would mind DJing there next time. I chose the late set because I always favour DJing to the hardcore and experienced swingers. I admit to opting for the easier option. It’s just that my own tastes have moved on from the days when I was starting out.

Actually, tonight Doz and I had an interesting conversation about what to choose for less experienced dancers. Conventional wisdom still says that the best stuff for this crew is neo swing and (sometimes) R&B, because a). they are more ‘mainstream’ than vintage artists and b). their rhythm lines are easier to follow. My own theories about the topic were once sort of along those lines, but have become more developed these days. As I have begun to think more about swing music, it seems like I’ve started to understand the way the original swing bands actually worked, as well as typical swing themes and structures. I guess teaching beginner classes for about 6 years now has also given me a handy touchstone as far as appropriate music for inexperienced dancers. The truth is, it’s not necessary to make a choice between good vintage music and music that new dancers can enjoy dancing to. You just need to know what the elements of the right music are.

First, I look for stuff with a good strong bassline. Walking bass tracks are good (My Baby Just Cares For Me is a classic example). Obviously other parts of the rhythm section come into it as well, such as rhythm guitar, piano, and particularly cymbals. But more often than not you want to be dancing on the bass. It probably sounds extremely obvious, but it’s much easier for people to get the idea of a swinging rhythm (meaning a rhythm that is 4/4 with the emphasis on the even counts) if you have tracks that have an easily heard rhythm section. Next, I look for songs with good strong themes. It’s dead easy to pick up the start of a bar or phrase if you have a repeated section of music to go on. This is one reason I don’t favour playing a lot of R&B or standard 12-bar blues — the blues structure has themes that are not at all like typical swing themes and can catch people off guard. They’re definitely going to be familiar with blues structures and swing structures whether they know it or not, but when you mix the two together a lot at a time when they are trying desperately to get a feel for some of the essentials, it does tend to confuse people a bit. So I stick to mostly AABA song structures for beginners.

Finally, I don’t push the tempo up too high for less experienced dancers. Another easy one. Wow, all of this took a lot longer to type than it did for Doz and I to talk about tonight. Anyway, it may be helpful to somebody somewhere out there, or I may come back to this and write some more at a later stage.

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