bubs blues dj. down around the river

I’m doing my first ‘public’ blues set* at the blues pit this Sunday, and’ve been going through my music to sort out stuff I might play. I  got to thinking about how I may handle it, as a DJ. My feeling is that the deal will work much as with lindy hoppers – combine tempos, careful transitions, manipulate energy levels.
But I’ve noticed a few things that make it a bit different to DJing for lindy hoppers:
the tempo range is far smaller. While I’ve been reading that varying tempos is actually more important in blues dancing in the States than one might expect, the range is actually fairly limited. With lindy, I tend to think that I’m working between 115 and 250bpm (pretty much – give or take). With blues, I’m looking at a range between about 45 and 115bpm.
I know that there are other DJs who may vary the tempo range a little more for blues (but I can’t really talk more about that), but from my experiences at the Blues Pit, I reckon this is the safe range.
SO
the energy levels are more important as a result. Working with such a small tempo range, I think you have to be a bit more aware of how the music makes you feel.
I’ve seen blues DJs get up and play a series of songs seemingly at random – it feels like they’re just playing ‘their favourite songs’, one after another. Just being ‘slow’ isn’t really enough to make songs work together. The problem with blues is that the tempos are so low, the vibe in the room can be so mellow, that it’s all too easy for the crowd to sit down, start chatting, and not get up again. So I really do think you need to work the energy levels and mood of the room. Just as with lindy, I guess.
there’s a greater tolerance for a wider range of musical styles in blues dancers than lindy hoppers (in Melbourne atm, anyway). I know there are purists who won’t tolerate ‘non-swing’ or ‘non-jazz’ or even ‘non-blues’ in blues dancing, but I’m tending to lean towards the camp who feel that ‘blues dancing’ is such a wide and flexible notion, that we can really borrow ‘blues music’ from a wide range of blues styles: 20s blues, slow drags, 12bar blues structures and the ‘blues key’, rhythm n blues from the 50s (60s, 70s, etc), etc, but even move into stuff like funk and soul. Not to mention the more ‘arty’ piano- and small combo- driven instrumental stuff (like Junior Mance, Oscar Peterson, Jay McShann, etc).
My personal feeling as a dancer is that ‘music for blues dancing’ feels best if it has a solid beat. By solid beat I don’t mean insistent beat, but that kind of deep, solid and low-down bass that makes you move your hips. So I’m happy with a kind of hip hop beat as well.
Having said that, it makes complete sense to me to play mostly from the jazz and blues genres, not just because it suits blues’ positioning within a swing dance community which favours lindy and other jazz dances, but because that stuff is simply often so much more musically interesting and challenging than some of the newer or non-jazz stuff.
I also feel that you can’t really do, say 20s charleston without doing slow blues or drags – it just feels like you’re leaving out half of the musical and emotional story.
the lyrics seem more important with 12 bar blues (in that traditional form) than they do to lindy. So I think that playing more songs with vocals is perhaps more workable than lindy. I really like this style of blues music, mostly because I like the combination of humour, sadness, longing, desire and irony. In his book ‘stomping the blues’, Arthur Murray talks about how ‘singing the blues’ isn’t just about singing sad songs. it’s also about singing (and dancing) to drive out the blues. So you get these interesting contrasts between sad, sad lyrics and upbeat, energetic melodies and rhythms. Or you get seriously slow, saucy rhythms and melodies with funny, sarcastic or ironic or just plain funny lyrics. All this hung on a relatively simple musical structure (A, A, B or whatever it is).
So it feels like the lyrics are especially important, and encourage us as dancers to move in these layers of meanings – not just sexy all the time. Not just super-slow.
Having said that, I think it’d be a bit dull if we left out other musical styles, such as slow drags, which have all those other wonderful musical and social meanings.
-> I think that all of these points are a result of the fact that (or contribute to) blues dancing is less ‘structured’ than lindy (well, not when you do lindy the way I do: “structure? What, you can do lessons in this shit?”), so people feel free to experiment and innovate.
In addition, blues is so slow, you really have time to work on expressing all these feelings and contrasting emotions. So you can do technically difficult steps which aren’t possible at higher tempos, and you can really milk every musical iota out of the songs. Because you’ve got the time. So it really helps if the music is more interesting.
Other things I’m thinking about as a DJ:
the set is an after-class set, and most of the dancers will be new to blues dancing (as regular blues dancing nights are relatively new to melbourne), but most of them will be familiar with swinging jazz or blues music (from their lindy).
I’ve only got 45 minutes, which is tricky, as blues dancing takes a while to warm up to, good blues nights last late into the night, it feels right to take longer with each partner (more than the 2 song rule for lindy, definitely right for loooong songs), and it takes longer to work through moods – the curve or wave is kind of longer.
the room is seriously crowded – it’s small, there’s far, far, FAR less room for each couple than in lindy rooms. And I’m standing at floor level to DJ, so my view of the dance floor will be limited.
As per usual, I’m set on avoiding the ‘teach dancers about music’ thing or ‘expand their minds’ thing, or ‘be historically accurate’ thing, even though it’d be nice to really get into some old scratchy blues, eg. As with lindy, if I go in there with a mission, I will almost certainly stuff up. It’s always best to work with the vibe the room is giving off.
It’s going to be really interesting: I’m wondering if these ideas I have about the similarities between DJing for lindy hoppers and blues dancers will hold up in practice.
I’d be interested in any feedback from people who’ve DJed for bot …
*ie not a private party
…yes, you have read this post before. but not here. here

taking a cat for a walk: DJing and phenomenological media studies

I’m addressing some interesting points Brian raise in the comments to the unexpectedly entry from a couple entries ago.
Brian writes in that comment:

