Book Review: Swingin’ the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer

Swingin’ the Savoy is a beautiful memoir of one of the greatest Lindy Hop dancers of all time. Ms. Miller was not only one of the dancers that defined Lindy Hop, but as Lindy Hop faded for a while post World War II, she launched a career as a Jazz Dancer.

It’s a real treat to see a slice of history that’s so important to American partner dancing through the eyes of one of its early practitioners. 

I was especially touched by being able to catch a glimpse of what it was like to be a strong woman of color in a male-dominated world. Ms. Miller jumps from the pain of the internal politics of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers to the joy of dancing to Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman to tales of traveling overseas.

There is, unsurprisingly, a good amount of overlap between this memoir and Frankie Manning’s Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Having read them both, I feel like they complement each other and help paint the picture of the early Lindy Hop scene from somewhat different perspectives.

I grew up listening to and playing Big Band Music – Count BasieGlen Miller, and Duke Ellington were some of my favorites in the genre, and she met and danced to them all live. Even though I built music4dnace.net in part to be able to find songs to dance to that aren’t part of the genre that they evolved with, one of the reasons I was attracted to Swing dancing in the first place is my love for Swing Music.  

Another tidbit in this memoir was the mention of the “Savoy Hostesses” and the fact that you could purchase a dance with one for a quarter. They would even teach you to dance if necessary. This was the first I had seen of historical backing for the core plot line of a fun coming-of-age novel I read a while back called Ten Cents a Dance. Set in a 1940’s Chicago dance hall, the main character is something like what Ms. Miller describes as the Savoy Hostess. Of course, as I write this, I realize I must not have done even a light search on the background when I read the book. There is plenty of information about “Taxi Dancers” and even a song, a film, and another book called “Ten Cents a Dance,” all about dance hostesses or taxi dancers.

Swingin’ at the Savoy also includes a preface and epilogue that give some great context. “Portrait of the Swing Era” has a bunch of great tidbits, including some history of the Jitterbug that I’m hoping to do some more reading on and share with you. And “The Future of the Lindy and The New York Swing Dance Society” puts some perspective on the New York Swing revival.

Overall, Swingin’ the Savoy is an enlightening read about a fantastic woman.

As always, I’m interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.


Swingin’ the Savoc: Paperback Edition

Swingin’ the Savoy: Audible

Note: If you found this book through this blog, please be kind and click on one of the links above to purchase it. This helps support the blog. If you’re feeling especially generous (or just like the blog a lot), clicking on the Amazon links in the blog or on the music4dance site and then doing your regular, unrelated shopping, which also helps support the site as a very small fraction of those proceeds will be directed to musci4dance.

New Feature: Saving and Sharing Searches

Searching for music to dance to is what music4dance is all about. 

I’ve been adding features such as Filter by Song Length, General Search, and Searching for a song from Spotify or iTunes to improve your ability to do just that. 

Another thing that I hope music4dance will be used for is to share those songs with other dancers.

There are two features that I haven’t blogged about recently that have suffered from some bit rot over the years. Since I’ve got them up and running again I want to increase awareness about them and get your feedback as to how useful these features are to you.

The first is Saving Searches. Whenever you do a search that is nontrivial, we save the search in a list that you can access through your account menu. See the help for more details.

The other is the magic of URLs. You can copy the link from the address bar and share it with other dancers. This is true of everything from the simplest searches you do from the top menu bar to the most complex searches you create using the advanced search tool. Or you can embed the link in a blog post, which is what I do regularly here. It’s one of those wonderful web features that should always just work, but often is not correctly implemented. It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine when this doesn’t work for websites, so I try to make it work for music4dance.

And there is a third feature, which I’ve implemented more recently. With a premium subscription, you can create a Spotify playlist from a search and share the results.

I’m very interested in feedback, about this set of features. I can think of several ways I might want to improve the saving and sharing of searches, but I hesitate to invest much more into this until I hear from you. For instance, would you like to be able to show your favorite searches on your profile page? Or would you like to refine searches even more? Or would you be interested in seeing what others are searching for?

Besides the specific feedback request above, I’m always interested in your more general feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

New Feature: Filter by Song Length

If you’re trying to get a playlist together for a social dance, it would be nice for the songs to be a reasonable length for your audience. 

