A Site About Dancing

How to Play for Dancing for Musicians and DJs

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 Top Hits of the '50s — How to DRESS, Find A PARTNER for Dancing — FollowersIt's TOO LOUD! 

Excellent. It's surprising that this insight
is not widespread common knowledge
— Avid Dancer

… very informative and interesting. Although I have successfully
played dance music … for over forty years one can always learn
— Leader

fantastic! thanks … now if we can just get band leaders to read it! — Califa

“dance music” we used to play? I'm embarassed to think about it! — Benj

Great info … to share with local DJs … useful … performers … pay attention! — B.Y. Ayers

HOW TO PLAY FOR
(West Coast Swing and most other)
DANCERS

Thanks to
Mike Corbett, Tegan Mulholland, Mark E. J. Newman, L. Perez, and Bob Wheatley
for their help and advice.

Revised from what was written in 1992 for NiteCry in preparation for its first dance gig.

There are two kinds of gigs: Dance and Concert.
   At a concert gig, if you want to play a number at 180 Beats Per Minute (BPM) for twenty minutes, wail on! But at a dance gig, your first consideration should be us dancers and our needs. Although this is primarily about West Coast Swing dances, much is also applicable to any type of dance gig.

MUSIC: West Coast Swing is danced to Swing dance music, of course, but preferably to Blues, Rhythm & Blues, and Rock 'n' Roll.

MELODIES: We've heard all the classics countless times. No reason why you shouldn't play them, too. But we'd also enjoy hearing your own compositions or charts of familiar tunes. Please note that this paragraph is headed “Melodies” not “Medleys”.

TEMPI: Because West Coast Swing is not done to very fast music please vary your numbers between about 82 and 142 BPM with a median range of 112-120 BPM, avoiding consecutive numbers around the same tempo.
   During  each  set, you  should  also  play  at  least  one  ChaCha  and  one  Hustle. During  an  evening, you  should  play  something  suitable  for  dances  such  as  FoxTrot  and  NightClub
… I don't want to hear 6 songs in a row at the same tempo — Mike Corbett

TwoStep and something suitable for dances such as East Coast Swing (around 170 BPM), Lindy Hop (160-180 BPM), Cowboy TwoStep and QuickStep (up to about 200 BPM), and Jitterbug (up to about 240 BPM).

LENGTH: Most numbers should be about three, none longer than four, minutes. The easiest way to control length is to play no more than 96 bars per number or either avoid solos or have no more than one solo during a number.
………The greater the tempo, the lesser the length should be; the fastest numbers shorter than two minutes. And, please, when you get to the end of a number, stop playing it!
………Length is extremely important for several reasons:
………We're engaged in a somewhat strenuous physical activity and we get tired;
………The levels of dancing skill vary widely. If we're stuck with a partner who can't dance well, we don't want to be in that uncomfortable position for a long time or impose ourselves upon dancers who are much better than we;
………We don't want to stop dancing before the music ends for fear of offending either the musicians or our partner. Pride makes us reluctant to admit being tired even though our partners always know when we are;
………We know only so much. When we dance a step for the third time, it means we're running out of things to do and that's probably because the number's gone on too long. When we do a step for the fourth time, boredom begins to set in. We do not want to leave our partner with the impression that we had a boring dance but that can happen through no fault of our own.
………Most of us like to dance with many partners. The longer the numbers, the fewer partners we can have. This can create a serious problem when there's a significant gender imbalance denying those who went to the dance to dance, but aren't for lack of a partner, the opportunity to dance to another number.

SEGUEING: Please allow more time than needed to mark breaks between numbers but a tad less time than what it takes to lose the dancers' interest. If it's a “hard hit” ending, a break of 3-5
… It's useful to have at least a few seconds between songs — James Marshall

seconds would be about right; if it's a fade ending, a lesser break would probably work well for us dancers. Segueing is no different from playing long numbers or
medleys. Don't do it! There must be a clear separation of numbers.

ENDINGS: When you get to the end of a number please stop playing it! We don't want to hear someone's improvisation on the chart after its obvious end.
   Please end numbers on beat. Please do not fade away or have great variance in timing of the ending. Many dancers like to end a dance with a corté or dip or some sort of special step. If your ending isn't where the logic of the music says it should be, they look ridiculous or, at the very least, wrong. It's helpful, but not imperative to hear the end coming.