That of course leads on to the big question is: “Is playing a small amount of non-swing music at a swing event a major problem.” The smarty pants answer would be, just play some Neo. My real answer is I don’t know. What I to know is that to put a non-swing song in your set and for it to go down will with all the dancers takes a lot of skill. I find you must first make sure all the classic hard core dancers are happy and maybe even some of them left (gone outside) the room. Play some hardcore classic songs in a row of upper tempo and you should achieve this. Then it’s a matter is checking if those “non-swing mood group are in the room and ready to dance. You then need to make the transition and then comes the non-swing song. And hey the songs selection is like bringing a cat for a walk.

This section really interested me. That’s a really clever approach. I’d been thinking “there’s no way I’m every playing neo because I hate it”. But this scheme offers me a new approach. It reminds me of Trev’s comment here on Swing Talk where he says:

Yes, the ‘wave’!
I was using it last night (will post set soon) – although lately i’ve been more brutal with my tempo changes – it’s great for shaking things up, and avoids things “sounding all the same”.
Don’t be afraid to drop in a fast, high energy one when you have the floor full at medium. I’m not talking crazy fast, but something around 190-210bpm. The folks that are into it will be hanging out for it, and if you keep the tempos too low (to keep the floor full) they will get bored/lazy. Even if you only get 2 couples dancing to a fast song, you get the benefits of:
a) lifting the energy/enthusiasm of the room even if they don’t dance; b) inspiring others to get better go they can do it too. It’s not the same for everyone, but when I was new watching a high-energy dance motivated me to keep at;
c) sending people to the bar to spend their $ on the venue!
If you do it right, the room will be buzzing, and you can follow up with something at around 150 and everyone will be right back into it.
I generally wouldn’t play more that 2 fast tempo songs in a row. People start getting pissed if they don’t want to/can’t dance fast, and tired if they’ve been dancing to it.

