bomb the blog

sorry to bomb the blog a bit, but…

I think I need to learn to Madison RIGHT NOW. Well, I could, because I have no responsibilities! That’s a Nicholas brother there btw.
…incidentally, I found this clip on dancehistory.org (that link from jassdance in my links on the side there goes to the same place).
This site is administered by Peter Loggins, one of my favourite lindy hopping types. This site has a really nice, friendly feel, with an emphasis on dance history (duh) and less with the interpersonal bitching. I like the layout of the fora, and the tone of the discussions – very ‘go dancenerd, go!’
The front page is especially awesome, with its list of dances, the photos and clips.

hot and cool


I can’t find the clip that I was looking for, but this is one of Snake Hips Tucker. This dood was reknown for… well, watch and you’ll see.
But he’s an interesting example of something Tommy DeFrantz describes in terms of a contrast between a ‘cool’ face and ‘hot’ body. For most of that clip Tucker’s face is impassive. But his body is doing some crazy arse shit. I do have a bunch of other references on exactly this topic, but I haven’t found them yet (I’m suspecting someone like Katrina Hazzard Gordon or Brenda Dixon Gottschild).
cakewalk2.jpg
I’ve wondered if the aesthetic of ‘cool’ was in part a response to the conditions of slavery. As DeFrantz noted (and i paraphrase from memory), serious dancing went underground to avoid persecution under slavery, and the black man’s body became a site of multiple layers of meaning, and unravelling each depended on the observer’s knowledge.
Or, in a far nicer example,

In 1901, a former slave told the actor Leigh Whipper: “Us slaves watched white folks’ parties where the guests danced a minuet and then paraded in a grand march, with the ladies and gentlemen going different ways and then meeting again, arm in arm, and marching down the center together. Then we’d do it too, but we used to mock ’em every step. Sometimes the white folks noticed it, but they seemed to like it; I guess they thought we couldn’t dance any better” (Malone 18).

cakewalk3.jpgSounds a lot like cake walk to me. And of course, there is a long history of derision in African dance. Sometimes immitation is not the highest form of flattery. I know that it’s certainly proved a valuable discursive tool for me in the past.
So there were tactical reasons for maintaining a straight or ‘cool’ face while dancing.
But Malone extends her discussion of cool in African dance, noting

Personal coolness is an important hallmark of good style. Thompson has coined this phrase for such a set of values and attitudes: “an aesthetic of the cool.” Coolness in this context has to do with control, transcendental balance, and directing one’s energy with a clear purpose in mind. Thompson has identified this concept in the languages of thirty-five western and central African cultures. The Gola of Liberia define coolness in this way: “Ability to be nonchalant at hte right moment… to reveal no emotion in situations where excitement and sentimentality are acceptable – in other words, to act as though one’s mind were in another world. It is particularly admirable to do difficult tasks with an air of ease silent disdain. Women are admired for a surly detached expression, and somnambulistic movement and attitude during the dance or other performance is considered very attractive.” Thus, coolness is a metaphor for right living and diplomacy; it is “an all-embracing positive attribute which combines notions of composure, silence, vitality, healing, and social purification” (Malone 18-19)

She also notes that

The canons of good behaviour insist that dancers become completely engrossed in what they are doing and avoid “throwing glances” at the audiences” (Malone 19).