MIXERS: There's often a Mixer when people change partners at a signal. Sometimes it's the blowing of a whistle or ringing of a bell. Sometimes it's stopping the music, the worst way of doing it. The last change of partners is usually indicated by the person calling the changes.
   A mixer should be about 114-124 BPM and can last as long as you wish. They're a good time for solos. Drum solos, unless the beat is clearly maintained for the dancers, are not welcome.
Medleys, 'though not welcome, are a bit less offensive during Mixers.

VOLUME: Our dances are very social events with much conversing. High volume is not welcome. If you have to wear ear plugs, we can't talk to each other. On the other hand, we have to hear you. When in doubt, opt for low, rather than high, volume (please see It's TOO LOUD!)

JAMS are rare but, when they happen, they're a lot of fun for the musicians as well as the dancers.
   A circle forms into which individual couples jump to do their thing. They usually happen at the higher tempi (140-166BPM) and are accompanied by much shouting, laughter, and hand clapping. If you see one going down, whatever you do, don't stop playing until the Jam dies down. An impromptu Jam is perhaps the highest compliment to the musicians and the music dancers can give. Take advantage of it, even unleashing the drummer providing a beat is maintained for the dancers; wail and enjoy it. Jams are fun for everyone.

DANCES:In addition to Swing, you should play one non-cornball ChaCha (accented on 4&1 rather than 3&4) and one NiteClub TwoStep each set. You should also have at the ready, in case
of a request, a Mambo/Salsa, a Rumba, and a Tango. The next to last number of the night should

Dancers applaud music with every part of their body — David F. Cox

should be a moderate-tempo Waltz. “Kansas City”, considered by many to be The Swing Dancers' Anthem, would be a good closing number. If you have a signature closing number, “Kansas City” is a good choice for the close of the penultimate set.
   Any dance rhythm other than the primary focus of the dance is a novelty number. At a Swing dance, a Waltz is a novelty. At a Latin dance, a FoxTrot is a novelty. At a Hustle dance, a QuickStep is a novelty. Never play a novelty dance unless it's preceded and followed by no fewer than two of the focus dance. At a “variety” dance, alternate music for open dances (such as Swing and ChaCha) with closed ones such as Waltz and Rumba.

PARTICIPATION: If fewer than half of the dancers are on the floor for an other-than-specialty number, unless they're partaking of someone's celebratory snack, there's something wrong. Cut it short! If dancers start leaving the floor for no apparent reason, there's something wrong. Cut it short!
   A floor full of dancers does not necessarily mean they're happy. Dancers go to dances to dance. Were you to ignore everything said here, they'd still fill the floor.

ENTERTAINMENT: We want to be entertained by your dance music, not you. Yes, of course, we want you to introduce your musicians and tell us about the recordings you've brought for us to buy and even about your upcoming gigs. But long verbal and/or musical introductions to numbers are unwelcome as are extended jokes or commentaries (unless you're telling us how wonderful we are).

CAVEAT: Dancers don't applaud much. Please don't let that bad behaviour bother you because most gigs have recorded music.
   Many dancers consider the music, whether recorded or on stage, to be a tool little different from dance shoes, an outfit into which to change when the first gets soaked with sweat, deodorant, mouthwash, or fans. Between numbers, dancers are concerned about thanking their most recent partner and finding another. You might not get much applause. It means nothing. If you do, however, it means a great deal.
Helpfully,
Icono Clast
NOTE: This is written in pixels, not stone.
You are welcome to suggest additions or changes.

Comments from the FaceBook Group Westie Discussion of the Day
What’s the future of blues music in West Coast Swing?
Jon Moody: Blues music is the best for WCS
SwingCha: The very essence of Swing dance music.
   As Rabbi Hillel said: “All else is commentary.”

Terry Rippa: Play it all … damn the genre and play the cycle from slow to fast, then repeat :-)
David Koppelman: Terry nailed it, as usual:) I can promise this, as long as I am an active DJ on the WCS circuit … I will always play a mix of speeds and of genres, and I will ALWAYS include blues as part of that mix.

Pamela Marshall: I LOVE the variety of music that we can dance to … I'd hate to only dance to one kind of music all night … variety!

Jonathan Baumeister: I love a variety of music and most wcs dancers do as well, so there usually isn't any conflict

John Higgins: We need contrast … ensure that those artists that defined the dancefloors and ballrooms in the first place remain at the forefront of the legacy
SwingCha: Well said! We must preserve and strengthen the foundations upon which we dance. Blues and Swing musics and, obviously, basics! Were I a DJ, about 20% of my playlist would be Blues, Swing, or R&B. UhOh. If I did that would I be hired?

Stan Graves: … regional differences in music are becoming harder to find.