(NB the setlist he’s referring to is here, though I’m not sure which setlist he means)). For a description of ‘the wave’ check out this thread on swingdjs.
… ok, so now to address the point.
Basically, both Trev and Brian are suggesting that the DJ use the ‘wave’ – which is a way of describing the general ‘flow’ of mood in the room, to provoke a particular response from dancers. It’s hard to explain how it works with dancers, but
I’ve just been reading some fascinating articles referring to David Seamon’s book A Geography of the Lifeworld where he describes exactly this phenomeon – people making a space ‘place’ by repeated actions and social interaction. So, everyday a man makes a coffee shop ‘place’ by rising at 8, walking to the coffee shop, buying a paper, ordering a poached egg and coffee, eating and reading til 9 when he walks on to work. The man comments that he is only made aware of how ‘comforting’ and ‘warm’ this cafe space is when the series of actions is interrupted by something like the paper being sold out.
Seamon talks about this as people becoming aware of their ‘precognitive’ behaviour only when it’s interrupted. In other words, he’s interested in what happens when people are made conscious of the stuff they do habitually in particular spaces to make those spaces a ‘place’.
This phenomenological stuff really makes me laugh, because they write like no one has ever thought to investigate what happens when you make people aware of their unconscous habits. When of course, any physiotherapist, yoga instructor or dance teacher spends all their working hours helping people develop a ‘body awareness’, where they become conscious of the things they do habitually with their bodies and muscles.
but anyway…
That theory seems particularly relevent to this discussion of DJing, because DJs are basically people who develop the skills to manipulate the mood of a room full of dancers so as to get them all dancing. I’ve been absolutely fascinated, as a noob DJ, by the way the choices I make in playing songs and combining songs can affect the mood of a crowded room. While, as a dancer, I respond unconsciously to the music, either getting really ‘high’ with uptempo, upenergy music, or getting really ‘low’, and moderating my dancing (my unconscious movements and social behaviour), as a DJ, I’ve had to become conscious of this process and figure out how it works.
It’s important to note that ‘precognitive’ behaviour is essential to skilled partner dancing. I’m frequently reminding myself ‘stop thinking!’ and ‘just follow!’. It’s like driving a manual car – you suddenly reach a point when you’re learning where the combination of accelerator, clutch, gear stick, etc becomes unconscious. And when you’re suddenly made conscious of this process, it often stuffs up.
Leading, however, can be more comfortably ‘cognitive’ than following as you are planning and determining the course of the dance. I have found, though, that the best dances, the most effective ones, where I really use my centre to move their centre, are the ones where I relax and ‘just move my body’ naturally, rather than ‘trying to lead’ in order to effect weight changes which in turn move the follow’s weight – effecting their weigh changes.
So when Trev talks about manipulating the wave (ie developing a ‘mood’ or ‘vibe’ in the room, or, to use Seamon’s approach, making a space ‘place’ through playing music which will provoke particular social responses through dance), Brian talks about exploiting the wave/dancers’ response to the wave to sneak in songs which are potentially going to ‘break’ the wave. So he plays ‘risky’ songs (like neo) after a couple of faster, old school swinging jazz traacks, so that he can exploit the old school fans’ taking time out for a break to slip in some neo. So the potential ‘risk’ of playing the neo stuff is ameliorated.
Trev also talks about ‘breaking’ the wave constructively by making quicker transitions between tempos – dropping in a fast one, even if the floor was full at slower tempos, then dropping the tempo down again to ‘recover’ and pick up the dancers who’ve stepped off the floor for that fast song. And, incidentally, giving those who danced the faster song a break.
This is fascinating shit, because it all reveals how important it is as a DJ to be a dancer, but perhaps more importantly, to consciously recognise how dancers respond to combinations of songs and musical moods to manipulate the mood of the room, but also to ‘please everyone’. I adore this approach because of the way it contrasts with the comment “you can’t please everyone” a DJ (whose work doesn’t impress me at all) said to me recently. This comment ‘you can’t please everyone’ seems (in the case of this DJ) to serve as justification for not attempting to work the room and ‘wave’. Or rather, to me it seems like this DJ made this comment because they are simply unaware of these issues. Which holds true with their dancing, where they are similarly ‘unaware’ of other dancers in the immediate vicinity, unable to ‘feel’ their partners’ weight changes, and have a propensity for rough leads.
In my own DJing, however, I’ve recently discovered that I can actually keep the floor full for the entire set, at a 100% strike rate. This usually means playing mid-tempo songs, and not taking any ‘risks’. Yet one of the results of this approach is that some of the dancers (mostly that hardcore, experienced group), while they’re dancing every song and enjoying themselves, really want me to play some faster songs as well.
I’ve been a bit tentative about doing this, as the numbers on the floor immediately drop when faster songs are played (though I have noticed that they pick up or don’t drop if the song is very swingy and good quality). One thing I have learnt, as Trev has pointed out, is that it’s ok to drop the numbers for a song or two. I’ve also found that if the floor does empty (for any reason, whether the song was fast, or you’ve played a dud) there are ways to fill it again – I have a few ‘safety songs’ which will always fill the floor. So it’s ok to play fast songs, empty the floor, and then fill it again. As Trev has pointed out, playing the odd faster song will, while people stand out for a song or too, actually pump up the energy in the room. And, as Brian points out, it also gives you an opportunity to play something that group of experienced, old school faster dancers wouldn’t dance to anyway, even if they weren’t standing on the sidelines strugging to breathe.
Another trick that Brian has noted before, is that if you do take the tempos up really high, you can actually raise the overall tempos when you play the next song. So if you find the room is stuck at about 140bpm, playing something at 200, while it may clear the room for those 3 minutes, will actually make it possible for you to follow up with something at 160 or 180, because it feels so much slower, comparatively, people get out there and dance. So allowing you to up the general tempo of the room, and change the overall wave.
I have noticed, however, that while you can raise the tempos generally, you will have to bring them down again eventually, as people’s energy and stamina wears out. I had previously been obsessed with getting tempos up and keeping there, as if 200bpm was my ultimate goal. Now I realise that it’s about varying tempos over the course of the night – the wave is a wave, and not just an incline. The trick is, of course, managing these crests and troughs without dropping the energy and tempos prematurely.
So DJing is a really interesting way of putting into practice that phenomenological approach to media use in everyday spaces.
NB when we say ‘bpm’, we mean ‘beats per minute’. The average speed of house or ‘dance’ music is 120bpm. The average tempo for dancing lindy in the 1930s was 180bpm. I can follow comfortably up to 180bpm, then I have to work harder. I can lead comfortably up to about 160. 20s Charleston, however, requires faster tempos – over 200 is average. Over 300 is ‘fast’. We can dance to such high tempos in lindy because the music ‘swings’ – it doesn’t feel like you’re rushing, and in fact really swinging songs feel slower than they are. Which helps to keep you relaxed, as you can’t dance fast if you’re freaking. 20s charleston, however, is usually danced to ‘dixie’ or jazz from the 20s, which predates swing, and has a different timing – 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 rather than 1-2-3-4, 5-6-7-8.
FYI: 180bpm is more than 3 steps per second, as we actually make 10 weight changes (or steps) in the basic lindy rhythm and Swing Out (fundamental step of lindy).

rolled shoulders

So today I scored a new haircut (scored as in paid for).
It’s slightly different to my usual very-short. Uli said “what will it be this time? short?” and I said ‘Yes, but I think I want something different”.
So now I have ‘girly bits’ at the front.