a point which resonates with me in the context of Melbourne swing. There’s nothing more painful than a cheesy smile for or point at the audience – it’s nasty to watch. Though in perfect accordance with the norm of competitive ballroom dance (check out Dancing with the Stars for a perfect example of not-cool).
And to bring it all back to lindy hop, there is nothing ‘cooler’ than the flat-out, parallel to the ground ‘flying’ style of Frankie Manning, where his body is long and lean and relaxed, but his legs and feet are going a million miles an hour. The ultimate cool/hot contrast. And it is the contrast that means so much.
So, if we think about this stuff in the context of Kate’s questions about hot, cool and va-va-voom…
Perhaps it is that there’s the contrast between the ‘hot’ body of the sensual woman (whether she is generously proportioned, tall and thin or whatever) and her ‘cool’ attitude of disdain. So Bessie Smith’s sporting a decidedly ‘hot’ (or hawt?) body, but she is ‘cool’ in her control, her vocal ability. Hot in her statements of interest in sex, cool in her vocal delivery and timing.
…?
Oh, look here’s an example. If you watch that solo blues clip (the one I’ve put in this post), you see some seriously hawt/hot bodily action (the whole ‘lick your thumb then touch your hip in a ‘sizzle’ to test your own heat is a perfect illustration). But they’re also sporting some serious cool snub. These chicks are really working it, but they are solidly unattainable. It’s solo dancing. No one gets to touch them but them. And they certainly don’t waste their time making eye contact with undesirables.
I’m not sure I’ve convinced myself with all that… Any one got any other thoughts?
References:
DeFrantz, Thomas. “The Black Male Body in Concert Dance.” Moving Words: Re-Writing Dance. Ed. Gay Morris. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. 107 – 20.
—. “Believe the Hype!: Hype Williams and Afro-Futurist Filmmaking.” Unpublished paper. Spectacle, Rhythm and Eschatology: A Symposium. University of Melbourne, Melbourne, 24th July 2003.
—, ed. Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.
Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance. Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
—. “Stripping the Emperor: The Africanist Presence in American Concert Dance.” Looking Out: Perspectives on Dance and Criticism in a Multicultural World. Eds. David Gere, et al. New York: Schirmer Books, 1995. 95 – 121.
Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. “African-American Vernacular Dance: Core Culture and Meaning Operatives.” Journal of Black Studies 15.4 (1985): 427-45.
—. Jookin’: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
Malone, Jacqui. Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
Sorry, I can’t find the full reference for the Thompson quite in Malone. :(
[edit]I just had to add this clip, which DustForEyes pointed out in his comments. Son of Snake Hips? Cool/hot much?

a long story about blues, women, feminism and dance

Angela Y. Davies writes in her book Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday

During Bessie Smith’s era [the 20s and 30s], most black heterosexual couples – married or not – had children. However, blues women rarely sang about mothers, fathers and children. in the subject index to her book Black Pearls, black studies scholar Daphne Duval Harrison lists the following themes: advice to other women; alcohol; betrayal or abandonment; broken or failed love affairs; death; departure; dilemma of staying with man or returning to family; disease adn afflictions; erotica; hell; homosexuality;infidelity; injustice; jail and serving time; loss of lover; love; men; mistreatment; murder; other woman; poverty; promiscuity; sadness; sex; suicide; supernatural; trains; traveling; unfaithfulness; vengeance; weariness, depression, and disillusionment; weight loss. It is revealing that she does not include children, domestic life, husband, and marriage (Davis 13).

She continues,

The absence of the mother figure in the blues does not imply a rejection of motherhood as such, but rather… The female figures evoked in women’s blues are independent women free of the domestic orthodoxy of the prevailing representations of womanhood through which female subjects of the era were constructed (Davis 13).

Davis’ book explores these themes in women’s blues of the period, and my interest is caught by the section describing domestic violence. One of the points Davis makes is (to quote again – sorry) that

Women’s blues suggest emergent feminist insurgency in that they unabashedly name the problem of male violence and so usher it out of the shadows of domestic life where society had kept it hidden and beyond public or political scrutiny (Davis 29-30).

I think this is one of the points that I like most. This sort of music is centrally concerned with individual women singing their stories. They mightn’t be ‘true’ stories, but they’re true in the sense that they are about these women’s lives, and about the lives of women of their day (and of today, I’d argue). And they’re discussing issues and experiences which we don’t see in the mainstream films and white music of the period.
Davis goes on in her book to explore the feminist themes in this music, and she notes

…even in their most despairing moods, the female characters memorialized in women’s blues songs do not fit the mold of the typical victim of abuse. The independent women of blues lore do not think twice about wielding weapons against men who they feel have mistreated them. They frequently brandish their razors and guns, and dare men to cross the lines they draw. While acknowledging the physical mistreatment they have received at the hands of their male lovers, they do not perceive or define themselves as powerless in face of such violence. Indeed, they fight back passionately (Davis 34).

As someone writing about contemporary swing dancers, all this is really important.
One of the central concerns of my thesis was with the way contemporary swing dancers use history in their ‘revival’ of dances and music. This ‘history’ is a very carefully clean and safe history, though, and neglects (to quote Paul Gilroy), the “unnameable terrors” of black history where

slavery, pogroms, indenture, [and] genocide….all figured in the constitutions of diasporas and the reproduction of a diasporan consciousness, in which identity is focussed less on equalizing, proto-democratic force of common territory and more on the social dynamics of remembrance and commemoration defined by a strong sense of the dangers involved in the forgetting the location of origin and the process of dispersal (Kelly, quoting Gilroy 318).

As I wrote in the first chapter of my thesis,

African American vernacular dance – including Lindy Hop and other swing dances – remembers this history in specific steps as well as general themes and methods for acquiring and disseminating new steps. It is important to describe African American dance as product of historical and social forces not only for reasons of conscience and to avoid the dangers Gilroy implies, but also to explore how reframing African American vernacular dance in contemporary communities has had particular ideological consequences.

