…and if you take care to compare this image with the one in the previous post you’ll see why.
– and just to make it absolutely clear, check out the littlest charlestoner* in this clip:
*that makes is sound like Frida is a little dolly. She’s not, she’s a ravening beast.
Zachi, however, is a sweety. A sixty-metre tall lanky young 20s sweety.
…I would like to ask a question about “the everyday”, in those CS quote marks – is consumption of canonical or high art an everyday activity, and if it isn’t what is it? Posted by: Laura at August 7, 2006 03:30 PM
I think the man to answer this question is right up there in the cs canon (or at least the audience studies canon). Take it away Henry Jenkins…
I skip about a bit in the next part of this post (I’m a bit distracted, so I can’t really take time to formulate a sensible argument)…
I think the key point (in my approach, anyhoo) is not so much the nature of the actual text or practice, but the way it is institutionalised, commodified and ‘valued’ by various cultural and social forces.
I’ve been looking at this issue in reference to dance (of course), comparing the way ballet and vernacular dances like hip hop or breaking are approached by audiences.
[In an aside, the discussions on wikipedia’s project dance (esp the talk pages) – people want to capitalise the names of specific ballet choreographies, but aren’t so sure about how to capitalise vernacular dances like lindy or hip hop].
I’ve also noticed that the way swing dancers – DJs in particular – approach jazz is quite different to the way the genre is approached by jazzniks. One of the clearest and nicest illustrations of how different groups imagine jazz lies in the way Bennett’s Lane puts on gigs (Bennett’s Lane is a well respected local jazz venue – devoted to ‘quality’ jazz). They are very strict about noise during performances, and do NOT allow dancing. This is such a strange and bizarre contrast to the way jazz functioned socially in the 20s, 30s and 40s – it was pub music. It’s also a serious contrast to the way I experience and enjoy jazz at the Laundry in Fitzroy on Saturday afternoons: it’s loud, it’s full of smoke and drinkers, the band members will get down off the stage and kick audience arse if they give them trouble. They don’t care if we dance, and there is – as a consequence – a really exciting and dynamic relationship between dancers, musicians and audience at these gigs.
But at Bennett’s Lane (and other venues around the place), there’s a definite positioning of jazz as ‘art’, which must be ‘appreciated’ from a distance, rather than enjoyed with the body, up close and personal. There are quite culturally specific ways of demonstrating appreciation going on. Just as Jenkins noted that Checkhov fans used different language to describe their interest in theatre, there are clear differences in the way certain groups approach jazz and music.
Here’s a quote from chapter one of my thesis about the relationship between audiences and performers, audiences and texts in dance:
Considering dance, whether vernacular dance or performance dance, as a public discourse, allows us to analyse it for ideological content, for the ways in which identity markers such as class, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, age and so on are represented and valued by a particular community of people. Reading vernacular dance as everyday discourse encourages us to see social dance as an exchange of ideas, and as a site for the negotiation of identity and social relations between individuals and groups within a community. I draw clear distinctions between vernacular dance traditions, where dance occurs in everyday spaces, between ordinary people, and concert or performance dance traditions, where dance is relegated to particular â€˜dance spacesâ€™ which are separate from the everyday spaces of a community. Ward makes this distinction: â€œthere is a categorical divide between dancers and the audience in performance dance â€¦that does not exist between dancers and spectators in social dance, where those roles are interchangeableâ€ (18). I read this dynamic relationship between the roles of â€˜spectatorâ€™ and â€˜dancerâ€™ in social or vernacular dance as a clear example not only of call-and-response, but also of the ways in which readers participate in the making of meaning in textual interpretation. (pg5)
Later on I add this:
The word â€˜vernacularâ€™ in a discussion of dance refers to the everyday or ordinary, common dance of a particular group or culture. Vernacular dance is distinguished from concert or theatre dance through its positioning in everyday spaces, rather than existing only as a formalised, and usually choreographed, performance of a particular dance on a concert stage. Vernacular dance is intrinsically participatory and happens in all sorts of spaces, both public and private. It is also necessarily mutable and reflexive, responding to the cultural needs of its performers. (pg9)
I wonder if one of the key differences between ‘low’ and ‘high’ cultural forms and practices is this issue of distance – there is (in Western culture …?) a divide between the audience and text/practice in high art forms, whereas the ‘low’ forms encourage close proximity between audiences and texts – you have only to consider the Big Brother website and voting system to see how particular industries and textual forms encourage audiences to get close to texts. If only so that they can be more easily targetted by advertisers.