Which is nice. And anyway, I tried to colour it myself. Two problems:
1. dud colour (some crap Loreal product – I need their oldschool hyper-red but can’t find it)
2. missed some bits at the front through conservative application of colour
3. I got no idea what’s going on at the back there.
I guess it’ll look ok. It’s kind of tame, though – it looks like a ‘natural’ red (well, as natural as a chick with black eyebrows and eyes can look with red hair) and I like toxicly unnatural reds.
Sigh.
Will see what I can find out at the shops tonight.
On other fronts, a trip to the hairdresser is always a great opportunity to secure local community gossip. Uli is a member of the Sydney Rd Assoc (I think it’s called) and has lots to do with the council. Apparently the giant Sortino across the road (Sortino = wonderful Italian furniture. Say yes to white, to gold, to marble) will soon become a Priceline. So I might be able to get my hair colour there soon. The big old reception place/furniture store place is to be an Aldi, which we’re not pleased about in Little Sweden’s home of Fine Hair: the local small businesses will suffer. And I agree. I’m not sure why they think a German supermarket will do well in Brunswick (land of Middle Eastern, Mediterannean and Subcontinental -ness), but heck.
I passed on the wonder that is Nino and Joe’s and we tutted over the urban renewal generally.
Speaking of Nino and Joe’s…
went in for a bunch of sausages, came out with $50 worth of fucking amazing meat.
We got:
– 8 fat sausages (2 pork spicey, 2 pork normal, 2 beef spicey, 2 beef normal) because I wanted to test them all. These aren’t the pale and insipid bangers filled with beige paste you find tagged ‘BBQ’ in the supermarket. They’re fat, they’re textured a little like my thighs (helloooo cellulite), they’re kind of blotchy-coloured, owing to the combination of stuff inside them. They taste FANTASTIC.
– 1 rolled beef shoulder roast (1.2kg at $12.99 a kg) – pancetta, swiss mushrooms, garlic, etc. It looks fantastic. It had better be.
– 1 pork chop (because)
– some beef ‘stir fry’. Ordinarily I buy steak and we cut it up ourselves, but I trust Joe. Well, I’ll trust him just this once
– 2 chicken breasts
– 1 pork loin (hellloooo stir-fry)
… and something else I’ve forgotten. At any rate, it took two bags and I had to squish it into my bike bag. This is enough meat to feed us forever. I should perhaps buy fresh rather than freezing, but I wanted to be sure we were stocked up.
I’m a bit excited about the rolled beef. The Squeeze barely tolerates roasted meats, but he likes beef. And I was excited by the pancetta. Though I’ll probably die from botulism, leaving cured and raw meat cohabiting in the fridge for 24 hours.
And from whence does the funds for all this bounty come?
Well, we can thank the Melbourne lindy hop community for the most part – I’ve DJed 9 times since the 23rd February. That’s 9 times in an 8 week period. Going from 0. DJ drought? Naaaah.
I’m certainly learning quickly. Well, I guess I’m learning quickly, because it seems to be going well. Last night was my second time doing the second set at CBD and the room was PACKED and FRENZIED til 12. I DJed for 2.4 hours for $25.
I was abused and been-mean-to by some loser arseholes, but everyone else seemd to really dug my action. I know that the floor was always full, and the reports from dancers were overwhelmingly positive – “Man, it’s really pumping out there. There’s a really great vibe in the room.” That’s really nice to hear, but it’s a bit hard watching your mates flail about in a sweaty, endorphine-charged euphoria while you have to stand up there playing the best music in the world. Thankfully, people seem to have grasped the idea that I like to be visited when I’m DJing, so I spent a large part of the set laughing so much with the Rubinator I thought I’d broken my face laughing.
The few dances I did have were quite awful: I have forgotten how to dance. But I think perhaps it’s recorded music. I only dance to live bands now. heh.
I’d like to end this post with a witty reference to sausages or perhaps rolled shoulders… no, I won’t go near that awful punnage about my own rolled right shoulder impeding my following. Even I won’t stoop that low. Though I could, now that I have super-dooper yoga-strength.

black – white dance


This is a fascinating photo from this book:
Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance. Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
This photo rocks because it emphasises the different culturally informed aesthetics of dance, in different dance traditions.
These dancers are George Balanchine (the white dood), Violetta Verdy and Arthur Mitchell. You may know Balanchine’s work from films like Cabin in the Sky]. He was a Russian-born American choreographer who revolutionised concert dance in the States (and internationally) by introducing Africanist themes to white dances like ballet (I have to note: this wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of black dancers, and black dancers wouldn’t have been in white ballet schools if it wasn’t for the abolition of Jim Crow and other segregationist legislation).
These photos absolutely fascinate me. Check out the angles at Mitchell’s hips in the left photo – more exaggerated than Balanchine. Its off-centredness really creates some excellent angles, breaking up the ‘straight lines’ which are characteristic of white performance dance. And that from a black dood with ballet training – think of Frankie doing a Shorty George for a far more extreme example (or go way extreme and check out ‘Snake Hips’ Earl Tucker).
Joann Kealiinohomoku reads ballet as a cultural discourse in her article An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance, noting the ways in which “all forms of dance reflect the cultural traditions within which they developed” (533). She describes “the long line of lifted, extended bodies, the total revealing of legs, of small heads and tiny feet for women, slender bodies for both sexes, and the coveted airy quality which is best shown in the lifts and carryings of the female” (545) in ballet. Check it out – you can see those long lines in Verdy’s immitation of Balanchine on the right. Note her straight line from hip to ankle, versus Balanchine’s serious angleage.
Jacqui Malone writes:

Africans brought to North American were no doubt affirming their ancestral values when they sang a slave song that urged dancers to gimme de kneebone bent. To many western and central Africans, flexed joints represented life and energy, while straightened hips, elbows, and knees epitomized rigidity and death. The bent kneebone symbolized the ability to get down

Isn’t that the most amazing shit you’ve ever seen/read?!
It just blows my mind that you can see a culture’s values and ideology in the way people hold their bodies and move. That is SO amazing! It’s also very relevent to the way we Aussie kids learn dance today – how are our culturally inscribed ways of moving and dancing affecting the way we ‘recreate’ these dances? You just have to look at the difference between someone like Ryan Francois and one of the Hot Shots to see how ethnicity affects movement – both are amazing dancers, but quite different.
And I think it is absolutely ESSENTIAL to point out that these ways of moving are learnt. No essentialist stuff here, thanks. For evidence of that argument you can check out the Malcolm X bio for descriptions of how class affected dancing in black communities in Harlem in the 30s, or you can check out the last 2 refs at the bottom.

This one is just as interesting. That’s Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers rehearsing for Hellzapoppin’ (Mickey Sales/William Downs, Norma Miller/Billy Ricker, Frank Manning/Ann Johnson). Check out the individual variation on the same basic A-jump.
And below there’s a final ensemble scene from George Balanchine’s ‘The Four Temperamentals’. The ballerinas have just come down from a ‘scissor kick’ thingy and are rested on the men.
How’s that for another neat comparison?

  • Kealiinohomoku, Joann. “An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance.” What Is Dance? Readings in Theory and Criticism. Eds. Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. 533 – 49.
  • Malone, Jacqui. Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
  • Friedland, LeeEllen. “Social Commentary in African-American Movement Performance.” Human Action Signs in Cultural Context: The Visible and the Invisible in Movement and Dance. Ed. Brenda Farnell. London: Scarecrow Press, 1995. 136 – 57.
  • Pietrobruno, Sheenagh. “Embodying Canadian Multiculturalism: The Case of Salsa Dancing in Montreal.” Revista Mexicana de Estudios Canadienses nueva época, número 3. (2002). (read it here)