One of the things I’ve noticed about contemporary swing dance is that there’s a lot of talk about the creative moment in swing dance history – a proliferation of stories about how dancers invented steps – but very little investigation of the social and political context out of which these steps developed. So, for example, we hear endless stories from Frankie Manning about working in theatre and film. But we don’t hear him discuss the working conditions of black dancers in Hollywood (except in passing), nor do we hear discussions about the reasons why people like the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers came to be able to spend all day and night dancing. Unemployment, poverty, violence and so on are neglected in the popular history of swing dances. My favourite example is the pimp walk – each time it’s taught in class, I hear the story of how it was inspired by pimps swaggering about Harlem. But I have never heard even the slightest reference to the specifics of the pimp’s employment – his reason for swaggering about town.
And of course, if we follow Davis’ point, if there’s no naming of the ‘unnameable’ terrors, there’s no public response possible for the women (and other disempowered individuals). It is all neatly swept under the pedagogic (and practical) blanket of contemporary swing dance.
I’ve also noticed a neglect in contemporary swing dance culture in Australia of the sort of blues music I’ve been talking about. This is in part a result of the musical tastes of dancers in my scene – a preponderance of supergroove. But in neglecting dirty nanna blues, or the sort of crude, funny, violent blues which I quite like, there’s also a clear depoliticisation of blues music and blues dancing in Melbourne. I think that this has been clearly illustrated by a suggestion made for MLX7. If it were to be themed ‘7 deady sins’ (and this is just one of the millions of ideas being floated), and blues was named ‘lust’, then blues dancing and blues music becomes simply sex – a sexualised dance. And, as people like Ma Rainey and Rosetta Crawford and Alberta Hunter and all their sisters have made very clear, ‘the blues’ is far more than just sex. It’s about food, too. ;)
If all the other political and social elements of blues music and dance are neglected, there is no point of reply for these women in song. And, I’d argue quite strongly, the emphasis on follows simply ‘surrendering’ to the lead in blues music as it is danced in Melbourne (where the close embrace and tango-inspired moves are prioritised over other historical forms), supports a particularly scary patriarchal theme in swing dance culture in this city generally.
Shut up and dance, girl.
And of course, as a DJ, it’s endlessly frustrating to hear only a series of repeated supergroove or soul tracks that don’t seem to have any soul at all trotted out for dancers. As a learning-DJ, I want to hear a range of music which can both inspire me as a dancer, and also inspire me as a DJ – encourage me to seek out rare gems and learn more about this music and its history.
One thing that has interested me in all this is the way solo blues (dominated by women) tends to favour the sort of old school blues that reeks of more interesting social themes. There’s a world of difference between East St Louis Toodle-oo, Black and Tan Fantasy and The Mooche and Oscar Peterson tinkling away through Bag’s Groove once again.
I’d really like to see some solo blues to some of the sassy nannas I dig… though the lyrics might actually be a problem – they tend to anchor meaning in a song, limiting the potential scope for interpretation in a dance performance… which might actually be one of their advantages when we’re talking about someone like Nina Simone, who tended to wear her politics on her sleeve.
But, to be fair, there is also the convincing argument that swing dances, as vernacular dances, should reflect the lived experiences of the dancers. This is the one, clear argument for doing things like combining tango steps with blues dancing, playing ‘unswing’ or ‘unblues’ (whether it is soul, r’n’b, hip hop, trance or whatever). I’m certainly not for blind recreation (and preservation) of some imagined historical moment or essence.
… but I’d much rather swing dancers today took on both the feminism of 1920s black blues women in a third wave feminist moment, rather than simply accepting the patriarchal (and capitalist! and heteronormative!) constraints of the pedagogic relationships which dominate contemporary swing dance culture!
And of course, there’s still a great deal to be said about the anti-feminist sentiments of blues music, and disturbing people like Jimmy Witherspoon. Though I think it’s worth pointing out that the 50s and late 40s were far more conservative moments than the 20s in popular African American music and dance.
[edited to add reference:
Davis, Angela Y. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. Toronto: Random House, 1998.]