It can’t be an accident that high art forms like ballet and opera have trouble keeping audience numbers up, and that various marketing strategies that aim to make these sorts of forms more approachable to wider audiences are at once endorsed, yet also regarded with some suspicion by those sections of our community which have a vested interest in maintaining social heirarchies.
…there’s a good article by Joann Kealiinohomoku on reading ballet as an ‘ethnic’ dance that examines how race and class work in high and low art form (and in anthropological approaches to ‘culture’ and ‘society’): 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.
In our house The Squeeze is convinced that BB is not only foul, but also immoral. He leaves the room if it’s on. I don’t care much either way, in fact I’m watching it now. I’d prefer it if it was unedited, and just a bunch of people in a room with no ‘tasks’ – just like watching a bunch of sharehousers who’re on the dole. No money, so they can’t afford to go out. No imagination, so they don’t go do free stuff. Eeeexcellent.
But I do have a problem with the new program ‘Honey I’m killing the kids’. Ostensibly a program committed to ‘helping’ parents with overweight kids, rather than focussing on positive reinforcement for the parents and children, I suspect the tools are guilt, guilt and more guilt. Nice. I won’t be watching that.
I’ve watched very little telly lately – beyond the eternal Buffy and Angel (seasons 4 and 2 respectively) – but I have my eye on tonight’s OC. Nice.*
In other, more important news, I have a John Travolta obsession. I am convinced, when I’m dancing, that I am the man. It doesn’t help that I think I’m funny when I strut it, Saturday Night Fever style. It’s particularly unhelpful that lindy is built for strutting. Or, more importantly, blues dancing is built for strutting. A keen balboa fan was asking “you’re into this blues stuff – what’s the deal? I just don’t get it,” and of course, the only response is: “strut. You need to strut. Either take it incredibly seriously, or incredibly unseriously. But strut.” It’s true. Blues dancing is all about strutting.
*NB Willow now has an ibook. An oooold one.
Ok, so I haven’t read that article, yet, but I have read most of this:
It’s one of the most recent contriubtions to dance studies work on African American vernacular dance history, edited by Tommy DeFrantz, who does some interesting work on queer black masculinity in dance. While there’s a little more emphasis on concert dance than I’m really interested in, there are also some neat articles, especially one on ring shouts which is really worth reading for a discussion of African slaves’ experiences with christianity, as represented in dance.
I think this series of entries is really me logging in my reading process, as I go through an article in a journal. Tedious stuff if you’re looking for a coherent, sensible argument. Interesting stuff if you’re into active readership… dang. Did I give away the punch line?*
If you’ve already read my last entry (who am I kidding?), you might be interested in reading this – it’s the McKee text I quoted. Interestingly, McKee notes that
I’m trying to encourage people to break out of their normal habits, to think about the culture they consume. I’m thinking that maybe we shouldn’t just do the same thing, every day week in, week out.
….a global campaign encouraging people to boycott books for one week and to challenge you to explore new ways of passing time.
You could try talking to friends, or dancing to some music. You could even watch some television!’
Do you like the way McKee lists some of my most favourite things there? And how, for me, these are the cultural practices in the forefront of my mind? Will I dance? Will I stay home and watch telly? Will I talk with friends while watching telly? Will I read? Oh, dilemma, dilemma.
I still feel, even though I love telly and understand all those arguments about high/low culture, loving mass culture for its own goodness, that perhaps encouraging people to ‘turn off their telly’ for a week is not a bad thing. And not just because it saves power.**
Look, I’m getting off-track now, and I still haven’t read that article, but really, why am I so bothered by McKee’s comments? Surely it’s not just because it seems to have toppled into that big fat bottomless pit of uncritical critical theory which seems to dogg me at every conference***?