thesis update

I am editing like a crazy person. Well, preferably like a clever, articulate and focussed academic.
I’m up to the 4th draft of Chapter 2 (Dance as public discourse: Afro-American vernacular dance). Actually, I’m mid-way with draft #4 of Chapter 3 (cultural transmission in dance: the movement of cultural form and practice as ideological and mediated process). This will be followed by the 4th drafts of Chapter 4 (AV media in contemporary swing dance culture: revivalism and the ideological management of mediated dance), Chapter 5 (DJing in contemporary swing dance culture: the collusion of cultural practices in mediated dance), Chapter 6 (institutions in contemporary swing dance culture: swing dance schools and the ideological management of embodied practice via media) and rounding up with a first draft of my conclusion. Then I go back to Chapter 1 (Introduction) to do its 4th draft.
Then I edit for typos/grammar/spelling and all that rubbish. Hopefully to submit in August.
It’s all going pretty well, and the supes gave me the thumbs up on my recent effort at making 6 seperate blobs of work one comprehensive ‘story’ about swing dancers’ use of media in embodied practice. It was a matter of juggling writing style, making each chapter support a key thesis (which I can’t articulate right now, sorry), and then each point in each chapter support that thesis.
So Chapter 2 is now looking pretty comprehensive (dance as discourse; how to discuss dance as discourse, theoretically and analytically; dance discourse as culturally specific; then considering Afro-American vernacular dance of the 20s/30s/40s as an example, paying most attention to the relationship between the introduction of new ideas/dance steps (mostly through improvisation) and community structures which regulate/manage this process. In other words, how is the representation of ‘self’ and individual identity (through improvisation, creative ‘work’) by individual dancers ‘managed’ by community structures (such as musical structures, social conventions regarding sexuality and public behaviour, etc etc).
I make the point quite clearly that individual self expression in Af-Am v dance (or the representation of self and individual interests and ‘difference’ in public (dance) discourse) is more flexible than in contemporary swing dance culture.
I see the formal heirachies of teaching and learning (esp in schools) as the reason why there’s less tolerance/opportunity for the representation of self/difference in contemporary swing dance culture. And teaching and learning in contemporary swing dance culture is dominated by ‘revivalist’ ideology – the idea that swing dances are dead, they were great, and they need to be ‘revived’.
I explore this in greater detail in Chapter 4, the AV chapter, where I look at the role of archival film in the revivalist project.
In Chapter 3, though, I talk about ‘cultural transmission’, and consider contemporary swing dance culture, noting how it’s a fairly homogenous culture, in fact a predominantly youth/consumer culture, a consequence of the formal pedagogic practices of swing culture. I take Melbourne as an extreme example, looking at how the swing dance school’s commodification of dance as a package to be bought and sold via classes has resulted in a homogenous ‘market’ for this product – white, middle class, hetero kids.
But this chapter is more interesting than that. I argue swing dances’ movement into the white American mainstream in the 30s was achieved primarily through the mediation of the form: film and dance studios brought swing dances to the mainstream (with obvious asides to stuff like Afro-American troops interacting with white women, though I argue that the segregation of the day prevented the wide-spread effect some dance historians argue for. I think film and dance teachers were significant – though it was a combination of factors).
I’m most interested in the mediation of swing dances in their movement from Afro-American communites to mainstream America and then into the internaitonal community. There’s plenty of work on this stuff, esp in relation to mambo and latin dance and their movement into mainstream America (admittedly in later years).
I’m interested in how film was important. Then I make the point in Chapter 3 that these films represented the racism and segregation of the day in various ways (ie some studios not showing black and white characters on screen together – segregation in-text; racist work-practices in the studios themselves). And then, that revivalist dancers cannot help but reproduce these racist and dodgy themes in using these films as key sources for reviving swing dances. The problem lies in their not critically engaging with these issues in their teaching/researching dance. In fact, I argue quite strongly that swing dancers today are notably reluctant to engage with issues of race and class in their discussions of swing dance history. Which concerns me, esp as 20s and 30s ‘Harlem’ and ‘slavery’ seem quite ideologically loaded terms.
Ok, so with all that in mind, I then introduce swing dancers as fans, through their media use, and through their class/age/etc demographics.
Then I say: ‘ok, so with all that in mind, what evidence do I have for all that in actual examples from dancers’ embodied practice? Where is this shit in the dancing?’ And then I do some neat analysis of actual dance stuff, in particular reference to gender and sexuality (because they’re key issues in swing culture). And I make the argument that just that fans are engaged in ‘textual poaching’ – tactical engagments with dominant ideologies and discourses, so too are swing dancers. It’s even more interesting when you read Afro-American vernacular dance as embodying tactical resistance to dominant American ideology and discourse of the day – hell, let’s be blunt. When you read Afro-American vernacular dance as the dance of people whose history involves racism, segregation, jim crow legislation, racial violence, etc etc. In that situation, of course cultural production will be resistant. Particularly dance, for people of West African descent.
So then I do some neat analysis, basically asking how sexual and gender differences are represented in contemporary swing dance cultures around the world. I look at how, for example, young women in North America use swing dance to explore ‘sexual display’ within a safe social context, where they may (beyond dance) be unwilling to do things like flash their knickers, wear suspenders for show, shimmy, etc. I’m also interested in stuff like women leading and men following as a way of subverting heternormative social forces. I’m also facinated by local differences – eg blues dancing in Korea and Japan, as opposed to blues dancing in Canada or Australia or New Zealand.
And of course, the most imporant part of all this the role media plays. How contemporary swing dancers use the internet, AV media, etc in all this. How important are swing discussion boards in the way young people in swing dance communities represent sexual and gender differences? I argue that media is very important, and provide some neat examples from different discussion boards, websites and email lists.
Then I move on to AV media in Chapter 4, where I talk specifically about media use in contemporary swing dance culture. I take AV media as an example of one key media form (and practice), and then DJing as an example of the collusion of different media forms and embodied practices – in swing DJing we see dancers using discussion boards, email lists, websites, digitial music technology (from downloading mp3s to DJing from laptops), to research, purchase, discuss and explore music and how to use it. Then I look at how all this stuff functions in embodied practice: how DJs’ media use actually functions in their embodied DJing for a crowd of dancers.
In Chapter 5 I look at how all this stuff – media use – is managed by institutions in contemporary swing dance culture. I focus on Melbourne as it has the largest swing dance school in the world, and is a local scene dominated by school discourse (which is, incidentally, capitalist discourse). And I look at how capitalist discourse functions to commodify what was once a vernacular dance – to sell young people a lifestyle product. And, most facinating of all, how they are also sold an ideological ‘product’ as well. I’m interested in how the ideology and discourse of schools in Melbourne reflect dominant social discourse and ideology in the wider Melbourne and Australian community.
Therefore proving my original argument, that dance = public discourse, where ideology is represented, and that this discourse is representative of the social/political/cultural forces of the wider community in which this community-of-interest is located.
I squeeze the fandom stuff in Chapters 4 and 5 in more detail, mostly to explain specific media practices.
Ta-DAH!