djing for lindy hoppers at the speegs

DJingAtSpiegeltent.gifI also played a set at the Spiegeltent during MLX. It was very exciting – a well paid gig, where I finally had the chance to play kicking lindy hop songs for a kicking lindy hop crowd. I was also lucky enough to share the set with Trev (thank the goddess for his generousity – I’d never have made it through three and a half hours on my own that night).
So the set was a combination of ‘crazy exchange lindy’ (dancers at exchanges are notoriously? famously? infamously? enthusiastic and open minded about music (compared to when they’re at home)), Trev-inspired old school lindy stuff (ie things I dig but don’t get to play very often here in my regular gigs), stuff that’s just plain old good fun and a few other odds and ends.
It was an interesting set because I had to move from the disco/funk they were playing on the house stereo (I loath nasty transitions), allow for the juggling performance (I regret not getting the energy up before his act so I could get the crowd in the mood), take into account the fact that many of the lindy hoppers would be tired from the previous gig where (for example) Trev DJed an awesome set – the Gangbusters bracket where his tempos averaged 180 – 200 bpm. That’s frickin’ fast. And it was frickin’ fun. I also had to take into account the fact that there were lots of non-dancers jiggling about on the dance floor.
There are a few rules for DJing at the Spiegeltent (so I’ve noticed):
1. Saucy = bad idea. The punters just feel uncomfortable. The guys don’t dance, the girls feel silly.
2. Food songs = fun. Kids love them. Adults love them.
3. Upenergy = go. It’s a fun place, so the energy needs to be fun.
The below list is the set I played that night. I started off with some unswing to segue into my set, then played some ‘necrophiliac blues’ because I wasn’t sure how to get to the main lindy hopping event and was kind of finding my groove (I’m also a bit out of practice). In retrospect, I should have gotten the bpms up higher earlier.
CountBasie.jpgThere were a few bits that I really liked – the shift from Shouting Blues (1949) by Basie to Ridin’ on the L&N by Hamp (1946) to Vine Street Boogie (1941) by Jay McShann (extra meaningful in light of his recent death) was really pleasing. Basie has a kicking rhythm section, of course at the piano himself. JayMcShann.jpgRidin’ on the L&N has a really chunking piano/base/percussion section (of course – this is Hamp), but it really sounds like a train chunking along the track. The vocals (with funny ‘uh-oh, is that a train at the other end of the tunnel?’ stories) are typically Hamp-humour. And of course, the McShann boogiewoogie (slower than uberboogie, but with a nice chunker piano sound) brings us back to Kansas (where Basie got his first go), and had that nice, heavy base feeling, but with the lighter, move-yo-feet! feel that I really like. LionelHampton.jpgI’m a bit over Lavender Coffin, the ‘gospel’ track which followed, but it had the right funny-dark-humour feel I like. The Witherspoon track was a bit of a stylistic jump (to a bit of hi-fi, power-groove), but it seemed appropriate, as Witherspoon (most sexist man alive dead) got his start with McShann. It’s also a great energy upper, and I thought that we’d gotten a bit low-tempo there with those other songs.
I quite like playing that version of A Smo-o-oth One by Cab Calloway because it has no vocals and people always ask me who it’s by. The most common version of that song is one by Benny Goodman (1941) which sits on 126bpm, is nice, but kind of draggy. There’s also a version by Junior Mance (not sure of the year, sorry), which is 125bpm and a big groover song – meaning, kind of dull. I like the Calloway version (181bpm, again I’m not sure of the year, sorry – stupid compilations) because it’s great fun for dancing and pretty punchy.
SpiegeltentJamMLX6.gif
