Swing vs Non-Swing. About that…

Welcome to one of the much debated topics in today’s Lindy communities – what should we play for Lindy? Or, for that matter, for swing dancing in general? Swing? Or should we include different genres in the mix? If so, how different? Boogie? Trad Jazz? Surely there’s a lot of modern pop songs that work wonderfully for Lindy?

I’m inspired to write this having come back from a weekend event where the music was predominantly non-swing. We had modern pop songs, rock and roll, blues, soul – you name it – and while we enjoyed the weekend a great deal, it was down to the people, not down to the music. Don’t mistake me – it was good music. It just wasn’t good Lindy music.

This is an opinion piece, so I’ll make mine clear from the start – what I play very much centers around old-school swing. I do stray from that a fair bit, but I prefer not to stray too far. So this article is really my attempt to explain why.

I don’t plan to get bogged down with a definition of swing in this article – that’s another endless debate, and gets us onto the distinctions between swing, boogie, trad, jump blues et al, and the various crossovers and bits of line-blurring between them all. In the end, when deciding whether to use a track, rather than try to define things, I usually just throw up my hands and say “but do I want to swing out to it?” Which usually settles whether a track makes it into my collection.

So my goals for this post are to explain why I would rather dance to Chick Webb, Benny Goodman, Fats Waller et al, Campus Five (yes, some modern bands really do swing) than Christina’s Candyman, to Caro Emerald’s That Man, to electro ‘swing’ or even to some of the better neo-swing bands like Indigo Swing – and, perhaps more importantly, why I feel it’s important for a scene to stick closer to the dance’s musical roots rather than to go wild looking for non-swing songs that you can dance Lindy to.

It’s worth mentioning as well that it’s nothing to do with remaining ‘authentic’ to the period Lindy hales from, preferring to play music that ‘sounds old’ (yes – I’ve heard that assumption a few times) It’s also worth mentioning that I very much enjoy listening to songs like That Man or Candyman – it’s not that I don’t like modern music. Far from it.

There’s a conversation that I’ve had a few times now, each time with a dancer/dj, where they stated that they used to happily dance to all kinds of music in their home scenes… but as time went on, especially with exposure to some of the higher-level dance camps (where a strict diet of swing tends to be the norm), they began to realise that so many of the modern songs that they’d previous enjoyed really didn’t work – and they started wondering why these songs kept being played. A lot of us have been on the same journey.

It’s about fun. Lindy gives us an incredible toolkit for dancing to, and expressing swing music. And the best swing music gives us an incredible richness, rhythms and depth that most modern songs simply can’t touch. To me, dancing Lindy to the wrong kind of music doesn’t really happen – it may use a lot of the same techniques and moves a Lindy, but it feels like a different dance. Once I became used to dancing to swing, nothing else could compare… but I would never have become used to it, and learned to appreciate it the way I do, if it wasn’t the main kind of music played where I danced. It’s a bit of a catch 22.

Which really brings me to my main point. If most of the music played at a venue is not swing, people will not learn to appreciate, enjoy, and dance to swing, they will not get the most out of the dance…. and I believe they will be missing out.

I’ll close this with by pointing at a favourite YouTube clip – Dax and Emily basically playing around with footwork for a whole track, in wonderful and magical ways. Try doing that to Candyman…

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