Geez. I wonder if all this confusion and brow-furrowing on my part is really just a result of watching too much Buffy and Angel, where there seems to be an eternal tension between ‘old knowledge’ and ‘new knowledge’, namely in the persons of Willow (read: Witch/feminist/lesbian/macslut****/hawt young thing with irritating approach to slang English) and Giles/Wesley (read: Watchers’ council/patriarchy/booknerds)?***** Probably.
and CRAP, where is the INTERNET in all this book v telly crap? I mean, geez, hasn’t anyone read that thing about media convergence yet?****** Or is that as totally uncool as globalisation/global media now?*******
*this was meant to be a joke where I linked to a post by a local Aussie acblog, but I can’t find the link now. Sorry. It was funny and clever. Was.
**this is where I link to what I’m thinking of as the ‘sequel’ to the save water campaign in Melbourne. I’m kind of interested in the ramifications of this power campaign. I like the whole ‘you have the power’ plug (so to speak) – it makes me laugh to think of how this switching off unnecessary power soures is kind of functioning as an incitement to quit consuming… vig gov goes socialist? I wonder how origin feels about all this?
*** Hell if I’ll name names – these doods seem to be so online I’ll totally get busted. But you know who I’m talking about. Don’t you? They tend to be a bit slow to engage in any satisfying way with issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc, beyond glib book titles and throw away lines. And they love that new media.
Though, frankly, who doesn’t love that new media?
****Go on, tell me you didn’t find Willow’s steady progression to the world of macdom just a little bit signficant to her appeal as thinking-woman’s-hero/hawt-young-dyke/Wicced-kewl young thing? Go on, admit it – you just love to see a slightly-undernourished-young-academic-sexually-ambigious-mildly-androgenous-gingah sporting those sexy safety-corner apple products. you bet your i-life you do!
…you know that we’ve been sitting here on the couch the past few months quietly noting her progression from ugly, clunky pc desktops in Ms Calender’s class to her clunky oldskool macbook, and now are waiting (somewhat breathlessly) for her ibook to appear. But be assured – I will blog it as soon as it appears.
*****off-the-top-of-my-head reference: Blind Date in Angel season one, where Cordy scoffs at Wesley’s slooow old school bookteck, while kicking his arse in the research stakes with her computer, and yet also spending 1 hour and 40 minutes on the phone to Willow who has also been decrypting files all day (ref for the Buffy parallel eps where that goes down – the Yoko Factor and Primeval). Though, really, if I was Cordy at that moment, and considering Willow’s recent Outing at that point in season 4 of Buff, there’s plenty to talk about – at least 1 hour and 40 minutes’ worth.
******Wait til you read my thesis. It’s right there in Chapter 5:DJing as the convergence of media forms and practices in embodied dance discourse
*******Chapters 2 through 6.
You might be interested in this issue of the CSAA newsletter, three articles down, where Greg Noble writes about “A cultural studies anti-canon?” Speaking as someone who did an MA on newspapers (how uncool! how …analogue of me!), this caught my attention…
NB the whole mac thing – you know that I’m making a joke about how mac has so totally scored with its marketing towards my demographic with the whole white/safety corners/block colour thing, right? Right?
to write about female role models for lindy hoppers, will you?
Thinking about Frida has made me think about expanding a bit of one of my chapters (ch3 I think) where I wrote about gendered resistance and transgression in dance in contemporary swing dance culture.
In that chapter I looked at how women (and men, but I’m mostly interested in women) do resistant stuff while actually dancing. I write about:
– resistance within the lead-follow partnership, as follows (I think that’s where I talk about the swivel and African American v Anglo American styling and gender performance therein – and how women dancers in the 2000s can borrow from these 1930s examples to do active stuff. All via archival film, of course, and then (even more interestingly) via networks of shared clips).
– resistance within the lead-follow partnership, where women lead
– solo dancing for women on the social dance floor (with a reference to flappers and charleston as a radical departure from partner dancing (and the heteronormativity) in the 20s… and in the 2000s. Interesting point: the 30s and 40s were SO conservative compared to the 20s!)
I want to have a think and a write about this stuff in a more comprehensive way. Possibly something for an article for a feministy/gender studies journal? Maybe a feminist media studies journal?