Overall, I was happy with the set, especially with the fact that I played my first ‘jam’ – Jumpin’ at the Woodside. The energy just felt high and good, and I just wanted to hear that song. The generally higher tempos feel of the night generally (and Trev’s influence) helped me take the risk. And of course, I should have realised that such an iconic track would get the kids jammin’. I deliberately chose the later era Basie recording (1960), from The Count Basie Story CountBasieStory.jpg (where he re-recorded the seminal hits from his earlier band with his ‘new testament’ (and arguably better) late testament band) because the quality is sweet. The song before was hi-fi, and I thought a nice, clear hi-fi recording would work best in this situation.
Unfortunately, the base-controlling thingy on the sound desk (which automatically cuts in when the base gets too high, lowers the volume, then slowly lets it back up over a few seconds) cut in near the end and the volume was crappily low. But it meant that I could just move from that to a new, non-jam song without flogging a dead horse. It was a really fun jam, actually, and The Squeeze caught a few amazing photos.
So here’s the set list:
(title-artist-bpm-year-album)
Think-Aretha Franklin-109-Greatest Hits – Disc 1
Please Please Please-James Brown-74-1991-Sex Machine
Hamp’s Salty Blues-Lionel Hampton and His Quartet-86-1946-Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop
Amtrak Blues-Alberta Hunter-95-1978-Amtrak Blues
Why Don’t You Right-Jonathan Stout And His Campus Five Featuring Hilary Alexander-118-2004
St. James Infirmary-Hot Lips Page and his Orchestra-122-1949-Jump For Joy!
Minnie The Moocher-Cab Calloway and His Orchestra-112-1931-The Early Years 1930-1934 Disc A
Every Day I Have The Blues-Count Basie-116-1959-Breakfast Dance And Barbecue
Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee-Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra-130-1949-Lionel Hampton Story 4: Midnight Sun
Flying Home-Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra-159-1940-Tempo And Swing
Good Queen Bess-Duke Ellington-160-1940-The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 10)
Stomp It Off-Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra-190-1934-Swingsation – Jimmie Lunceford
Squatty Roo-Duke Ellington-202-1941-The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 12)
A Viper’s Moan-Willie Bryant And His Orchestra-153 -Willie Bryant 1935-1936
A Smo-o-oth One-Cab Calloway-181-2000-Jungle King
For Dancers Only-Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra-154-1937-Swingsation – Jimmie Lunceford
Shoutin’ Blues-Count Basie and His Orchestra-148-1949-Kansas City Powerhouse
Ridin’ On The L&N-Lionel Hampton and His Quartet-170-1946-Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop
Vine Street Boogie-Jay McShann and His Orchestra-153-1941-Jumpin’ The Blues (Disc 1)
Lavender Coffin -Lionel Hampton, etc-138-1949-Lionel Hampton Story 4: Midnight Sun
Good Rockin’ Tonight-Jimmy Witherspoon-155-1998-Jazz Me Blues: the Best of Jimmy Witherspoon
Jumpin’ At The Woodside-Count Basie and His Orchestra-278-1960-The Count Basie Story (Disc 1)
Sent For You Yesterday-Count Basie and His Orchestra with Joe Williams-163-1960-The Count Basie Story (Disc 2)
Apollo Jump-Lucky Millinder-143-Apollo Jump
Savoy Blues-Kid Ory-134-2002-Golden Greats: Greatest Dixieland Jazz Disc 3
Are You Hep To The Jive?-Cab Calloway-160-1994-Are You Hep To The Jive?
…I have to admit. I did play that bluesier stuff hoping to see a couple of the prissy lindy purists dance de olden dayes blues dancing. Ain’t nothing finer than the power of the Pad o Plastic. I really feel that you can’t dance lindy with any sort of serious cred if don’t also know the blues with your body as well – the sort of blues that was getting around at the same time as this uptempo ‘lindy’ music.
And some lindy hoppers are just so precious.