OTHERS’ COMMENTS
Benj (rec.music.makers.percussion) said:
Icono Clast said: Musicians who dance are extremely rare but they do exist. Unfortunately, musicians who don't know how to play for dancing are extremely common.

Yes, EXTREMELY COMMON!!!
I am a drummer who also dances. And “dance bands” are the one thing that truly sticks in my craw. I mean there are some local bands that actually have the word “dance” or some variation in the name of the band and don't have a friggin' CLUE as to what kind of music dancers NEED. It pissed me off so much that I wrote a book to guide bands and musicians in the matter. See my website for a copy. I did it for my own survival of course, in an attempt to make dancing in my town a bit more pleasurable for ME if no one else, but it actually can work in your town too. It covers many of the same things in the [article] above. Note that I said music dancers NEED! Here. Get this: a musician flips a couple of sticks or keys on a horn or maybe a guitar pick arund. Speed really doesn't matter unless the music is REALLY fast. But a dancer moves their WHOLE BODY around. Body parts have a certain “resonant frequency” if you will. They move most easily at certain speeds. All other speeds require the dancer to force the ise with effort. TEMPO MATTERS!
end rant.

Here are the rules that in spite of my best efforts MOST of our local bands seem to use for dance gigs:

1. Tempo doesn't matter. The dancers will deal with all tempos somehow.

2. Since tempo doesn't matter, NEVER use a metronome to set time in a dance tune. Using a crutch like that will just make you look bad. ALWAYS set the tempo from the seat of your pants. Anything else will damage your ego.

3. The drummer should always play dance tunes using the style of drumming he's most comfortable with. For example a nice 4/4 swing beat really works well with all “latin” numbers.

4. It works even better if you play in a jazz style with all tops and no bass drum at all. Let the dancers listen to the hihat to get the beat.

5. Remember that there are only two kinds of music: The stuff the band always plays and“latin". Any “latin” tune will do. A couple of generic “latin” numbers for the evening ought to keep the dancers happy! Bossa Nova is always a good choice.

6. Always end the dance with some super fast rousing swing tune. That will end the evening with a nice bang (and make sure you never get hired for a boring dance gig again).

7. Even better find a cheap hall and start holding “dances” yourself. Don't worry. Any cement floor covered with sticky “old people wax” will do. Hell, the “premiere” “dance club” in our town regularly holds “dances” out on their blacktop and don't even bother to sweep the stones off. (the wood floors out there are for peo- ple to stand around on with their drinks). The best thing about holding you own dance is you can tell all the damn hoofers who bitch about your music to piss off.

8. And Oh yeah, never forget: Tempo doesn't matter.

(sigh)

Yes, I'm pissed off at ego-controlled musicians who expect me to pay them to make me miserable. Sorry, no S&M here.
   I've been on a crusade here on this subject for YEARS, but I fear little headway has been made. Listen to me you bunch of apes: More than anyone else, after the tempo, good dance music depends on the DRUMMER. If you are clueless the dance as a whole will SUCK. The BEST way to shed your cluelessness is go grab a few bargain dance lessons at a local studio. You won't be sorry. Your drumming and rhythmic sense will get you started dancing VERY fast and you'll be holding chicks close in no time and dare I say it, the chicks will be loving it! It's really odd that so many men have not figured out this basic fact. They resist dancing like the plague. Oh well, more babes for me. And for you married dudes out there: Don't you know that the dance floor is the ONE place where a man can tell a woman what to do AND SHE DOES IT!!! :-)
   PS. Yeah, this is now, but back in the old days I was no better than you. Today I shudder to think of the days when I played in a polka band with no clue as to how to dance the polka. Gid, how in hell did I ever have the nerve to take the money for the so-called “dance music” we used to play? I'm embarassed to think about it!
   PPS. The good news here is that now there are apparently at least TWO of us out to reform musicians who play for dancers.
   … [another] who thinks he's a jazz drummer has forgotten that jazz was once THE popular music in the country … that is until they banned dancing to jazz. Now jazz is some kind of backwater with only a few dedicated fans who mostly sit around doing ornithological neck juking and having “deep” discussions of the atonal, arhythmic, bleats and honks that they try to pass off as an excuse for music.
Benj
back to normal


… just because you play jazz and can't dance doesn't mean that NOBODY ever drums in a dance band!
Benj
(Who is obviously still making little headway in getting drummers to 
apprecieate dancing as an artform that requires synergy with music)


Christopher C. Stacy said:
Icono Clast said: CAVEAT: Dancers don't applaud much.
I think this apology is bullshit, and only reinforces the rudeness of many dancers who fail to applaud for the band. I always applaud, as do the other decently polite dancers, and there's plenty of time to towel off, find my next partner, etc. The reason that some people do not applaud is not that they don't have a spare five seconds to slap their hands together. Rather, it is because they don't think it is important to acknowledge the band. In many cases, I suspect it's because nobody educated them in proper manners. I think deliberately educating them in *bad* manners is a poor idea. If you want to say something to the band on this topic, perhaps you should suggest a specific amount of time between numbers that dancers would like to have so that they needn't rush.

liveware@*.edu responded to Christopher C. Stacy:
… I was going to say something similar, so I'm very glad you did.

