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).
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.
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.
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.
: 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
: Blues music is the best for WCS
: The very essence of Swing dance music.
As Rabbi Hillel said: “All else is commentary.”
: Play it all … damn the genre and play the cycle from slow to fast, then repeat :-)
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.
: 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!
: I love a variety of music and most wcs dancers do as well, so there usually isn't any conflict
: We need contrast … ensure that those artists that defined the dancefloors and ballrooms in the first place remain at the forefront of the legacy
: 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?
: … regional differences in music are becoming harder to find.
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!
Here are the rules that in spite of my best efforts MOST of our local bands seem to use for dance gigs: