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March 21, 2009

djing bal for the first time

Posted by dogpossum on March 21, 2009 2:54 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music

So I DJed for balboa dancers for the first time on Thursday night. It was really interesting. I really liked the crowd, and I really enjoyed figuring out what might work with bal dancers. I don't dance bal (well, if I'm led, but not by preferences), so it was kind of challenging.
I'm a bit tired now, so I can't say much, but here's the set I played.
Some songs worked (Jive at Five, plus the other bal faves), some didn't. I misjudged a couple of times and played songs that made people want to lindy. Which can't be too bad a thing, huh? ;D

One of the nice things about this set (and preparing for it), was being able to use a wider section of my music collection. The tempos are quite high - 160bpm is the base. I've been playing for lindy hoppers at an average of about 140bpm these days, and I'd like to take that higher. Sydney lindy hoppers seem less interested in higher tempos. Or I could simply be reading them wrong (which is entirely likely). With lindy hop, I often feel that I need to build the energy in the room before I raise the tempos. Most of the events I've been DJing have been smaller or less intense social events, so the energy level doesn't quite get up there to critical mass.

Balboa, though, is a different animal. What does it look like? Well, it looks like this:

(Kelly and Mickey, ABW 1st place 2008)
This clip is interesting for the fact that it really emphasises the style and 'feel' of many balboa dancers, in contrast to lindy. It's a 'tighty whitey' dance (as I've heard it described by bal dancers): white kids dancin' white. The couple spend more time in closed position. It's really amazing stuff - intricate footwork, a real 'dancer's dance'. I like this couple - it's pretty good stuff. I just find them a little... cloying. And straight. Watch them dancing lindy hop here for some contrast. Bal gives you some sweet-as weight commitment, which really helps your lindy.

I like to watch bal, I quite like dancing it, but it doesn't set me on fire the way lindy does. Lindy makes me feel crazy. Bal makes me feel a little... constrained. I also have some trouble with the fact that the follow really has to _follow_, and the trend seems to be for follows to dance a little more passively than in lindy hop. This, of course, is not always the case. But this is what I see most frequently. Probably because I simply don't get to too many bal gigs. Can you see why it's not really my type of dance?
While I'm talkin' gender, I think it's worth checking out Kate Hedin. Notice anything different about her body shape?

I think it's worth pausing here for a little Sylvia Sykes time:

Sylvia was one of the earliest revivalist lindy hoppers. She's also one badass follow. She's older than the other flibberyjibbets getting around, she's phenomenal, technically, and she has the sort of confidence and presence that makes you think 'why aren't there more of the sisters getting this sort of recognition?' She is one of the few female teachers who's billed 'with partner' (though, btw, Nick is top shelf (young man) bal lead action).

From watching just those clips, you can see how bal is quite a different dance to lindy hop. It's amazing to watch - like really fast, really sophisticated knitting. I'm just not... all that into it. I definitely prefer to lead it rather than follow it - boooring. Leading is technically challenge, intellectually exciting and physically a lot less demanding than lindy.

This is one last example, for the sake of illustrating the range of styles and approaches to balboa:


That's Mia and Todd. Todd is better known for his lindy hop. Mia is badass bal Sistah, who usually dances and teaches with Peter Loggins.
I quite like this clip for the way we see Todd's phenomenal musicality demonstrated. But it's less pleasing as an example of this couple's communication. Todd is very much an 'in control lead' - Mia is _following_. Sometimes he doesn't quite give her time to finish what she's doing - we feel as though he's cutting her off before she finishes her sentence. There are some points, where they're out at maximum extension (holding just one hand in open) that I think 'eeek' - it goes beyond rubber band and out to too-far, too-extended. It takes a badass follow to make that sort of waaay out there extension work. Which is what Mia is. But Todd's bal has an energy that I really like. I like the bounce, I like the flamboyance. But it's probably a little further from hardcore balboa and a little closer to lindy hop.

FYI 'pure bal' is danced all in closed position. Not so much of a spectator sport, unless you're into really hardcore technically precise, close dancing. Which I am. At times.

