As the nights get colder and the days get shorter, I’ve been pondering other aspects of this dance we love so much. It’s caused me to think about what could possibly be done to not only make it better, but make it more fun for everyone involved. And I do mean everyone. So I want to talk about something dancers generally tend not to think much about: the music. Or, in some cases, the band. What is the band playing? What is the band saying? And more importantly, are we saying the same?
Most traditional jazz bands sound somewhat similar to each other. The same goes with most swing bands or blues bands or alternative rock bands. But even so, they create their own compositions which are reflective of their style. And some have their own unique renditions of songs over a hundred years old. So as different bands bring different sounds, so can it bring out unique interpretations in dancing.
As dancers, it’s hard to think about our place in the music. It takes enough energy to worry about where our feet are moving, what moves to try next, how to respond to our partners, and a million other things. To add an awareness of the music along with how to go about responding to it seems absurd. But it’s a wonderful thing to learn and helps us gain perspective of lindy hop as a whole. So here are some concepts I’ve been thinking of to help start this process.
When speaking on dancing, the concept of musicality appears. This has to do with the way the body responds to music rhythmically. Solo jazz is a style of dance this is perfect for. Learning solo jazz steps and routines to dance alone to can completely change our perspective on the music. And adding solo jazz intermittently with lindy hop can bring a different aspect to dancing entirely. This can grant us the ability to do smaller moves when the band isn’t playing as big, and gradually get bigger to match its intensity. It also allows us to express ourselves individually while still in the context of partner dancing.
Most people have a favorite band to dance to. The band they’ll always go out to see. The band they pull out their best moves dancing to. When I’m swing dancing to my favorite band, my first instinct is call-and-response. This brings me, again, to the idea of matching intensity. Even the most intense band isn’t intense ALL the time. Sometimes it’s quiet. Sometimes it’s small. This balances out the musical dynamic so as to make the intense moments that much more intense. In theory, if a song is a story my dancing might reflect the plot. Whether it’s a slow ballad or a hoppy charleston bit, my ultimate goal as a dancer is to let the music guide me, rather than my own narrative. Imagine watching a ballet dancer move to a hip-hop beat (which actually sounds very cool and is something I didn’t know I needed to see until now). While it shows incredible talent on the dancer’s part, the composition as a whole might not flow as well. So I think about working with the band. Not just being aware of its presence during my dancing, but also encouraging the concept that we’re a part of the same idea.
All in all, I’ve found it challenging to play with these ideas. It diversifies my dancing and adds a different element to it completely. Also, it’s just plain fun to see how silly I can get during a song. There are many serious things in this world: ancient scrolls, filibusters and, dare I say, spreadsheets. However, swing dancing isn’t one of them. There’s no need to make it so.
Ian Monroe is a contributing writer for Crescent City Swing, community member, and friend.