Friday, April 2, 2010

The missing ingredient

I woke up yesterday morning wishing that the music at LindyGroove were more exciting. When I say that, I mostly mean in reference to the music. Most dancers at LindyGroove, from my observations at least, appear to go and hear songs that they like. I would hope that the dancers at LindyGroove instead went to hear and dance to music that brought out some level of fire in their dancing. I long to see the dancers at LindyGroove have more than just a good time. I want to see the dance floor explode!

I had been talking with a new student the last week and he felt that the music was pretty flat.

What I almost always crave to hear and am almost always disappointed to not hear at LindyGroove is good ol' fashioned swing music. More on that later.

Then I read on Twitter that Jonathan Stout would be doing a DJ set at LindyGroove. It being April 1st, I questioned for a second and then I tweeted my own little April Fool's joke, about Jonathan Stout's all blues set. If you don't get the joke, then you should probably listen to one of Jonathan's CDs with his combo The Campus Five. Heck, apparently you can listen to their tunes from the link.

Jonathan has DJ'd at LindyGroove in the past, but for me this would be a rare treat. In fact, so many amazing swing dancers showed up for the set. Many folks who generally avoid coming to LindyGroove were out in full force. Add to that what appeared to be a large spring break bump in population and we had a crowded dance floor. It rightly kicked ass!

There was swing music on at LindyGroove and the floor wasn't decimated. I'm sure there were grumblers. Considering how often I grumble at LindyGroove, I'm sure they will get over their frustrations. Most of these dancers haven't been challenged to dance above 200 beats per minute in months. This is the kind of kick in the pants that LindyGroove needs. And it needs it a lot more often!

One new dancer told me that it was happy music. In fact later, I was so overjoyed that I hugged Lance Powell awkwardly and thanked him for bringing Jonathan back.

Jonathan pulled out his own little April Fools. As soon as I heard Wade in the Water I knew something was up. The song didn't even reach its first chorus when the scratch of a needle brought on a jam. Couples who have been working on their material and folks who just grabbed each other on the spot went in. In the past I have more often than not just ignored jams when they have happened. Something about this one just drew me in. I watched the eyes of the crowd as Minn and Angel pulled out their tricks. There was that unmistakable "wow" moment as well.

Sure, some of the dancers might have gotten a little tired. It's like going from a game of putt putt to a full game of golf, I imagine. But watching the crowd, there was definitely something in the air. Many advanced dancers might say that the crowd didn't know the difference. All I can say is that what I saw was exactly what I woke up wishing for.


On a related but separate note, I remember one New Year's Eve. I was in St. Louis with my friends Ed and Jenny from Kansas City. We had driven across Missori to find a decent dance. I noticed after a few moments that I was feeling somewhat deflated. What I found there was that there was no swing music at all. Most of what was played was blues or blues-related music.

The distinction I realized at that moment was that blues music has a downward inflection and that swing music had an upward inflection. I asked the DJ for an up song. He asked me why I wanted to hear a fast song. I explained that I didn't care if the song was slow or fast, just that it be up. I'm not sure he got it. I explained it to another dancer there that night. We found that there were plenty of fast songs that still have that down feeling. That's not what I was hoping for. I realized then and there that at least some of the music that I dance to in a night should have that upward inflection.

That upward inflection doesn't really seem to exist outside of swing music. Modern listeners and new students often don't have a context into which they can fit those sounds. It's not like being a teenager in the 30s and being surrounded by those orchestras and bands. I could go on for hours about West Coast Swing having lost that connection to swing music. This isn't meant to insult any dance or any movement in the dance. All I know is that a Lindy Hopper must in their career take the time to learn to feel swing music.


I take this advice from the late Willie Desatoff: if you want to understand swing, you should listen to Jimmie Lunceford and Chick Webb.

Please don't think that I mean that you have to only dance to the classics. I was the rebeliously diverse DJ who broke Diana Krall, the Real Group and Oscar Peterson's Night Train at the old Memories. Just know that if you don't learn real swing music then you won't learn real swing dancing.

You are now free to move about the dancefloor.

1 comment:

  1. This relates a lot to my small scene in State College, Pennsylvania. My personal feeling is many people go to my scene to just dance what they are comfortable to and not take a risk on challenging songs.

    Anything I DJ over 180 BPM usually clears the dance floor, (I try to pick killer swing songs like The Carioca, and such as well). Then I get grumbling for blues music. However I have a majority of new students compared to So Cal where there is a decent mix of experienced dancers.