Dancing to Live Music

by Roger Weiss

OK, I admit it; I prefer dancing to live music. Not that I have anything against dancing to recorded music, it’s just that when given the choice, a good live band always wins. I should add that I’m not writing this because I run a live-music dance; I run a live-music dance because I believe in live music and would like to encourage others to support it as well. If dance communities don’t support live music, bands will break up or stop traveling outside their immediate area. If they break up, there’ll be no new recorded music! I’ve been concerned about this trend for some time, and have spoken to others about their thoughts. Below, are some opinions from dancers, teachers, and musicians.

Dancer/teacher Teri Calderone says, “There is an energy that exists with good live music that cannot be duplicated with CDs.” Larry Edelman, a dancer/caller from Colorado says, “There is a wonderfully responsive feedback loop between dancers and musicians. Live music energizes dancers to dance better (than they would have with recorded music) and enjoy it more. The dancers’ enthusiastic response sparks the band to play even better and with increased energy, which is passed back to the dancers, who have an even better time. This dynamic interplay between dancers and musicians makes for a powerful dance experience that can’t be matched with recorded music.” Hop to the Beat dance teacher Aurelie Tye says: “It doesn’t always happen, but when you feel the energy in a room as the band and dancers feed off each other, it can’t be beat! Each band has its own style and feel, and with live music comes a certain level of unpredictability, all of which can inspire new, fresh dance possibilities.” O-Tones musician, Mary Witt says: “With live music, you don’t have the predictability of canned music…performers and dancers respond to the moment through music and movement tailored to what’s happening right then”.

Frankie Manning-Roger WeissIn his autobiography, Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop, co-written by Cynthia R. Millman, Frankie talks about the connection between the dancers and the band when he describes a dance competition he won, in which he introduced the first air step. “I flung that girl so far across the floor that we almost took up the whole ballroom! This was one time when we really danced to the music, and it seemed like the band was catching everything we were doing. Every time I kicked my leg out, Chick [Webb] would say, “DJBOOM!” If I did a little a little swing-out, Taft Jordon would play, “BEOOOOWWW!” Frieda [Washington] had one of the greatest twists of any of the girls, and she could really show it off. When she was twisting around me, Chick Webb was playing “CHEEE-CHI-CHI, CHEEE-CHI-CHI” on the cymbals keeping time with her…I swung her out and did a jump turn over her head while Chick said, “SHUUMMP!” Then I jumped so we were back to back and flipped her. While she was going over, he played “CHI-CHI-CHI-CHI-CHI-CHI-CHOO.” And when she hit the floor right on the beat… “BOOMP!” They won the dance contest, and no one could deny the interaction between them and the band was a tremendous help.

It is true that you are sometimes gambling on whether a band will be good and/or danceable, but when the band and dancers are in sync, and “talking” to each other, the dancing is great, and the energy a dancer can get from a good, live band is unbeatable. So, if having the opportunity to dance to live music is important to you, support it now to keep it around for years to come.

(Full disclosure: I’ve been running the monthly Boston Swing Dance Network dances (www.bostonswingdance.com) for over twenty years, where we feature a different band every month.)

Copyright Roger Weiss, ©2003, 2007. All rights reserved by the author. Duplication or use in any other medium, including but not limited to print publication, another web site, or downloading to a storage medium on CD, floppy disk, hard drive, zip drive, or tape, without the written permission of the author is prohibited.

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