I realize that DJ tools will let you manage this in multiple ways, but sometimes it’s just easier to start with songs in the length range you’d like. There are probably other good reasons to be able to filter on the duration of a song; let me know if you think of any.

Again at Arne’s prompting, I implemented the ability to filter on song length using the advanced search page. My quick and dirty implementation is to filter on a range of seconds. This implementation will let you do things like get all the Salsa songs in the catalog between 90 and 180 seconds between 150-180 beats per minute. Or any other variations that you come up with.

I already store the duration values for songs, so this wasn’t a heavy lift. But I did take some shortcuts to get this feature out quickly. I’d prefer a slicker control to choose the length, and it would be awfully nice if when you searched or sorted on the length that the length showed up in the results. Neither of these would be particularly hard to do. Still, I’d like to hear if others are using this feature and how they’re using it before I invest more into it.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

Ask music4dance: Should you add a Single Swing Dance category?

Arne had another great question (paraphrased): I see Single Swing being danced a lot these days.  Should music4dance add another swing category? Is Single Swing a local thing, national, really new? Do people still dance triple-step Swing?

Here is a slightly cleaned-up version of my response:

East Coast Swing (the triple step variety) is a competition dance, so it’s still being danced regularly in ballroom environments. But the Lindy revival of the ’90s seems to have dominated the social swing scene from what I can tell.

In the ballroom community that I learned to dance in during the ’90s, they used the term East Coast Swing to refer to the competition dance, which was definitely a triple-swing. But if one was dancing socially to music too fast to comfortable dance triple swing, you would revert to something they were calling Single Swing or East Coast Single Swing or some variation on that.

I fell down a rabbit hole, trying to see if my recollection had anything to do with current thinking on this. This video shows a “Single Swing” basic that is exactly what I think of as Single Swing. Duet Dance and DanceTime both have descriptions of various kinds of swings. They seem to agree that what I think of as Single Swing could also be reasonably called “The Jitterbug” (which I had thought was just a different name for Lindy Hop). As with any of this stuff, the history is so twisted up that there probably isn’t a correct answer, or if there is, it would require a historian to dig up.

Even without adding a new dance, you should be able to find some good ideas for Single Swings by searching for generic Swing in the tempo range between 140 and 184 MPM. When I first responded to Arne, I had broken that feature, but it’s now up and running again. So you can go to the Advanced Search Page, choose Swing in the dances section, and type in the tempo range you’d like to filter on. 

I am interested in incorporating Single Swing into the music4dance catalog. Should I do this as Jitterbug or Single Swing or by adding single and triple tags to East Coast Swing? I’d love to get others’ thoughts on this so please feel free to send feedback.

Asking to add a new dance style to the catalog is certainly in the top ten questions I’ve been getting. So I’ve been working on streamlining how I manage dance information to make that easier. Most of this work has been under the hood (although the bug mentioned above was one side effect). One of the more visible aspects of this is a small redesign of the Dance Styles page to simplify it a bit and hopefully make it a little more usable.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

New Feature: General Search

I’ve finally added a feature that should really be a part of any good website. A general search of the entire site is available by typing one or more keywords in the search box in the upper right and clicking search. Try it out, and let me know what you think.

As I continue to improve music4dance, I find myself torn between making things easier for new or casual members of the site and deeper features that may only be used by more dedicated members. I tend to lean towards the latter because they are often the features that I use or the features based on feedback from members who have been using the site a lot. But I would love to get more people involved, which means making the initial experience as seamless as possible.

Search is pretty much the core feature of this site. The idea is, after all, to try to help partner dancers find music that inspires them to dance. I’ve invested a lot in the search engine that lets you search for songs and made a big push to make the core search work better. But in the meantime, I’ve written many blogs posts, some help pages, and added other content to the site that isn’t directly embedded in the song catalog.

So how do you search for any of the other information? And for that matter, if you’re a first-time user of the site, shouldn’t you be able to search the whole site easily without clicking through to a search page from the home page?