crazed and manic jubilation

I just found out that my thesis was passed WITHOUT CORRECTIONS!!
I have done the crazy happy dance about 10 times already (lots of high kicks up into the air, a few twirly spin-arounds, some random jiggling).
If I hurry I can do the graduation thing in March/April.
So I am now Dr dogpossum (mostly)! Hoorah!
…remind me to write about the dance conference, will you? I met some lovely (and awe-inspiring) young dancers who work with companies like Bangarra (and how did I introduce myself? “You guys rock!” – I am all about cool. But they did – their mini-performance blew me away!), networked like a crazy person, discovered someone who has Graybags for a supes (and knows Galaxy), told some inappropriate jokes, shared Frida and the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers with a bunch of doods who understood what I’ve been trying to say about them and ate some of the best conference food EVER.
[and hoorah for the markers – the thesis was sent to them at the end of September, and they had the marks to me by today – that’s under 3 months turnaround time]

a few preliminary mlx thoughts – djing

I’ve had a very busy week – from Wednesday last week til yesterday… well, let’s count today as well.
Firstly, we had three lovely houseguests arrive on Wednesday evening, an arrival we celebrated with a fairly extensive barbeque dinner.
Thursday, the MLX began, with a volunteer meeting at 7.30pm, continuing with a free dance at our local venue CBD and rounding up with a gig at the Spiegeltent DJed by myself and Trev. From there the weekend continued at a frenetic pace (suddenly, I can’t seem to spell that word). Our last guest departed this morning at 5am, and I’ve spent the last couple of days lying in bed trying to be well. I have caught that horrible cold again and am pretty well crook. It’s a combination of overworking the last semester and then pushing myself to the point of destruction over the weekend.
I do have a bunch of photos to post, but they’re on The Squeeze’s computer in the other room and I can’t really be bothered sorting the network to get access to them.
I had planned to devote this post (and the following few posts) to random accounts of specific events over the weekend, but I’m so tired I’ve forgotten what I was going to write about.
But let’s start here, with a few comments on DJing (please note: these are just rough ideas and not well thought out. Nor are they representative of the mlx coordinating team – they are just some ideas that I have had).
headphones.jpg Right now I’m sitting here with my new headphones on, a birthday present courtesy of The Squeeze – they’re Sennheiser eh250’s for the DJ nerds amongst you. Apparently quite expensive, and certainly very excellent quality. Perfect for people who’re losing their upper range of hearing – which, apparently, we swing DJs are doing. In spades. This is something which upsets me quite a lot, as I used to have phenomenal hearing. Now I don’t. One of the perils of DJing I guess.
So I’m sitting here in bed, drowning in mucous, fighting off dizziness and tiredness (it seems silly to go back to sleep after only being awake for 5 hours) so as to record some of the weekend’s events.
I’m also trying to get back up to date with my music, seeing as how I’ve committed myself (foolishly) to DJing a set at CBD on Thursday night, and have my last gig at the Speegs this weekend.
We’d booked a number (10, actually) of the country’s best DJs for MLX, and it was fascinating to see how DJs interact at exchanges. I knew that dancers thoroughly enjoyed getting together at exchanges to ‘exchange’ dance styles through actually dancing. But watching DJs pair up at the DJ booth and exchange incredibly nerdy DJing conversations was a joy.
DJs from different cities took great delight in arriving at the DJ booth well before their set to hang out with their DJ buddy who was playing the previous set, and many of the DJs (especially those in our cafe, a venue which became home to the silliest of no-rules dancing and DJing… no-rules in that DJs could do whatever they liked, so long as they didn’t dance during their set, and saved the floor if they emptied it) took the opportunity to ‘battle’ or take turns playing songs and working cooperatively on sets, rather than adhering to the more conventional one and a half hour set turn taking.
As a cultural studies person, my imagination was immediately caught by this cooperative approach to cultural production. As a lindy hopper and cultural studies person, I was doubly attracted to this idea of partnership in creative practice. Very much in keeping with the tradition of African American vernacular jazz dance, where dancers improvise within a shared structure. Much as jazz musicians improvise within a shared, orchestrated musical structure in blues and swinging jazz.
One of my regrets from the weekend is that we couldn’t set up a webcam and do a bit of live streaming lindy action – it would have been interesting to capture the event and send it to other dancers to see their response. But there’s always next year.
I think it’s also worth noting how the weekend exemplified the variety of local DJing practices and cultures there are even within a national DJing and dancing culture. I am giving a paper on this very issue (ie the way the ‘Australian’ swing dance community is more a network of local communities and cultures than a homogenous national whole) in Canberra next week, and I couldn’t help but note how exchanges make these sorts of ideas so very clear.
We can talk at one level of the various local musical tropes – the way each local scene has a particular dominant musical and DJing culture or style. Perth (to draw a long bow), is known for its attention to historical musical accuracy. There is a greater emphasis on music from the 30s and 40s, and on a particular tempo and style of swinging jazz. Of course, the fact that we selected DJs who play within this genre went some way to constructing what amounts to a cultural myth of Perth DJing – there are certainly dancers and DJs within that community whose interests are beyond the limits of this specific genre. It is also worth pointing out that the DJs who played the MLX might also have felt that they must restrict their musical choices to this style – so as to best adhere to our expectations as organisers, and to best ‘represent’ their community.