Today is a kind of day out of time for me. The thesis is with the Supes, to be looked at later on (and to be talked about next Thursday). Next week I’m going to get into all the annoying administrative bits of submitting a thesis – cover sheets, descriptions, forms, etc. But this week (ie the last 2 or 3 days, incuding today) I’ve given myself leave to do whatever I like. That means:
- obsessing about the MLX6 site. I have some neat stuff from our Arty Team (ie Kylee and Scotti – designer and scribbler respectively), and a good plan for the site. But this week was all about designy stuff – trying to make the logo work with the practical functions of the site. Or, in other words, laying it all out on the page in a pretty and yet usable way. Eek.
- finishing off some sewing jobs that really needed doing (PJs for The Squeeze – bad wobot, altering my lovely plum stretch needle cord trousers so they’re not mega bags, finishing off a neat black (with white arm-stripes, red wrist-cuffs and big red cross on the front) fleece jumper – fleece is neat. I promise to post some sort of pictures at some point. This last jumper was black, white and red in an attempt to be Serious and Grown Up (esp after my pink and red fleece hello-kitty lined hood fleecy cardigan thing), but ended up looking like something Dennis teh Menace would wear:
I like to imagine that I am, in fact, a comic book hero when I’m burning down Sydney Rd, dodging cars and yelling “BAM!” under my breath* like Frida: She does actually yell “BAM!” and she’s probably shouting “YEAH!” in a loud, Swedish-American accent in that photo.
- discovering last-minute thesis jobs and FREAKING out about them
- actually submitting my Intention to Submit form (yes, I know – it’s madness. But you have to give them 3 months to find you 3 markers or else you delay the return of your thesis post-marking), with abstract, thesis title (what? you mean I have to name this thing before it’s even finished gestating? what?!). I can’t remember what that was. No, wait, I’ve found it:
Hepfidelity: Swing dance and the role of digital media in embodied practice
- And… what else have I done? Oh, I went to see Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, where there were 4 of us in the cinema – me and 3 teenage/first year boys. I laughed at the Huxtable jokes, they laughed at the hip hop references. Cultural capital for all.
So it’s been an ok week. I feel a bit lost, but still. I’ve also been looking for work. Yeah, right. Let’s not talk about THAT.
Anyhoo** here are two interesting things to read:
- this blog called avant game, which is a far more interesting games studies blog than any I’ve ever read before
- and B’s entries on meditation, starting here which are quite a lovely read.
I especially like this bit:
Upon returning to Alice Springs, I kept up my practice, and found other people to meditate with from time to time. One group that met on Sunday afternoons was a small Sangha group. It was held in the artistâ€™s workshop out back of the house of one of the members. Although I was not really studying Buddhism, they were always welcoming, and it was a pleasure to sit with them for a half hour in that quiet room, and feel their energy.
I really like this idea of being part of a group while meditating. Meditationg, martial arts and other inwards-looking practices like yoga or Thi Chi can often be seriously inward-looking, or in-the-body. To such an extent that they can affect your outward-looking interactions with others***. I am really interested in the idea of being-in-the-body and inward-focussed, and yet to still be aware of and part of a group or partnership. It’s an idea I’d like to explore a little more. Particularly when you keep in mind that African American vernacular dance – vernacular dance is about being part of a group, about social context, and about call-and-response between dance partners, between dancers on the floor, between musicians and dancers, and between dancers and audiences. Being seriously inwards-looking is kind of not so great in a social dance situation where the dance is all about conversations with others…
* I’m brave, but not that brave.
**that was for you, Galaxy – I’m crazily aware of it now. But I think of a friend called Dave who says it a lot. He’s probably referencing the Simpsons, but I’m referencing an insanely good dancer who’s also a Thai Chi master country boy.
***it’s not uncommon for hardcore martial arts people or yogis to be quite terrible partner dancers because they’re so focussed internally, they are so good at responding with their bodies, they’re not so good at responding with their bodies in relation to others, as a partnership.
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 Â 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.
– 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
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: â€œIs playing a small amount of non-swing music at a swing event a major problem.â€ The smarty pants answer would be, just play some Neo. My real answer is I donâ€™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 itâ€™s a matter is checking if those â€œnon-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.
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).