Skippy Blair's DANCE BLOG

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

MUSIC Makes the World Go Round

Everybody knows how important music is to a competition. Everybody seems to have a solution, and none of them are the same. Almost by accident, a phenomenon was revealed to us at the 'Jack & Jill O¹RAMA' in Costa Mesa.

Because there were so many different 'era' competitions, music started having a 'design' to those in attendance. Almost every song in the '60s era' turned out to be a good one. (David is to be commended on his choices from that era. The selections were wonderful.) What is a 'good' piece of music? My classification for Swing music may be a little different than most, but the classification goes something like this:

#1. There is music that should not be played for dancing - particularly in a competition. In a social setting, it is music that you sit out - (or wish you had) - or you just dance, waiting for it to end. These songs should be identified - and eliminated from competition.

#2. There is some music that 'demands' that you do certain syncopations. Sometimes that 'riff' in the rhythm section is repeated over and over until you get tired of dancing that same rhythm, or same syncopation. (This is almost always a recording with a synthesized drum machine - not a live drummer) This kind of music takes away your own musical interpretation and forces you to repeat specific rhythms. This can drive you crazy if you are a creative type - OR it can be very comfortable for those who like the music to do the driving. In a competition, this is usually a boring presentation no matter how good the dancers usually perform.

#3. There is music that 'allows' you to dance your dance. It doesn¹t interfere with your musical interpretation or your timing or your personal styling. It is fun to dance to and it is certainly welcome when you get it in a Jack & Jill.

#4. Then there is music that actually MAKES you get up and WANT to dance. You are sitting down and the music pulls you to your feet (you might even stand there and dance alone)! This music not only allows, but encourages you to dance. It suggests different rhythms but does not demand a thing. It stirs the creative juices. This is not just OK music, but the kind of music you pray for in a competition.

The interesting part of this whole scenario is that these different 'sounds of music' are NOT classified by Blues, Contemporary, Slow or Fast. They are identified by a particular rhythmic sound that 'Makes you want to dance Swing!' - In other words - it is music that 'SWINGS!'

During the '60s competition' at the 'J&J O¹RAMA' it became apparent that every song of the 60s era that was played - worked. The 'sound' was predictable - safe - fun - exciting - and inspired everyone to dance.

On Sunday, when the Champions were ready to compete - they were given a choice of Blues or Contemporary. Pete Green was the first to choose. He grinned and asked - What about 60s? John Wheaton checked with DJ Dave Koppelman and it was a 'go.' Contestant after contestant requested 60s music. The performances were wonderful - creative - fun! Somewhere along the line - someone requested a Blues. When it started, I thought the music was too fast. I listened more closely and found that truly - the music WAS a Blues. However, it was a classic MUSIC Blues. That means that the configuration was 6 'Sets of 8' - rather than 4 'Sets of 8.' So what does that mean? It simply means that what the dancer has in mind for 'Blues' is a sound and a feeling. It has nothing to do with the music world¹s definition of Blues. 'Blues' as a musical category, all by itself, is not a dance category. I may be getting in over my head here - These things are easy to explain in person, or in an Intensive where demonstrations can be made. Trying to explain some things on a printed page is almost impossible. I have said many of these things before and been misunderstood. These are things that must be said if our 'Swing World' is ever going to be taken seriously as a professional category of dance.

We may not agree with some of the concepts of International Dance Organizations - or UCWDC - or other Dance Organizations who run National Dance Competitions, BUT they all seem to have one thing in common: They all use 'approved' music for competition. They have gone through the pain of years of unreliable music selection - and arrived at the fact that 'fast' and 'slow' are different tempos according to who makes the determination. Specific 'Tempo' is the only way to measure the speed of music. Swing music can range roughly from 90 beats per minute to 125 beats per minute (BPM) - Yes it can go slower and yes it can go faster, but we are talking 'in general' for the average competition. Tempo however, is only ONE consideration and is the easiest to determine. The difficult determination is 'Does the music SWING?' There are thousands of songs - both old and new - that 'swing' and still we continue to use Hustle music, Rumba music and even some that we can not identify, just because SOMEONE likes that music. Hustle, Rumba, Cha-Cha etc should be announced when they are played, so that dancers can at least have an educated opinion and not be lulled into thinking that ALL music is SWING music. Sooner or later we MUST have approved Swing Music, if we expect to be taken seriously in the professional world of dance. Approved music also makes for a wonderful social scene of dancing!

I am currently in the planning stages of producing a DVD that chronicles the process that we use in Intensives for determining whether or not a piece of music 'swings.' Before the DVD is produced, there will be an 'open forum' (no charge) for anyone interested in participating in the project - or in learning the process for what is currently planned. If YOU are interested, please email me and you will be advised of the date & location. (currently planned for Sept. ¹05)

For more information on Golden State Dance Teachers Association (GSDTA) or the Dance Dynamics Certification Board (DDCB), please log on to <>

Skippy Blair - Co-Founder & Education coordinator for the World Swing Dance Council 562-869-8949 Email: