Swing Dancing Without Swing Music is like…

… champagne without bubbles.

Louis Armstrong
Swing that Music

Time to return to this particular fray. I’ve been DJing swing a while now, and like many swing DJs, my ideas on what is, and isn’t acceptable to play for swing dancers have taken something of a journey.

Like many swing DJs, I’ve slowly become more and more of an advocate of old-school swing for swing dancing. Many would brand me a purist. Many do, and perhaps I am – but I know others who’d say I’m not (yet?) enough of a purist. We all have different tastes and ideas, and your mileage may vary.

In the past, when I’ve talked about this issue, I’ve been a little more laissez faire – a little more inclined to say: “Well – what I do is this, but what you do is up to you.” Right now, I’m feeling a little more forthright – in fact I’ve feeling like ranting on this subject for quite some time now – so hang on to your hats – this could get ugly. But in a fun way.

In light of this I’ll start with a confession – I don’t mean that at all. The camp I really belong to is very simple: Lindy Hop without swing music does not exist in this dojo. It might, to many, look like Lindy Hop… but Lindy Hop it isn’t, and the more you take swing music out of the equation, the further from Lindy it will go. So… time for my slightly more … forthright take on things.

 

Broken Skate
See What Can Happen?

It’s like ice-skating on concrete.

Over the years, there has been, and there probably always will be, a huge amount of debate on what you should play for Lindy Hop, Balboa, Blues and so on. The opinions vary from the “You can Lindy to anything” brigade, to the “only old scratchies will do” school of thought (actually – I don’t know any swing DJs who hold to this one, but as a group, we are sometimes labelled with that school of thought. Seriously. If it doesn’t have enough crackles, we won’t use it. Hand on heart, I can honestly say I have been accused of that)

There’s any number of other articles out there on the subject – Bobby White’s The Great Debate on his wonderful blog Swungover is an excellent example – although in that article – as mentioned in the comments section, he’s more focussed on the blurred edges around swing, where it meets Charleston, trad, ragtime and so on. I don’t think he quite covers the extremes that we sometimes get in the UK swing scene – for example entire sets of rock’n’roll or RnB, or having Gangsta’s Paradise or Abba in crop up in the middle of a swing set, or entire sets of pop music featuring songs like Love Shack. All of which I’ve experienced.

To add to the mix, there’s a huge amount of confusion as to what swing actually is – and I suppose I didn’t fully appreciate this until around eighteen months ago when I had a whole slew of conversations around the subject, where I was offered a number of opinions that I … don’t really share. Here’s a small selection:

  • Michael Bublé’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love is an old-school swing track.  Just so we’re clear: it isn’t
  • Jonathan Stout’s Six Appeal is an old ‘scratchy’.  And, yes, I’m talking about the 2004 recording. Scratchiness clearly isn’t what it used to be… 
  • Frankie Trumbauer’s astounding hard-core swing track: Troubled is “alright, but it wouldn’t make me want to triple-step” Just watch Hellzapoppin. Count the triple-steps. Need I say more?
  • Apparently I don’t play rockabilly for Lindy Hoppers because I don’t like it. Which is conceivably why I’ve never thought much about playing Schoenberg at dances- but that wouldn’t really explain why I don’t tend to play any Beethoven.
  • Lots of pop music really swings, and playing huge swathes of it for swing dancers is adventurous and daring. OK – so if I was daring enough to try that at Herrang, I’d probably be deported, but I’m not sure that’s quite what was meant…
  • The backbeat is a key part of swing. Except that the very early examples of backbeat (commonly associated with Early RnB and Rock ‘n Roll are generally cited around 1938, which is around eight years after the beginning of the Swing Era. So… possibly not.

So to quickly recap, we have a couple of problems here: one, the perception that you don’t need swing for swing dancing, and two – the confusion about what exactly swing is. This article aims to address the former – the latter is a much, much longer and harder discussion. There’s a talk I give on that subject which takes around an hour and a half – so while I’ll probably tackle it at some point in this blog, I’ll leave it alone for now.

It’s like a lion without its roar.

In the beginning, was the music. No… wait… in the beginning was the dance. Actuallycome to think – in the beginning there was rhythm. And dance. OK – as a bonus for reading this bit – how do you make a duck play jazz? Put it in the oven ’till its bill withers….

There you have it. Swing music and swing dance evolved together. Most bands in those days were dance bands – and dance was everywhere – one of the main forms of entertainment. So the music evolved dance forms to match it… and the dance forms affected the music. Bands played for dancers. Yes, I’m over-simplifying this, and yes, there were many other factors, but this relationship was key. Lindy was born from the music, and it arose at an incredible period in musical history when a huge creative explosion was going on. It evolved with the music, it affected the music, and it had swing rhythms and swing music at its absolute core. That gives the dance its look, its feeling, its absolute foundations.

With different music, you get a different dance. As a friend of mine recently remarked, in the end, the music will win out. Especially if it’s recorded – most bands are better at adapting to dancers than your average CD. In theory.

I’ve heard it said a few times that the dance surely needs to evolve, get with the times, adapt to the modern world… and in some ways I wish it could. To understand why it didn’t, let’s look at a couple of other dances: so let’s look first at Exhibit A: Argentine Tango.

Radically different appearances aside, Tango has a lot in common with Lindy – both highly connection based, both incredibly musical – and both had the shared origins and evolution with their music. The key difference is that Argentine Tango never stopped. They never stopped dancing it, the bands never stopped playing it, they never stopped composing new tango music. It changed, it evolved, and the dance has changed and evolved with it – I once saw a great demo of tango through the ages, where the dancers were explaining those changes, and how that evolution of the music affected the dance and changed the way it was performed. The dance has kept that relationship with the music throughout, and all that amazing richness and depth that goes with it.

Swing music, on the other hand, did, in the main, stop – or – at least – the relationship with dancers came to an end. The reasons are many, and beyond the scope of this article, but it split into three main directions:

  • Bebop – the start of modern jazz, and a musical form that is more inward – more for the musicians, and lacking that extroverted accessible exuberance that typified old-school swing.
  • Crooner music – Sinatra’s era – where the music was about the singer, less about the music.
  • Jump Blues / Boogie / Rock and Roll – which kept the extroverted energy, but began to simplify the rhythms, began to lose the rich complexity that characterised much of the best swing. Still very dancer-friendly, but not swing-dancer-friendly. Not Lindy friendly. Not Balboa-friendly. Different rhythms, for a different set of dances with a different feel.

Of course – in practise, it wasn’t nearly this cut and dried, and many of the great songs we love dancing to have elements of all some or all these various directions (and a lot more) – but in the main, the swing bands petered out, or moved on. The dance scene changed, and we lost that continuity of music, and that evolution of dance and music together that tango managed to retain. Which is why modern swing DJs spend so long ferreting around extremely old sources of music looking for buried treasure – pickings are comparatively slim amongst modern bands. Not, I hasten to add, non-existent, but please focus on modern swing bands. Bands who really understand the genre. Neo swing need not apply.

I’m not saying never ever play non-swing. Just that you need to establish a baseline, and keep it at the core of everything – keep non-swing as the exception, not the norm.

It’s like a bicycle without its tyres.

In case you doubt me on that score, it’s probably time to wheel out Exhibit B: West Coast Swing (often known as WCS). For those who don’t know about this dance, well, it began simply as a variation of Lindy, and developed its own identity from there. Nowadays, it’s danced to a wide variety of music including R&B, hiphop, pop… pretty much anything, so far as I can see – possibly except for anything actually swing-related). There’s a lot of good things to say about WCS. The top top dancers have a phenomenal level of skill and polish, it’s a highly musical dance, and, in fact, there’s been a lot of two-way cross-pollination of moves and techniques between the two dances – the sugar push, for example, comes from WCS.

I don’t actually like it much but that’s just personal preference.

Anyway – in a nutshell, it was once Lindy, diverged, started being danced to entirely different music, lost the swing, and now looks like this:

The music has indeed won out…. and love it or hate it, what you see there no longer bears any resemblance to Lindy. It’s a different dance – and that’s what’s going to happen, long-term, to Lindy if you remove the swing music element from the equation – it’s only a matter of time. We already have West Coast Swing – we don’t need to re-invent it.