… actually played in bands before I learned to dance, and I know of few musicians that do not feed off of positive interaction with their audience. As such, the dancers would not only be rude by not acknowledging the band directly, but would be cheating themselves out of a better performance by the musicians. I imagine an analogy might be a man who rarely compliments his wife and gets perfunctory lovemaking from her, instead of enthusiastic affection


Benet Younger Ayers said:
On your “Caveat” that “Dancers don't applaud much,” you might want to point out that the bad beha­vior stems from the feeling that it might look like we are applauding ourselves.

B Traven, Seattle said:
As for the musicians who were getting all huffy about a lack of applause, do they applaud for the dancers? I show my appreciation for a band, or lack thereof, by the gusto and intensity with which I dance. And a lot of bands reciprocate. Bands and dancers feed off each other. Bands that have their feelings hurt when dancers don't applaud should not play dance venues. Dancers go to dances primarily to dance, whether a band is playing or not.

James Marshall (marshall@*.edu) said:
Mike Pyle writes:
I agree with you that the climax of the music is … important to the consummation of the dance … I can see fading an extremely long track or one that ends with a fade anyway, but if I have a long song with a great finish I usually play the whole thing or try to edit the middle to keep the end.

That seems reasonable. A very long song usually should be cut off somehow. Those Viennese waltzes that are 3+ minutes long are a bit much for me and a lot of other dancers, I think. But normally it is nice to be able to hear the complete end of the song.

I personally don't like dead air, so will usually drop in the next track right on the last beat of the previous song.

I don't really like that idea. No, I don't want a ton of dead air time, but I think with ballroom anyway it is useful to have at least a few seconds pause between songs. This lets you thank your partner and (start to) head off the floor to find a new one without feeling rushed because the next song has already begun. By sort of helping to break up the crowd that's already on the floor, it also gives people who chose or had to sit out a little better chance at getting someone for the next dance. Play back to back and the people on the floor will probably just get asked to dance by other people on the floor and the people sitting out may have a harder time getting to dance. *shrug*… I don't want *long* breaks between songs because that does become dead air time, but I do like to get a few seconds between songs.

MEDLEYS
Icono Clast responded to Terry who said:
one member of the band feels that we should play one big medley — just string lots of songs together without pausing.

I notice you call him a “member of the band”, not a “musician”.

Each song has its own rhythm and tempo and people do like to bring a dance to an end and start a new one, often with a new partner.

You know that yet ask the question?

It just doesn't sound right to me … I'd like to get some perspective on the subject.

Thank you very much for asking.
   Composers write pieces that have beginnings, middles, bridges, variations, and ends. Medleys show contempt for the composers' efforts.
   Long numbers played at dances are a dis-service to the dancers.

Bob Wheatley, Champion dancer, said:
As a dancer, I would absolutely hate it. It's considered rude (to me) to quit dancing while a song is still playing. A normal end for each song allows for a definite end to each dance and it also allows for a partner change. There's absolutely no one on earth I want to dance one continuous song with for a half an hour. No one … dancers simply need to know (with no doubts) when each song ends. My two personal biggest pet peeves about DJ's or live bands (which are always the worst, to me) are:

1. Lack of musical variety

2. Mixing and overlapping 2 similar songs so that you can't really tell when one ends and another begins. It drives me nuts to get to a dance venue and then have every song be a clone of one another. Aaaarrrgh....... :>)

Trish Connery, Publisher, teacher and competitor said:
… just stay away from medleys, period.
Medleys are … chopped up, regurgitated bastardizations, an insult to the original tunes, unsuit­able for dancing or anything else.
    (bleh)

David Koppelman, Competitor and DJ, said:
I hate medleys. I Hate Medleys. I HATE MEDLEYS!!!!

Christopher C. Stacy said: Medleys's suck.

kaysee said:
I totally agree on the medley thing, but I've found that DJs are the worse of the two for segueing or slapping songs together.

BACK to Melodies or Mixers, Seguing, or Gas Money

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