And this point of course emphasises the role exchanges play in presenting a particular notion of ‘local’ identity and culture. A notion which is of course representative of the dominant ideology or discourse of that community (and event-organising body) rather than of the more complex and diverse whole.
I wonder if the same comments can be made of Melbourne DJs?
We offered a range of DJs over the weekend, choosing DJs who specialised in a particular area so as to best suit the room or event they were playing. We did choose two local Melbourne DJs who favoured a very ‘Perth’ musical style. Though one of these demonstrates a more diverse musical taste when DJing locally. I regret not hearing her set on the Thursday nigh, to see how she chose to play the room. Two others were representative of a very different musical style – heavy on the groove, r’n’b and late testament big band. And also representative of the musical tastes of most Melbourne lindy hoppers.
In contrast, of course, the cafe gained a reputation as an ‘alternative’ room not only through our scheduling of DJs (on the Friday night we held the now-notorious ‘BSides’ event there – where DJs were encouraged to play outside the swinging jazz genre), but also through a general, cooperative consensus about how that space was to be used. This room was decorated so as to present a more ‘friendly’ and social space, as opposed to the main room, which was very much focussed on hard-core dancing: a more effective air conditioning system, a large, clear floor, no decorations beyond the room’s basic ‘ballroom’ fixtures, and a clear musical emphasis on ‘lindy hop’. I don’t doubt that the very layout and decorations of the rooms encouraged particular musical choices from the DJs, which were, of course, a response to the mood and physical interaction of the dancers themselves.
It was interesting to see two Perth DJs generally known for their adherence to historical recreationism (both in terms of dancing and music) produce two very excellent – and quite unconvention (by their usual standards) sets in the cafe. One of whom at least took great delight in playing ‘outside the square’.
This response (which of course demonstrated the flexibility of the DJs we hired) offered an example of how DJs do respond to the room they’re playing, and realise the brief they’re given by the event coordinators. And it was a pleasure to see the DJs taking our brief and do such creative work with it. To take delight in doing something a little ‘naughty’.
Our whole ‘Hot Sides’ approach, where we offered a second room specialising in something a little outside the mainstream of lindy hopping music seemed generally very successful over the weekend. We asked Trev to play a Gangbusters set on our very first night – a room devoted to very fast tempos. A room which consequently proved to be as high-energy an event as I’ve ever seen at a lindy hop exchange. And very popular with the dancers. My only regret is that I had to leave the venue early to set up for the Spiegeltent and missed the rest of this set.
We had the BSides night on Friday, of course, which was massively successful, a point paid testament to by the locker-room stench of the room when we tidied up after it at 6.30am.
On Saturday we held the Sugar Bowl blues night – slow, saucy, sexy music for very close dancing. I’m not sure it was quite as successful as the previous night, but it was definitely a popular room and was always filled.
And on Sunday we offered a less intensely alternative bracket, but I noticed that the pattern set by the previous nights encouraged the DJs in that room to play more ‘alternative’ music, catering to the less rigorously historical recreationist crowd.
And of course, one of the nicest parts of this two-room approach was not only seeing two rooms of dancers with quite different tastes kept happy, but seeing those dancers whose tastes are less codified lurching between the two rooms to sample both styles.
As The Squeeze succinctly put it “if the song sucked in one room, I went to the other”.
I will think more about this and post again. Hopefully when I’m not so seriously high on cold and flu tablets and my own body temperature.
edit:
I judge a DJ ‘successful’ or ‘good’ when they:
– keep the floor full all the time
– can recover after clearing the floor
– work the energy of the room, using highs and lows, rather than one single ‘mood’ (ie varying the musical ‘mood’ from high energy and crazy to more mellow and moderate energy)
– respond to the crowd’s mood – if the dancers are looking to party like fools, they bring the partyfool music
I also expect a degree of professionalism from DJs at something like MLX (which had hundreds of dancers in attendance, and was really serving as a representation of Melbourne lindy culture), including:
– not dancing during their sets (something which proved controversial, and which I’ll return to later when it’s not so close an issue)
– arriving 15 minutes before their set was to begin, in order to touch base with the previous DJ
– beginning their set on-time
– having a basic understanding of the equipment they’re using – ie being able to adjust the levels and volumes in a way that makes for a more pleasurable dancing experience
These are not only my expectations, but also those of the MJDA who was running the event – we agreed on these terms before hiring our DJs.
And of course, we pay our DJs well (with better rates than other Australian events), and offer decent working conditions.
We also ask our DJs to send us a complete set list after the event so that we can forward this to APRA and pay our dues to that organisation. An interesting allusion to our stance on intellectual and creative copyright legislation.