Some technical issues made this a bit more challenging than it would appear. Not the least of which is that the blog and help system are actually an entirely different site using a different technology that I have less control over. But after going down a few different paths, I think I’ve got something that I’m happy with. It could still use some work, and a couple of things about it feel a little kludgy. But I feel like it’s a significant improvement, especially for a first-time user. It also enables a full-text search of the core site, which will let me invest more in content that isn’t directly part of the song catalog. I’ve got a bunch of things I’ve been thinking about along those lines that I haven’t implemented because I was worried they’d be buried without a generalized search.

So as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. You should be able to just type a keyword or two into the search control in the header (or under the hamburger menu if you’re on a smaller device), and you’ll be taken to a search results page. That page is a little more complicated than I’d like but hopefully pretty effective.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

New Feature: Searching for a song from Spotify or iTunes

A new member of the music4dance community, Arne, pointed out that he expected to be able to search by Spotify Id. Furthermore, he figured out how to do that by going to the Add Song by Id and dragging the song from Spotify into the edit field on that page.

This is a case of programmer myopia on my part. I wrote all of the code to look up a song in the Spotify and iTunes catalog with the idea of (a) being able to link back to those catalogs and then (b) to make it easier to add songs to the music4dance catalog. I didn’t really think that someone would want to look for a song they were playing in Spotify or Apple Music in the music4dance catalog. Actually – I did, but the way I was thinking about that was a much bigger feature that I may never get around to implementing.

What clicked in my slow programmer brain when I saw Arne’s question was that I had most of the code for a really cool feature but hadn’t seen the opportunity to implement it since I had this much more grandiose feature in my head. After the obligatory forehead slap and exclamation of “Duh!” I set about seeing how easy it would be to use what I had already written to implement a reasonably smooth version of what our Arne was doing.

It was definitely straightforward – a bit of refactoring and a few dozen lines of new code, and I’ve got something that I think is pretty slick. But I’ll let you judge:

When listening to a song in Spotify or  Apple Music, drag the song from the player and drop it into the text box on the top of either the Song Library page or the Advanced Search page. If the song is in the music4dance catalog, we’ll take you directly to the song page and show you what others have voted on to dance to that song. If it’s not already in the library, we’ll give you the option to add the song yourself.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback. As should be obvious from this post, your feedback is essential to making music4dance better. In addition, I read every piece of feedback that comes through and respond to as much as I can. So please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

Valentine’s Day Edition: Love Songs that We Love to Dance to

I’ve been making an effort to tag songs and write sophisticated searches to find good songs for holiday dances. The music4dance catalog is set up for this kind of search. Not only that, but I’ve always really enjoyed doing exhibition pieces for holiday parties.

I started with the Christmas/Winter holidays and added Halloween more recently. I hadn’t really thought about Valentine’s Day. But when I did (a little late for this year, but never too early to be planning for next year), I realized that I already had something pretty useful: What better place to look for love songs than a wedding music catalog. Which, coincidently, I’ve spent some time building up.

So if you’re looking for love songs to dance to, check out the Wedding Dance page and let me know what you think. This time of year, there are plenty of generic lists of Love Songs, so if I get some feedback that you’d like a more general list of danceable love songs, I can do some cross-indexing with one or more of those lists. And of course, you can always start adding songs and/or tagging existing songs with a “Love Song” tag and create your own lists.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

Ask music4dance: Why am I listed as Anonymous?

A few months ago I started working on a set of features with the goal of making music4dance more personalized.  This includes the ability to add new songs to the catalog, to see who else likes to dance specific styles to a song, and more. As I was working on this I realized that almost all members of the music4dance community have chosen the privacy setting to not share their profile. This was the default setting, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise.  While the features that I’ve written so far don’t even give one the ability to write a profile, I want to be as respectful as possible with everyone’s privacy and not show user names anywhere for members who had opted for privacy.  This is especially true because many members have chosen to use what appears to be their full name as their user name.

So I did some work to make sure that anyone who had chosen that setting is protected by not showing their name, and instead I use the single “Anonymous” moniker.  I’m still tracking who those users are by means of a randomly generated number, but other visitors to the site will only see the user as “Anonymous”.  That is even the case if you send a link to your songs to a friend.  For instance, I’ve marked my test user “Charlie” as not wanting to share his profile, so if I’m logged on as Charlie and look at a list of Charlie’s songs then the list and changes to the songs are attributed to Charlie.  But if I send that link to you, you’ll just see his changes attributed to Anonymous.

