Category Archives: Thoughts

DJs – Cultivators of Taste

Over at Fog City Stomp 2017, Nirav hosted a Musician’s Panel which opened by asking Michael Gamble his thoughts on the role of the DJ. Check out the answer starting at 4:50.

The first thing that struck me was his view that the DJ’s role is to cultivate the musical taste of the scene. Even if your local scene doesn’t have good to great swing bands, you can still access the greatest swing music ever played. In fact, he implored DJs to widen their catalogs and search for unfamiliar (to you) swing dance tunes.

That’s an important charge and one I’d like to make sure we’re meshing with our DJ philosophy of playing, I’ll say, visceral music. We want our music to relate to deep inward feelings rather than to your intellect. Then we have cultivate our DJs’ taste along with our audience’s taste.

This is invaluable advice to move our scene forward and another important aspect to the role of the Swing DJ. You’re not just letting a playlist run, you’re the curator of taste.

Rambling on a Slow Whip Experience

I used to compete at dance competitions a lot. Initially, my primary competition outlet were at west coast swing conventions. Their competitions were most accessible to me for a few factors:

-I could compete in a level-appropriate Jack & Jill whether it was a regular Jack & Jill, Pro/Am, Mixed Ages, etc

-Strictly comps, where you pick your partner, didn’t feel so focused about the perfect partnership dynamic as lindy hop competitions feel. I met one woman at event, found we danced well, asked her to compete at the next comp we’d be at and she said “yes.” I feel a greater pressure to win or place well with lindy hop. One of these reasons is because lindy hop competitions doesn’t have many level divisions, have great pools of prelim dancers and then typically narrows straight to finals featuring 5-8 couples.

-They were fun even when you didn’t know what you were getting into!

That leads me to my Slow Whip experience in Texas. Back in 2006 or 2007, I was at America’s Classic and saw the Slow Whip competition in their brochure. On a whim, I asked Samantha Buckwalter (seen below in the video) to compete with me. All I remember is that she agreed, our mutual goal was not to place last, and that Slow Whip featured slow and fast movement. Good enough, right?

What I didn’t know until later was that we were being judged by Slow Whip’s old-timers. Gah! And we were being spotlighted two couples at a time. Say what? And we’d be dancing to live music. Woohoo!

For not knowing what I got myself into, I had a lot of fun. Dancing west coast swing (excuse me, slow whip) to live music was an undeniable treat. Best of all… we didn’t place last, just second to last.

Letting the Path Choose You

I was recently hiking near Breckenridge. Like most hikes, you had to pick your way across mud, water, and rocks. As much as I’d like to scout my path, rock to rock or dry patch to dry patch, I’m always willing to go with the flow that the loose rock dictates.

Rather than fighting for balance, I’ll flow the direction given and try to best choose the next step given where I’m now heading. Sometimes I’ll land with grace. Other times I find myself constantly hopscotching until I regain balance and control. Even with all my childhood training playing in the woods, I do land in the mud.

I find this philosophy even applying to my social dancing. Between Point A (beginning of the song) and Point B (end of the song), most of what will happen is unknown until it happens. I find this balance between known and unknown to be where the most fun resides.

Bash or Organize

Raise your hands if you have the means to run your own event. It takes time, energy, financial resources, a dependable crew of people, a website, and more. It’s exhausting, stressful, and the payoff is much like climbing Long’s Peak.

Now it’s time to descend

Someone recently wrote: “If you want to see something better, then organize an event of your own and focus on bringing something great to the community rather than bashing someone else’s efforts.”

I think challenging people to create an event rather than complaining about one is a rather high bar to set for people speaking negatively about an event. It can take away these people’s voices especially when this opinion and plea comes from someone well-regarded within the dance community. One way to interpret this is that they’re trying to silence people that speak out when they might have good cause to and no other platform. This viewpoint also diminishes the thought that perhaps the people complaining have due cause.

Just because someone is providing something apparently good to the community, doesn’t mean they get a free pass from critique. Neither should people get a pass for showing effort.

As an organizer, you should be open to critique and strive to make improvements. Some ways we strive to receive feedback here is through surveys, inquiries via personal email or private conversation, and by keeping our ear to the ground. We want to do a great job and compare ourselves to great organizers outside our city and niche scene.


Do Bad Events Die

The other day a well-known dancer made a very public accusation that a dance event website was hacked. This person’s wording tied their accusation to individuals that don’t participate in nor support the event in any capacity. When faced with others surmising that it might be a database error (like a Google search showed) or a random hacker, this person still alleged suspicion for specific reasons they didn’t go into and then wrapped it up with a line which included “Good events will succeed, bad events will die out.”

If only that was the case. That is a gross simplification and works great as a hope but not a truism. If you’re like me, you’ve probably participated in a mismanaged event that you swore off yet is still running. I can think of several. Can you?

How can this be?

  • consistent fresh blood
  • participants just want to have fun
  • great financial resources whether through sponsors, grant money, donors, wealthy organizer(s), etc
  • the people that know about what makes it a bad event don’t use public platforms to take the event down or have low social capital which diminishes their voice
  • negative engagement can lead to repercussions
  • there are people still willing to take the money, favors, increased stature these events provide
  • And it’s easier to participate in a poorly run event that start your own.