So you can see what bal's about, a bit, from those clips. The music is high energy, but it feels as though balboa dancers (with their small, precise steps and footwork) have a greater capacity or - or at least interest in and emphasis on - music which is technically precise and 'smaller', more intricate. With bal dancers, I feel as though I don't need to get the energy really high before I get the tempos high. Bal dancers are generally comfortable at at range of tempos, though most bal dancers dance to higher tempos (this is a local trend rather than an historical 'accuracy'). Technically, they do the things lindy hoppers should: small steps, clear weight transfers, traveling less at higher tempos. But they can also add in lots of intricate, time-consuming stuff that most lindy hoppers just don't have the time or skill to do at higher tempos. Also, because the follow isn't traveling as much on her own (as in lindy), there's less pressure on her at higher tempos.

DJing for this crowd last week, a friend made this interesting comment: music for bal is 'less in the pocket' (or 'not as deeply in the pocket' - I can't remember the exact line). This means, basically, that the music doesn't 'swing' as much - it doesn't feel as though the musicians are as far behind the beat. This gives it a great 'uppy downy' feel (now I need Trev to chime in with the bit about forward/horizontal propulsion and vertical propulsion in swing being closer to equal). To me, this screams 'lindy hop!'. But to a crowd brought up dancing to super groove (which tends to be super in the pocket), this isn't the case. Peter mentioned a while back that 'if it feels good to lindy to, it'll feel even better to bal to'. But it's not as simple as just playing stuff that 'makes me feel like lindy hopping.' At least not for this crowd.

There were a couple of songs which didn't work for this crowd (who were relatively flexible) - 'Main Stem' and 'Who Stole the Lock' were two of them (both of which are, coincidentally, songs Todd and Naomi have danced to in quite well-circulated clips). They felt 'too lindy'. 'Jive at Five' went down a treat, but this is a song I think of as _quintessentially_ lindy hop. Same goes for 'Stomp it Off' (though I have played this for both lindy hoppers and balboans and had good responses from both). Fats Waller also went down a treat, and he's my go-to man for lindy hop. That song 'Twenty Four Robbers' is drilled into my brain as 'that Frida and Skye song', so I associate it with skankin'ly badass lindy. In summary, the songs that I think of as 'tinkly' or 'light' or 'cheery' work well for balboa dancers in this town. Goodman and Ellington small group stuff goes down a treat. Olden days early 30s/late 20s works well for them as well, but not all the time.

I'm looking forward to more experimenting on those poor balboa doods. :D

Also, this was the first time I've ridden to a dance gig since moving to Sydney. I have MISSED it!

Rag Mop Bob Crosby and the Bobcats 164 1950 Bob Crosby and the Bobcats: The Complete Standard Transcript 2:15
Call Me A Taxi Four Of The Bob Cats 175 1938 All Star Jazz Quartets (disc 2) 3:13
Mr. Ghost Goes To Town Mills Blue Rhythm Band 192 1936 Mills Blue Rhythm Band: 1933-1936 3:24
Jive At Five Count Basie and his Orchestra 174 1939 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 03) 2:51
C-Jam Blues Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 180 1942 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 13) 2:39
Tar Paper Stomp Mora's Modern Rhythmists 174 2000 Call Of The Freaks 3:32
Whoa Babe Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra with Lionel Hampton, vocal 201 1937 The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-1941 (disc 1) 2:53
Stomp It Off Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra 190 1934 Swingsation - Jimmie Lunceford 3:09
Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, Part 1 Benny Goodman Quartet with Martha Tilton 176 1937 RCA Victor Small Group Recordings (Disc 2) 3:27
Chris And His Gang The Cairo Club Orchestra 180 2004 Sunday 2:40
Minor Swing Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five 202 2003 Jammin' the Blues 3:24
Jungle Nights In Harlem Charlestown Chasers 213 1995 Pleasure Mad 2:49
Swingin' On That Famous Door Delta Four 190 1935 All Star Jazz Quartets (disc 2) 3:00
Stompin' At The Savoy [take 1] Benny Goodman Quartet 166 1936 RCA Victor Small Group Recordings (Disc 2) 3:19
Twenty Four Robbers Fats Waller and his Rhythm 196 1941 Last Years (1940-1943) (Disc 2) 2:43
Who Stole The Lock (On The Henhouse Door) Jack Bland and his Rhythmakers with Henry 'Red' Allen 243 1932 I Was Born To Swing 2:40
All The Cats Join In Benny Goodman 176 All the Cats Join In 4:23
Main Stem Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 207 1942 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 13) 2:50
Hittin' The Bottle Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra 211 1935 Rhythm Is Our Business 2:57

Posted by dogpossum on March 21, 2009 2:54 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music