A search of all the songs “Charlie” has edited as Charlie sees it
The same list that is shown above as seen by anyone but Charlie

This isn’t the best user experience in my opinion.  I had some thought of having permanent anonymous names so that Charlie might be anonymous1 and you might be anonymous2, but that was a considerable amount of extra work for a pretty marginal improvement. 

What does that mean to you? If you’ve spent time voting on songs in the music4dance catalog, please consider turning the privacy feature off to allow sharing.  You can do that from the My Profile page. All changing that setting will currently do is show your user name in searches and attribute changes that you’ve made to a song to your user name.  If you happened to use your real name as your user name and would like to change it to something else, just contact me and I can make that change (if enough people want to do that, I’ll add a self-service feature).

I’m very interested in making this site a useful place to share ideas for songs to dance to and I believe part of that experience is being able to attribute changes to specific users. But it doesn’t matter too much right now if those users are connected to the real person that’s making those changes (more on that later). So please take the time to make it easier for other dancers to follow your work by changing that setting.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here.  In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

Dance as Language

I was delighted to find that the folks at the Rough Translation podcast produced an episode called May We Have This Dance?  For those who haven’t heard of it, Rough Translation describes itself as “a podcast about cultural mistranslation and what we can learn from them.”

In this episode, they explore the Lindy Hop and its odd evolution from a dance created by African Americans in 1920s Harlem to its revival when it was adopted by the Scandinavians (and others) in the 1990s.  Not being from either culture, I don’t feel equipped to talk about the core of the cultural issues addressed in the podcast and accompanying article.  But I would recommend both Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop and Stompin’ at the Savoy if the podcast piques your interest in the origins of the whole swing family of dances.  In addition, I haven’t read Swingin’ the Savoy yet but it is definitely going into my queue.

I will say that I particularly liked the discussion at about 30 minutes into the podcast about when LaTasha and Felix clicked as dance partners and dance became like a conversation.  I feel like the best of my social partner dancing has felt like speaking a language that’s more expressive than English.

Definitely check out the reference material they have at the end – if you haven’t seen the Lindy Hop sequence from Hellzapoppin, you’re in for a real treat and the clip of LaTasha and Felix was lots of fun as well.

Finally – they provided a list of LaTasha’s favorite music to dance to which I added to the music4dance catalog and then exported as a Spotify playlist.

As always, I’m happy for feedback and if you enjoy the site or the blog, please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

New Feature: More ways to see what’s going on at music4dance

One of my goals for music4dance is to build a system that people can use to share their knowledge of partner dance music with others.  I probably spent too much time early on in this project building bots and scrapers to seed the catalog with content and neglected the community aspect of the site.  So I am now trying to focus on more community-building features.  This includes everything from simplifying the system so that it’s easier to add new styles of dance to making it easier for members to add new songs to making it possible for members to see who else likes to dance to a song.

Following on to the feature where I added the ability to see the voting history on a song on the details page, I’ve added a couple of small feature-lets.

Now,  when you filter music on a user you will see a column  with that user’s changes:

If you know a user’s username, you can filter by a user in the advanced search page by typing the username and choosing what you want to filter on (likes, tags, etc.).  Or you can go down the path described in a previous post and click on a username anywhere that one shows up.  That will take you to a page that will let you filter on all the songs that the user has tagged or all the songs that that user has added to favorites among other things. Eventually, I’d like to have that page contain additional user profile information.

The other fun thing you can do is on the new music page.  The song list on that page has a similar column to the one above that shows latest change to each song and who made it.  That’s a way to find users that are actively adding songs and seeing what they’re up to.

And finally, when you’re exploring these features if you find a search that you want to share with others, you can just copy the URL and send it to a friend. That’s what I do with links back to the music4dance site with these blogs – so it’s not a new feature, but it is becoming more useful with the other community features that I’m building.

As always, I welcome feedback on not just the feature, but the site in general.  And if you find the site useful, please consider contributing in any way that you can.

Shall we dance…to music?

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