I confess I do have a small bone to pick with the WCS scene, but it is one that is relevant – and it’s in their use of the word swing. ‘Swing dance’ is WCS. ‘Swing DJs’ are play music for WCS. ‘Swing music’ is music suitable for modern-day WCS. No, no no no no. The music defines the dance – the dance does not define the music. Lindy Hop is danced to swing music – the music isn’t swing because we try to dance Lindy to it. In my book, that’s an important distinction.

Alcohol Free Vodka
Something’s Not Right

It’s like alcohol-free vodka.

Vodka, sad to say, is not my friend, despite my long-ago youthful attempts to win it over. But I digress…

A question that I found myself asking in the early days, when our scene was young, was simply: should we play more “accessible” music, at least to start with, to get new members, and gradually acclimitise them to what can be, in all truth, an acquired taste? Which swing, like so many forms of music, certainly can be. When I posed that question to experienced DJs who had watched scenes develop, the message was unanimous – start as you mean to go on, because you will go on as you start. If you take the “start accessible” route, where do you stop it? How do you ease people into “proper” swing, especially when you have, as most scenes do, a rolling membership?

Far better to show people from the outset what you’re about – and what the dance is about, and do it right from the start. The flip-side of the coin is that what you play influences you– influences the way you dance, and influences what you like dancing to. You become what you play? Could well be….

PreviewIt’s like a joke without the punchline.

Herrang has a cool music policy, with similar versions implemented in swing dance camps worldwide, including our own DJam: they aim to create a “swing bubble”, and to keep people in that bubble for their entire time at the camp. I love this, because it puts you in that headspace where you’re living and breathing those rhythms night and day. While they are extremely particular about the music at Herrang, I don’t believe they do this purely out of musical snobbery – it’s done because of the way it affects everyone’s dancing, because a week of being in the swing bubble gets that music into your head the way little else can. I think it was my first visit to Herrang that really cemented my love of the music – I came back with so many mind-blowing tunes and rhythms echoing through my head, and that was the trigger for me to start collecting it in earnest.

The music changes you. It’s certainly changed me – while I still enjoy all the music that I used to in the days before I started listening to swing, nothing has quite the same impact or sense of excitement. This is really a topic for another post, but I feel that there has never been, before or since, been a genre of music to equal swing – nothing that has managed quite quite that level of rhythmic and melodic sophistication, and yet managed to remain so accessible to so many people… and perhaps most importantly, one that has been aimed so squarely at dancers.

Or a punchline without its joke.

Sometimes when I have this debate with people, they say: “Of course you can dance to non-swing music!”. They’re right. Of course you can, and most people do – what I’m saying is that you can’t swing  dance without swing music (sorry, WCS folk, but you need a new word. To quote a well-known Spanish swordsman – I do not think it means what you think it means.)

One of the talks I went to a few years ago about the old-time dance scene mentioned the Lindy Hoppers’ habit of stealing dance moves from … pretty much everywhere, with special emphasis on Charleston. The speaker made the point that although we refer to it as Charleston, an old-time Charleston dancer looking at an old-time Lindy Hopper dancing their Charleston moves would not have called it Charleston – they’d have said it was Lindy. Because the music was different, the feel was different, the timing was different… similar moves, different dance. So it is with Lindy – you can use a lot of Lindy moves and techniques to dance to a lot of different music, but the feel changes. It becomes different – otherwise you’re trying to shoehorn one feel into another, which is a lot less fun. I tried dancing Balboa to Thriller once. It was … memorable, but I wouldn’t dare to call it Balboa.

So DJs, scene leaders, organisers, dancers… keep the swing music at the core of your dance. Believe me – you’ll be very glad you did.

 

21 Comments

  1. Gillian said:

    Amen to that!

    Jun 28th, 2014
    Reply
  2. Balboaguy said:

    If you’re a swing dancer or a lover of swing music, this will stir your soul. Sorry if this is a comment rather than a reply but it needed saying. Good work.