btw

Hey homies.
I did take a lot of prep shots of the barbeque, but that was a hundred years ago, and we’ve been very very busy since. I went to bed at 4am Friday morning, then got up at 2.30 Friday afternoon, then to bed at 7.30am Saturday morning, then up at 2.30 Saturday afternoon, then to bed at 7.30am Sunday, then up at 3.30, then… ok, so I got up at 4.30 this afternoon.
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The MLX was fucking awesomely successful. We had hundreds and hundreds of dancers and DJs and everything. I will post full details in due course. Once I’ve slept more. Or perhaps in a couple of hours when the insomnia kicks in.
But to tide you over, I’ve added this photo of me DJing at the Spiegeltent (c/o Thai – thanks dood). This was taken early on in the night before the jugggling show (!) and before they took down the mini-stage. Later the floor was full of idiot lindy hoppers and drunken fools til 3am. The venue management gushed and gushed – the manager was dancing like a fool, and one of the staff came to all the MLX events over the weekend (I don’t doubt the presence of all the hawt Perth girls helped).
It was a fabulous venue and I’m there again this Saturday if you’re around town and want to catch up.
BTW the BBQ food was awesome.

this weekend’s program

Ok, so here’s the program for this MLX6 weekend:
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Thursday 8.30-midnight: Apollo Jump and Gangbusters, 3 dJs, 2 floors, CBD nightclub. Free.
Thursday 11.30-3am: Jumpin’ at the Spiegeltent. 2 DJs, the Amazing Spiegeltent. $5.
Friday 6.30-8.30. Welcome Drinks, Holliava Bar, Richmond.
Friday 8:30-midnight: King Porter Stomp with George Washingmachine (Sydney), Julie O’Hara and her quintet, Forever Dance, Richmond. $24.
Friday midnight-6am: Jumpin at the Woodside and BSides, aprox 6 DJs, 2 rooms (hard core lindy/BSides ‘unswing’), Forever Dance. $10.
Saturday 2.00-4.00pm. Marquis of Lorne Hotel, Fitzroy. Lunch.
Saturday 4:00-7:00pm. Beer-and-Band. Virus at the Laundry in Fitzroy. Free.
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Saturday 3-5pm. Afternoon tea dance. DJ. Spiegeltent. $10.
Saturday 8.30-midnight. Strutters’ Ball. JW Swing Orchestra, Coppin Hall Prahran.$28.
Saturday midnight – 6am. Jumpin at the Woodside and The Sugar Bowl (lindy/blues). 6+ DJs, 2 rooms. Forever Dance. $10.
Sunday 2:00-5:30pm. MLX6 picnic. Fitzroy Gardens.
Sunday 1:00-3:00. B# Big Band at Copacobana, Collingwood. $10.
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Sunday 7:00-10:00pm. Flying Home Dance with Mike McQuaid’s Red Hot Rhythmakers. Forever Dance. $20.
Sunday 10:00-late. Jumpin’ at the Woodside. Hundreds of DJs. 2 rooms, Forever Dance. $10.
If you’ve bought a pass, it’ll all cost you only $60.
Now, my program for the weekend is as above, just add in:
Friday 2:00-7:00pm. Set up at Forever Dance.
Thursday 7.30pm. Volunteer meeting.
And then add in the fact that I’m DJing at the Spiegeltent that first Thursday, and I’m running the late nights (with wonderful Keith). I’m also expecting to be there to help Wendy on Thursday night, and at every event over the weekend I’ll be hanging around for the other organisers when they need me (we’ve divided up all the events between us).
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We have about 100-odd people flying in from interstate and overseas, and millions of local coming.
I am coordinating our 10 wonderful DJs and 25 fabulous volunteers.
I will have 3 houseguests (Perth, San Diego and Tasmania, Representing) and 1 Squeeze to play with. It will be a massive weekend (it always is), but now that I’ve finished my marking (as of yesterday!), my extreme anxiety has disappeared, and I feel like it’s Christmas eve.
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The temperature has dropped to the very pleasant mid-20s and my guests are flying in tonight. I’m really looking forward to the weekend!

[NB all these photos are from The Squeeze‘s collection. They used to be there at his flickr account, but I suspect he’s lost his uber priveleges, hence their unsee-able-ness. Btw, I reccommend those Pnlrland pics – they are work safe. Wearing bright orange vests and all.]

FIVE STEPS A SECOND

Feeling a little tired, finding it difficult to concentrate?
Sounds like you have
Marking fatigue
Take one of these and call me in the morning.
Coming in at 275bpm (or thereabouts), this fast finals of the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown comp for 2006 is fricking fast. At one point one couple dances in half-time, then shifts back to full-time (French wunderkind Max and Alice – in black shirt and jeans/black dress), and they look like a film speeded up when they make that shift.
To give you an idea of how fast 275bpm is (if you can’t be arsed going and looking and listening), we’re talking about 5 steps a second. FIVE STEPS A SECOND. Can you even run that fast, let alone dance that fast?
When Max and his partner dance half time, they’re dancing at about 137bpm. 140 is an average tempo in Melbourne atm (though it should be 160 at least).
I guess I don’t need to explain why I needed to get back in shape for MLX6, huh?
The first couple in that clip are Frida and Todd Yanacocmamancobi (?). He’s about 12 and she’s about 16. Well, actually, she’s about 22 and he’s about 20. He gets better and better and better each time I see him dance. Frida still blows my brain – I have yet to see a young lindy hopper who’s better. We have no dancers in Australia who can dance at the standard of these guys.
If you’re interested, the winners are Ria and Nick (she’s wearing a short, shiny red skirt and he’s wearing a red shirt), second place was taken by Frida and Todd and third by Max and Alice.