Bigger the Bill

I was listening to Wiz Khalifa the other day and one of his songs had the repeating lyrics of “The bigger the bill, the harder you ball.” It struck as truth.

In Swingin’ Denver’s early stages, there was a part of me that was coasting. However, once my rent was increased, I started increasing my investment in advertisement and other forms of hustling. Now I’m thinking there’s still more to do. Naturally.

At ILHC, a professional instructor advised me to get out of the mud and find the bigger picture. That’s what I’m working on now – finding the big picture, gaining more vision, realizing that I gotta ball harder. Here’s to the future.

On The Outside Looking In

Here are stories of three people I noticed at dances and spoke with recently.

The first was a gentleman that arrived late to our Stanley Marketplace lesson. I could see him looking at us and so I greeted him from inside the circle. He asked if this was the Meetup and I said sure. He didn’t have a partner immediately, so my co-teacher partnered with him. Later we chatted a bit, I showed him a Charleston step, and he even did some social dancing.

The second occurred while I was packing up to leave the Stanley Swing Night. A woman was watching intently near the band’s merch suitcase. Once I had all my gear, I walked along the edge headed to my car. She was on the opposite side facing the band now. I hesitated and decided “why not, let’s strike up a conversation,” and asked if this was her first time to the Stanley Marketplace. It was and we chatted a bit. Hopefully, she’ll return to the next one or to one of our classes.

The third happened last night at the Mercury Cafe. While I was dancing, I noticed a man standing in the front of the water. He was looking intently at the dance floor. I noticed his Mobtown Ballroom shirt, figured he was from Baltimore (confirmed), and didn’t know anyone. With a lead-in like Baltimore and Mobtown, I figured I’d have an easier time starting a conversation and was right.

I offered to introduce him to any followers or leaders. He shared that he was a bit shy and that he’d like for me to point out some leaders to danc with since he prefers to follow. He mentioned that Denver appeared much different than Baltimore’s scene where anything goes. Hopefully, he had a fun evening.

What do you do when you notice a stranger with a clear desire to try swing dancing or find out more? For me, it’s easy to feel empowered when I’m running the dance or have a leadership position. It gives me more of a reason to say “welcome” or “have you been here before?” Other times, like the Merc example, I feel more confident when I have a starter conversation planned. Other times, if I can guess someones leader/follower preferences and I don’t fit the bill, I’ll suggest to a friend they ask that person to dance because they appear new.

We each have our ways. Regardless, I’d like to encourage more people to go out of their comfort zone to welcome strangers.

Graceful Exit

Recently I received some advice on a business situation. That advice was to provide a graceful and amicable way out in this particular business dealing. Unfortunately for me, I had to apply that knowledge even more recently when an organizer found themselves in an impossible position to continue working with me though they wanted to. Life goes on because I want them to succeed.

Well, how can this apply to social dancing? When I ask someone to dance, I minimize my expectations of what the person being asked might say. They might say “no,” they might say “yes,” they might say either with a qualification. Regardless, I’ll respect their answer and move on. This allows them a graceful acceptance or exit. By modeling this, hopefully you’d experience the same when responding to someone’s inquiry about dancing a song.

Timing is Everything

One of my favorite songs growing up had the lyrics “Time is ticking away, tick tick ticking away.” It repeats in my head sometimes when I’m rushing to meetings, texting people I might be late due to traffic, or waiting for people to arrive. Needless to say, time is very important, important enough to include “Arrive early to class” into our Code of Conduct.

We greatly appreciate the people that show up early and are ready to learn. Our Swing 1 class at The Arvada Tavern is crushing expectations right now. Jesse and I also try to reward our timely Swing 3 students by diving immediately into material at 7pm when class starts. We prefer to reward those people rather than making them wait.

What would you think if we started classes late or ran them late? If you’re like most people, you probably have a schedule to keepĀ  and you have expectations set forth by our calendar and advertisements – class starts at X time, classes are 75 minutes long, the dance starts at 9pm. I once showed up at a dance that was supposed to start at 8pm. It started at 8:25pm.

We want you in class for the entire time. We get that life can sometimes sneak up on you (or metro Denver traffic). In the end, we want you in class even if you’re late because we want you to learn the great material we have planned. But… please do your absolute best to arrive ready to start on time.

Focus On The Dancing

Ever leave a dance night disappointed because you didn’t get as much social dancing as you wanted due to performances, competitions, announcements or too many jams? I have. I’m sure you have too.

notice the people talking and drinking at the bar

This is something I’m always thinking of at our own venues. We want to be a dance venue first. We do enjoy running special things like contests or performances because we want to showcase our local talent and celebrate what our scene offers. We try to be mindful of how long these things run because, if you’re like me, you probably want to get back to dancing no matter how much you might enjoy sitting and watching something special.

It’s a delicate balance. Sometimes, as a dancer, you just need to understand this is how this venue operates. There might be no birthday jams, a regular planned cypher jam that happens to this one song (“Sing, Sing, Sing” at my regular KC place), or downtime at a regular time so show up early or arrive late.

At our venues, we try to keep announcements tight and, at minimum, we’re thanking our DJs and bands. Most of the time, there are playbills announcing those things anyway or we have the event on our Facebook page. For competitions, we have a dance break between the first round and finals rather than running everything together. And we occasionally do a random snowball or out-of-towner jam when the timing feels right. We want to focus on the dancing and music-making and develop the community aspect while dancing.