Swing musicians (and blues musicians) spend a lot of time (most of their time) playing well above that 125bpm beginner mark... often, their mode is much, much faster. In fact, it's fairly common knowledge (at least according to the internet) that if you hire a band, you need to coach them on a few things- namely, keep the songs short, and the tempos lower. Most bands are pretty darned accommodating. I noticed that Solomon even changed his tempo profile from scene to scene throughout the week. As a dance community, we value bands that are "used to playing for dancers." That's a pretty intriguing thought... the idea is that bands need to change what they do to be fun for us dancers. So here's the question- how do we meet them in the middle? How do we push our scene to be fun for bands?
I think there are several things we can do to make musicians want to have us around, as much as we (hopefully) want them around:
1. Teach your dancers to clap for the bands. I know- you want to dip your partner, tell them how awesome they are, and maybe even talk about how great the song/band was. Guess what? The band can't hear you! Their language is applause, and they need some love back from you to have a good time playing. I've been at events where the dancers were having a great time, and failing to applaud (young scene)... let me tell you that the backstage chatter did not reflect the audience's feeling. The band felt unloved. So hug your partner- right after you've given a rowdy round of applause.
2. If/when a jam breaks out, let the musicians see! Clear a space so the band can have a clear look at the performers. Why? Because not only can you dance to the music... they band can play to you. That's the advantage for you (the dancers). The advantage for the band is that they're included, instead of shut out. Ever been at a huge event, and walked in to see a ring of butts watching something awesome? Not awesome for you, right? Let's make it common knowledge that the band is a crucial part of the jam.
3. Let's tailor our scenes to the bands. Let's teach our dancers to dance well at super fast, super slow, and super medium (?) speeds. Most scenes have a pretty strong comfort zone. Sometimes, it's unofficial (certain scenes are classically fast and charleston oriented, some really dig the slower, more chilled out feeling). Sometimes, it's even imposed by organizers (a whole other topic of debate, I'm sure). But let's make it a point to have a wide range of tempos where we can play. Sure, you might not have the resources to be a master from 60-320bpm, but try to encourage your dancers to step outside the 120-160 range (or the 180-220, or the 110-140, etc). Let's be able to dance well(ish) at any tempo.
This is a challenge to dancers, organizers, teachers, djs, and me. My dream is that at some hypothetical future date, I can say to a band, "I'm hiring you because you're rad. Do what you do best, and what you feel good about- my dancers can hang."
Bonus! - if you're looking for an incredible opportunity to get into the heads of musicians (and practice hearing/making/dancing to live music for a week), I can't say enough good things about the Augusta Heritage Festival, in Elkins, WV.
Why you should go:
1. This year, swing week is offering a whole class on playing for dancers and dancing for players (you could have skipped reading that blog!).
2. There are classes on how to make music- whether you already play an instrument or not.
3. There are jams happening all over campus all day and night, concerts, hangouts, and more merrymaking than I can fit in one paragraph.
4. The advantage of this over a music festival is the direct dialogue with the musicians- as in, everyone there is either a musician or a dancer, so we talk at lunch, in class, at dinner, walking around the mountain...
5. Constant exposure/conversation/practice of music will make you a dramatically better dancer. Dan and I have taught there for several years, and every year we come away much better dancers.
6. Ice cream with lunch.
7. Vacation in the mountains.
8. A week! Did I mention it's a week long?
9. Solomon Douglas will be there (as will Dan and I).
10. Learn to speak musician! This makes hiring a band much easier. Also, music structure (macromusicality) will make more sense.
11. This will make more sense:
http://gallery.me.com/edmalloy#100328 12. I will teach you why you need a spoon to properly eat a chocolate chip cookie.13. Did I mention that the music is kick-ass and constant?
There is a week for blues (which unfortunately has no partner-dance classes this year) and a week for swing (that's where Solomon, Dan and I will be!).
Augusta Heritage Center
Swing Week: July 29th-August 3rd