    Jun 30th, 2014
    Reply
  3. Firstly amen! secondly, Sylvia Sykes has mentioned petitioning them to rename it ‘Contemporary West Coast’ as, there’s literally *no* Swing music at *any* WCS nights Ive been to (& it’s a decent number). Nothing wrong with dancing to any music you want to, but I completely agree that the stylistic distinction should be made and held by scene leaders & a Swing night (Lindy / Balboa etc) should predominantly be from the swing era, or later material retaining the syncopation & characteristics that define it (I personally don’t mind plenty of Neo Swing for example), who doesn’t enjoy dancing to Gordon Webster et al? Perfectly suited to our needs as Lindy hoppers.
    Thirdly, I love a good Fusion dance as much as the next gal… Pictures what Bal Id do to Thriller… Yep, it could have ‘elements’ of related steps but definitely wouldn’t be Bal. (Love and excuse Mickey & Kelly using Rage Against the Machine or whichever band in their mad performance, as it was for a cabaret)
    Nice one Andy

    Jun 30th, 2014
    Reply
  4. damnation333 said:

    Don’t take everything as 100% in this article. Sugar push comes from WCS? Have you actually watched any of the old clips?!?!

    Jun 30th, 2014
    Reply
    • charles wyler said:

      I don’t understand how someone in this day and age could think that the sugar push comes from WCS. I thought we had done away with that unfortunate misconception of the facts some 15 years ago.

      Jul 1st, 2014
      Reply
      • Andy said:

        Oh – we’re quite behind the times in the UK. My next door neighbour still thinks it’s a cake decoration technique.

        Jul 1st, 2014
        Reply
        • damnation333 said:

          Well, some of the people in the UK.
          I live in the UK myself….

          Jul 1st, 2014
          Reply
          • Andy said:

            🙂
            Seriously though – that’s the version I had from people more knowledgable than myself, and a quick google fact-check confirmed it as I was writing (yeah yeah – I know the internet is hardly infallible, but it’s the only one we’ve got). If I’ve got this minor point wrong, I’m very happy to stand corrected – so if you can point me at early Lindy examples of the move, that would be great, or an account of it’s invention, that would be fantastic.

            Jul 2nd, 2014
          • damnation333 said:

            Check out this video:
            the clip from buckprivates (first one): Dean does his Dean Collins wrap and finished with a sugarpush.
            The clip from Chool song (they look like Mozart): 2 Sugarpushes and then they go into a Dean’s wrap again…
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFWh7HTCy0g

            WCS originated on the West Coast. And all the Lindy dancing down/over there is based on Dean Collin’s smooth style. Over the years (late 50s, 60s, 70s) the dancers changed their dancing to fit the music better or they just changed the style of it. WCS now looks different to Lindy, but moves like the whip and sugarpush obviously made their way into WCS.
            If you look at WCS clips from the 80s you can still see the Lindy in it, but now these days it has evolved so much, it is less clear.

            Jul 4th, 2014
  5. Jennifer Reed said:

    In defense of the Westies, 15-20 years ago West Coast was danced to swing music. You can find videos where people are competing to music that swings, even some of the same songs you can Lindy to. If you stay up late enough at events, you can still catch a DJ playing a swing number or two, or maybe some blues. Unfortunately, it’s not that dance anymore. I drop the “swing” and call it West Coast, because, I, too, am a purist. 😉 I appreciate it for what it is today, and these same conversations go on in the West Coast community as well.

    Jun 30th, 2014
    Reply
  6. Labels now there is a topic! Technically Lindbergh Hop and Shag are both pre-swing jazz based evolutions. Lindy & Shag continued to evolve into the Swing era, but only Lindy survived through the big band era and even then still into the bebop and rock’n roll era before moving into R&B, soul, funk, and disco, and finally into the pop era. Each of those periods of evolution and their offspring are traceable.

    I am a HUGE fan of swing era dance and music, but I also believe in respecting forms that came before and after as contributing to the collective dance culture. I like to simply be specific when I discuss swing era dance and music. I should also state, I completely agree with the premise of this article, however, I feel that it would be difficult to get a collective community to agree to such a small window of music and stylization as the other fractions of similar evolution lack significant numbers to survive independently. We will I feel always have rock’n roll and bop dancers who want music from that period played. How do we condone playing pre-Swing jazz, but not post swing bop and R&B? It’s a slippery slope and one that I believe will most likely never have and end as music continues to expand and evolve as well as dance.

    I postulate this question: Hustle evolved from a fusion of Latin and Swing based dance movements in the early 1970’s and evolved rapidly through the next decade along with the music. Many of the originators of Hustle are still alive and dancing at a fairly skilled level today. They dance to quite a variety of music from classic disco, pop, and even house music. My point is based on your argument are we to conclude then that the very people that created the Hustle who now dance to dubstep techno songs are no longer dancing Hustle? I assure you they would strongly disagree and only say they are not dancing to disco music but still dancing hustle. In essence it comes down to a game of semantics. There is a genre of musical evolution called swing and dances evolved to them that we refer to as swing era dances i.e. swing dances.

    Let’s draw from one of your own examples and let me expand on it to illustrate how this phenomenon is not strictly limited to our dance culture. In the Tango subculture you have a separate but related dance named Milonga, To socially dance Tango you go to a dance event called a Milonga, and there is a musical style named Milonga to which the dance of the same name evolved, but a Milonguero is someone who is a hobby social dancer of Tango. See clear as mud, lol!
    Also, the Argentinian Tango subculture is deeply divided over Tango Nuevo music and dance evolution as well as Electro-Tango music as well. This battle is near parallel to ours.

    I simply refer to WCS as contemporary or modern WCS to create a distinction between that and it’s vintage Lindy form pre-disco.

    In the end I think for the educated it should simply be about stating exactly what we are doing and from what era and playing appropriate music, if it is of an earlier vintage.Can it be done to other music sure, is it the same…ehh, not really. Do I need to limit musical selections at a local dance a little, but with plenty of exceptions. However, at a larger event that draws in people who are specialists in a particular vintage….ABSOLUTELY!

    Again I’m a social dance historian who firmly believes in dancing period dancing to period music, but I also concede that we are facing a huge battle in that, in such a huge span of time many evolutions co-exist without the base for individual events to support them. I like the idea of being honest and forthright about what is and isn’t and still respecting/appreciating other forms and periods of evolutions contributions. Just remember during the swing era the bands were dance bands that played at dance halls for an array of dancers with an variety of tempos and even rhythms. It was quite common to have a LARGE amount of Fox Trot both slow and fast as well as an occasional Rumba, Waltz, and Tango thrown in, so lets not get to high and mighty lest we have to face the fact that we are not exactly purist either 😉

    P.S. it’s super late, so I apologize for the many typo which are sure to be present in this righting.

    Sincerely, Forrest Outman

    Jul 1st, 2014
    Reply
    • damnation333 said:

      Great reply Forrest (always like your posts in the Coll Shag Community group).
      I especially want to highlight the point you are making in your last paragraph that in the old days the dance bands played a variety of musical styles (fast, slow, latin, swing, ballroomy…) and people back then knew their Waltz, Foxtrot, Jitterbug to accomodate to the music and interact with the musicians reactively.
      Today it seems we have lost this ability and the whole story is switched around. There is many events where every single song is of a certain style at 150BPM. Now the dancer is not reactive to the musicians/music, but just plays himself/herself the music he/she likes and can dance to.
      And this development can actually be bad for one as a dancer. How many people have gotten better at Lindy by learning Bal-Swing?? Imagine you learned the framing of ballroom dancing… You’d become one find Lindy hopper and general dancer!

      Jul 1st, 2014
      Reply
  7. Sometimes, I think we think about this stuff WAY too hard.

    I’ll be honest — and go ahead and flame away at me and how I’m one of the ones ruining the dance — but if it was all pure, old-school swing music played at the venues when I started back in 2001, I probably never would have gotten bored and not stuck with it. Instead, I’m dancing 13 years later, and honestly, I still get bored the nights that I hear nothing but “old scratchies.”

    You say that the shift to jump blues / boogie / rock and roll, “kept the extroverted energy but simplif[ied] the rhythms” and “began to lose the rich complexity that characterised much of the best swing.” The problem is, you downplay the energy and play up the complexity. When I, and a lot of the public that isn’t in the upper echelon of dancers and musicians, go dancing, the energy is much more important than the complexity. And, if anything, the complexity probably makes it harder to appreciate and enjoy.

    I never went dancing in an effort to supplement a Music Composition course. I went dancing to have drinks, meet women and enjoy myself, and the energy was more important than some level of musical complexity. And, honestly, because of that energy, a lot of that early rock stuff is what I consider to be my favorite music. So I adapt some swing tools to that music. Heck, you can find video of folks doing a variation of Lindy to Bill Haley & The Comets. It’s not Hellzapoppin’, but it also looks a lot more like how I and anyone else who isn’t a professional dancer, and just wants to do this as a hobby, dances. How is it that I’m not just choosing to honor a different era or, [GASP!], just enjoying myself?

    I guess I look at it this way: Let’s say you’re running a bar and you can only offer the finest wine OR Miller Lite. I’m sure there are plenty of subtle nuances that make the fine wine better, and even among fans of wine, there are those who will perhaps truly appreciate the fact you serve only the finest. But the vast majority of the public is OK with Miller Lite and might even get frustrated with the fine wine because they don’t know what makes it all that much better than Miller Lite such that they have to take a wine appreciation class to truly enjoy it. Also, serve Miller Lite and you’re more apt to get more folks into the bar, which then makes it a more appealing place for others to go because more people are there. One thing I try to remember — social dance is supposed to be social.

    I have an appreciation for fine wine, but the majority of the time, I like my Miller Lite. I have an appreciation for truly great jazz, but for most dance venues, I don’t want to think that hard and I just want to dance to songs that are fun & I know. Force me to become a wine critic every song, every week, and I’d rather stay home and watch baseball.

    Social dance was at its most popular when it was its most accessible. I don’t feel like making it more complicated is making it more popular — better at the highest levels, yes, but not more popular or noticed.

    Jul 1st, 2014
    Reply
    • Andy said:

      You see – I’m the other way. I started dancing to pop, rockabilly, rock’n’roll and the like… and I doubt I’d still be dancing if I hadn’t been persuaded to try Lindy – and the music was the trigger. Swing music combined an extremely complex and rich form of music with a very high degree of accessibility, with the result that it achieved a popularity enjoyed by very few forms of music of that depth before or since. In other words – it’s complicated, but still has the energy, and you still want to hum it (and dance to it)

      Which is why – when interpreted by a very good and very musical dancer, the sky is the limit. Dance it to Bill Haley, and you have to dumb it down… and I don’t want to do that. There are other dances suitable for Mr Haley. I want to keep Lindy where I feel it belongs.

      As far as wine goes – when I was a student, and only drank cheap wine, I was happy with it. When I first started drinking good wine, the cheap stuff lost its allure. So with swing. There’s no trade-off in energy – the best high-energy swing and jazz easily equals the energy in just about anything else – and still manages to offer more.

      Jul 2nd, 2014
      Reply
      • You keep saying “dumb it down” as if swing is somehow this great philosophical pursuit. I do complicated database work during the day. The last thing I want is to have to think that hard when I go out socially.

        I also don’t aspire to be a very good and very musical dancer. I feel like when we insist on that level of quality, we really narrow the field of folks who can enjoy and have fun with dance. I just aspire to have fun.

        We’ve taken this thing that was so popular and enjoyed by many in the early 2000’s and seemingly said, “We don’t want all those folks involved, we’d rather be elitists and only cater to the best and most musical.” And we wonder why social venues are having more and more trouble surviving.