revelation

chickwebb_.jpg
I’m sorry Brian, I’m sorry. Chick Webb does rule… well, after Fats and the Duke and Billie and… well, he does rule.
New Proper chick webb collection purchased at caiman.com via amazon for a reasonable price (check it here). Could have found it cheaper, but didn’t bother.
Quality: superior to anything else I had.
DJableness: yes
Range: covers Webb’s career on 4 CDs. As with other Proper collections, I guess it’ll do a good job covering the key moments in his career. I’m not so familiar with Webb, so I’ll have to get back to you…
If you’re not a Webb person already… we’re talking Old Scratchy action here.
Sweet-as swinging jazz recorded between 1931 and 1939. I previously knew Webb through Ella Fitzgerald – she got her first serious gig with his band as a teenager (and later led the band after his death) – knew he was important (in part for his association with the Savoy Ballroom, Home of Happy Feet), read varying discussions about the quality of his band and of course danced de lindy hop to him many times.
I had a few albums already (mostly rubbishy ‘greatest hits’ or not-so-greatly-remastered albums) and wanted something comprehensive so I could get a handle on his action, and then seek out specific albums or greater collections (let’s not talk about how my Billie Holiday obsession began).
I’ll let you know how it goes – so far I like it a lot. The tempos are pretty high (as you’d expect from an old skool Scratchy from the Savoy), which makes it less flexible for DJing (esp when the DJ in question seems destined never to play for anyone other than newbs – but I don’t fret. I’m getting valuable skills… and one day those newbs will be advanced dancers. And then, with my army of newbs, I will conquer the world!), but it’s neat for listening. Though I probably shouldn’t listen to it before bed. Like watching clips – it makes me jiggly. And it could only fuel my recent series of weirdo dance/DJing/suppressed thesis anxiety dreams).

speed

I know, I know, I’ve not been around much any more. But I can’t help it! I’ve been editing like a crazy editing fool, and then I move from the computer to the bike to ride off to yoga or into the city or wherever the fuck I want to go – because I can ride my bike as fast as the wind, certainly faster than Commonwealth Games stalled traffic. And it’s much easier for me to get onto my bike than it is for a cranky commuter to get onto a tram these days as well (PT users city-wide are ‘amused’ by the little notes at the tram stop: avoid using trams during peak periods. Nice one – two thumbs).
Though I am worried about the disappearing bike lanes. Melbournians will be familiar with the Games Lanes marked in blue on on CBD streets. Not so many will have noticed the way several key bike lanes (a few-block section on Swanston Street, all of Queensberry Street) have completely disappeared. I’m paranoid – really worried – that they won’t come back after the games have finished. But this hasn’t stopped me speeding into town or off to Brunswick Street or to the cinema. 20 minutes to town (official time down 10minutes on previous personal best). Still 20 minutes to Carlton, but surely that’s a timing error? Yoga, however, is down to 10 minutes.
I am truly In Love with Blacky. Though its first service seems in order… how could we bare to be parted?
On other fronts, I’ve DJed no less than four times in the past three weeks. It seems there’s a bit of a DJ drought in Melbourne atm. My skills have necessarily taken a serious up-turn and I’m sure the groupies are moments away. They are no doubt waiting for a tram somewhere on Swanston Street.

casualties from the lindy battle



Today is Friday, and I’m in some pain. Last night was a big dancing night for me, and also a big out-the-house-day, all in quite hot weather. If you’re interested in the illustrated version, follow this link to the set on flickr.
Yes, I know I’m writing like it’s my second language, but I’m also lying on the bed on my tummy with the laptop and it’s hard to write.
Ok, so back to me (don’t you love the way blogging is all about me? Don’t you love the way we can talk about the Genre like we’re not already self-reflexive enough?).
Yesterday about 2pm I decided I needed to leave the house. I’m waiting for a meeting with the Supes as I’ve forgotten where I’d gotten to in my chapter editing and need her to read (reread? who can say) some chapter before I continue. Actually, I have 6 chapters she can read, but I’m letting her off lightly: 2 in 2 weeks, then 3 more in a couple more weeks. Hey, she’s the one who chose to take Christmas off when she had obsessively-complulsively productive phd girl in the final editing stages.
So anyway, I’ve gone through some chapters, starting on the intro again and decided I need to reread some key books so I can remember what they’re about. One problem with a phd: who can remember what they read 3 years ago in adequate detail?
Thankfully it’s dance stuff, which is interesting to read, even when it’s not really terribly excellent. I’m interested in the way dance studies and cultural studies do/don’t really get along and the way dance studies is all resentful of this. Hey, I blame sociology.
At any rate, that prompted the previous post and a trip to Melbourne uni library (which, owing to the dance degree at their Vic College of Arts campus and a dance elective in their education degree (I think), has a damn fine collection of dance stuff).
After that I went to see Underworld Evolution because I loved the first one. It was terribly great: gorey, soft core porn for the teen boy/middle aged female SF fan audience. Then we went for a lie in the park (Exhibition Gardens actually), right near the fountain. We lay on our backs and read, one of us wandered off to take photos, and the other stared and stared at a couple further down the avenue who snogged and snogged for the hour and a bit we were there. It was very Paris. Or very Paris-as-depicted-by-Hollywood. Check the photos to see why.
After that we rode down to have dumplings (15 pan-fried pork/veggie; 8 steamed chicken/prawn = $13.50) at Shanghai village in china town, where the walls are bright pink and they have one solitary goldfish in a tank.
Then it was off to disgusting CBD for dancing.
A practice version of the team battles bit of this was planned and I went in it. Not sure what battle is? Check this out, think about You Got Served, but with less choreography*. Or the film Drumline with more dancing and fewer musicians. Or, of course, Rize.
Battling is an Afro-American vernacular dance/music tradition with its roots in Africa, where dance or music function as a forum for the resolution of rivalries or grudges in a socially sanctioned public space. Ralph Ellison discusses ‘cutting contests’ in his stories of jazz in Harlem in the 30s and 40s, Hazzard Gordon discusses street parties and competitions in her book Jookin’, etc etc etc.
Things that’ll make a battle work:
passion and ‘bringing it’ on the dance floor
an ability to improvise and respond to your opponents, partner and team
creativity in dance
being able to ‘relax’ and give in to your emotions
not being afraid to look stupid
girls not standing back and waiting for the guys to bring it
Most of these things are incredibly difficult for most of Melbourne’s dancers. The emphasis in their classes is on repetition, immitation, routines, choreography and ‘looking good’ rather than bringing it – risking looking crap for the sake of creative or emotional authenticity. It’s also difficult for these white, middle class teenagers to relax and express themselves in dance.
So the whole thing was a bit crap and contrived – as are most of the examples I’ve seen in footage.
It wasn’t as good as the battle we had in Herrang with Peter and Sugar. But ….
It was fun, and I’d do it again, in a casual context. It was like a fun game. I don’t know how cool it’d be in the formal competition context, though.
I have some issues with the selection of team captains (who really should be able to tell the end of a phrase), but now have a better idea of how these things may work in future.
I’ve seen clips of American Battles and wasn’t terribly impressed – things can go wrong too easily. Wrong, of course, equates to Dull or Boring.
Major problems:
choreograph or plan something too fiercely in such a spontaneous format and you will fuck up: leave it looser and you’re actually able to respond to your opponents with creativity rather than pre-planned schlock.
a lack of lindy hop will make for a lack of dynamic energy.
a lack of swing dances and excess of silly made-up dancing will make for dull viewing.
most lindy hoppers don’t have any experience with battling in their general social context, so they have to learn how – so our battles are really kind of lame.
So, anyway, hopefully the whole thing will get more interesting and creative in future efforts. It was nice to see a mix of dancers from different backgrounds and experience: the important part is having dancers who are prepared to bring it. I wish I could explain that phrase more accurately. But it really is something which defies words – it’s about dancing with passion, with attitude, with aggression (but not being aggressive…). It’s about challenge and really feeling what you’re doing. It’s also about being so in your body, and so aware of how your body works, and so able to transfer emotion to rhythmic movement that ‘bringing it’ is instinctive and natural.
And of course, truly ‘bringing it’ is a bit too much for most Melbourne dancers – there are too many social and institutional limitations, founded on the heirarchal structures of a school, and on the way these institutionalised assessments/performances/definitions of ‘ability’ discourage less experienced or lower status dancers from having faith in their own ability.
Bringing it reminds me of discussions of ‘cool’ in Tommy deFrantz’ work and in the literature on Afro-American vernacular dance (including Jacqui Malone’s). It’s about having ‘attitude’ but being ‘cool’ – ie staying in control in your face, but having a furiously hot body. So it’s about attitude, not being out of control, but staying cool and making it all look effortless while your body is going crazy. While at the same time being all about bringing it. It’s a difficult juxtaposition. But think of rap or rnb video clips: the swaggering rapper with hardcore lyrics, the hardcore dancing, the extreme clothing. But a cool, sneering or impassive face. The contrast between ‘breaks’ – static poses – and full-on dancing. The importance of tableau as a challenge in the midst of a frenetically moving dance sequence.
But anyway.
So we did that last night. I don’t feel that I really brought it – I felt like I didn’t really know what was expected of me, having a captain who was quite controlling discouraged me from improvising and taking the inititiave – it made me feel like I had to wait til the moves were ‘called’ – and following rather than leading made me feel like I should wait for my partner to take the initiative. It was the first time, though, so things could go differently in the future…
So now, today, I’m totally buggered and wrecked. It was so hot and sweaty I was totally stuffed by the end of the thing, especially considering that I’d been social dancing like a fool in the hour or so before hand. I was so tired I feel like I failed to put in a good showing for my partners in the following Jack and Jill. Oh well. Nor did I drink enough water (as per usual – I hate the way I feel guilty about drinking my own water at that place. Sure, I’ll buy a drink, but I’m also going to drink at least 2-3 litres while I’m out dancing. And I can’t afford to buy that much water!
Then I rode home (which was nice with the cool breeze, esp as it was still so hot) at 12:30am, but had to stop at the 7-11 for a drink.
At the 7-11 it made me smile to see some Italian kids in their 20s posing with their cars, boys with shirts off. It made me think about the battle and how the battle should have had the same type of posing but didn’t.
*this was a truly crap film, but the dancing was good