        Jul 10th, 2014
        Reply
        • Andy said:

          @Dan – The funny thing about great swing music is that it can have an amazing amount of complexity and sophistication which the advanced dancer can use, while remaining extremely accessibly to newcomers – assuming a DJ chooses songs well. I don’t believe that accessibility and great swing are in any way mutually exclusive. On the job front – the same applies to myself, and a lot of dancers I know. That’s one of the reasons it’s so great to get to a dance with amazing music – I don’t have to *think*. I just feel, and let the music take over. We often try to analyze and over-complicate things – which just gets in the way… but the feeling has to be there in the music, or it doesn’t work.

          I’m curious about the declining social venues you mention – all the ones I know are growing. Where do you dance?

          Jul 23rd, 2014
          Reply
  8. Brian McDaniel said:

    While I agree with a lot of the premises, I don’t agree with the conclusion.

    Yes, music is generally better for dancing if it was made for dancing, and better for a particular type of dancing if it was made for that type of dancing. But (1) by focusing so much on this particular aspect, I think you miss a lot of nuance, and (2) why presume that we should DJ the most “Lindy-suitable” dances, anyway.

    1. The fit between the music and dance is a lot more nuanced. We don’t necessarily dance the same way that the lindyhoppers did in the 30s/40s: different moves, different shoes, different floors … not to mention different levels of physical fitness and skill at dancing. Moreover, the (recorded) music we have from that period is not the same as was actually danced to: limitations on recording technology means that low instruments such as the bass could not be picked up, and strongly percussive instruments were often excluded or muffled in order to protect the delicate membranes of early microphones or recording styluses. This has a huge impact on the perception of the beat in the music. Finally, we are different people, with a different musical background. A modern dancer may have a much better lindyhop dance to a non-lindy song like Nat King Cole’s “Route 66,” Van Morrison’s “Moondance” or Buster Poindexter’s “Hit The Road Jack” because they know and can feel the choruses and breaks in these more well-known songs.

    2. But more importantly, as a general principle, if people want to dance non-Lindy style, why not cater to them? While its fine for some places like Herrang to limit their focus to a particular time and style of music, that doens’t mean we all should. The original Cotton Club didn’t limit itself to lindy-appropriate music. It also played (and the lindyhoppers danced to) “sweet” band music, latin numbers, and foxtrots. Its entirely appropriate to dance jump blues, rockabilly, shag and slow drag, as well as charleston and balboa (not to mention R&B and country swing). While not all of these are lindy dances, they are all swing dances, and appropriate at swing events.

    For what its worth, I’ve been dancing lindy for 17 years – longer than the swing era existed historically! – and DJ’ing for 6.

    Jul 2nd, 2014
    Reply
    • Andy said:

      Well – for me, as regards your second point – we run Lindy / Balboa / Blues events. So at such an event, I’ll play the appropriate music. Sure – the Savoy, or the other clubs in the day played all sorts of music, but their audiences knew a lot more dances. The problem we have is that most of us don’t know many, and as someone said on another forum – if all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. If all someone knows is Lindy, the tendency is to dance it to any kind of music, seemingly suitable or not. This isn’t wrong. It isn’t bad. I do it as much as the rest. But if we teach people to Lindy to music that doesn’t fit it, when danced by more musical dancers, the dance will change to fit these new music types. In my opinion, at that point, we’ll have lost something very special.

      Jul 2nd, 2014
      Reply
  9. I agree with the comments about the dance vocabulary of many of the ‘old timers’ being probably wider than ones ‘average’ hopper these days. I hear songs at my local Lindy night that ‘traditionally’ would have been a foxtrot for example, but literally no one dances that – either because they can’t or don’t even realise, and it think it’s generally the latter, and that’s what I *think* Andy is driving at: that the DJs and scene leaders need to chose songs carefully so as not to confuse newbies, but we know we also bring them in, which echoes the inclusivity comments as well. Eg I think we do need to ‘stay relevant’ / find well balanced music so beginners can ‘hear the beat’ etc, but also, ‘anything old’ eg Ratpack isn’t, to my mind, ideal for training our newer dancers well, despite it being ‘old music that swings’

    Jul 2nd, 2014
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  10. John Bedrosian said:

    Great article; I wish you would talk to the “traditional jazz” musicians and people that like this style and tell them it doesn’t swing. Thank you!

    Mar 31st, 2015
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