Tag Archives: Swing

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

Swingin’ at 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’ at the Savoy: Paperback Edition

Swingin’ at the Savoy: Audible

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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.

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.

Ask Music4Dance: How do I find a “Pop Rock” song to dance a Slow Foxtrot to?

This is another question that I’ve seen a bunch of variations on over the years.  It’s one of the reasons that I started music4dance.  I love Big Band music and grew up playing Basie and Goodman in Jazz bands.  And my dad was a big fan of Buddy Rich.  On top of that Foxtrot and Swing co-evolved with this kind of music, so there is no problem finding plenty of music of that style to dance to.

But I’m also pretty eclectic in my musical tastes and some of the most fun I’ve had as a dancer is choreographing an exhibition dance to music that wasn’t written to be danced to – or at least not a traditional ballroom style dance.  There are obviously limits to this, but you see it all the time on shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.

When I received a variation on this question again recently, I checked and realized that in my big rewrite of the site, I had broken the easiest way to do this kind of search.  This is now fixed,  so you can go to the info page for the dance style you’re interested in by choosing “Dances” from the Music menu. Pick the dance style you’re interested in (in this case Slow Foxtrot). Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll see a tags section.  This is a tag cloud that includes all of the tags (other than dance style tags) that people have associated with songs that someone has also tagged as danceable to Slow Foxtrot.  From there you can explore all the unusual songs and musical styles that someone at some point has attempted to dance the Slow Foxtrot to.

I have to admit, going through some of these, that there are plenty that are a stretch – even with a choreographed set piece.  But still a lot of fun to think about.  If you go down this road and find things that stretch your ability to imagine dancing a particular style to and feel that they’re a mistake rather than a fun (but out there) variation, please feel free to vote them down.  Remember all of this content is crowd-sourced, so you’ve got a vote if you choose to use it.

One thing that I realized as I was writing this is that there isn’t an easy way to go the other direction.  You can use Advanced Search or the main Tag Cloud to list all of the songs associated with any tag.  But that doesn’t give you a direct list of all of the dance styles, you have to scroll through all the songs and figure that out yourself.  Let me know if that would be interesting to you and I’ll increase the priority of that feature. 

And as always I love to hear from you – so please send me feedback about the site or with questions about this post.  I may even feature your question in a future post.

Quick Tip:

If you want to be able to listen to a Spotify Playlist of all of the songs that you find in a search like the one above (or any other search on the site), you can do so by signing up for a premium subscription. I took the liberty of generating a playlist for the example above here in case you want to check it out – while you’re on Spotify, please “like” the music4dance account and any of the other playlists that you enjoy.

How do you like to see lists of music to dance to?

One of the core features of music4dance is to be able to list songs for dancing in a bunch of different ways.  As I noted a little while ago, I’m at the point in the process of the site upgrade where I’m reworking that core functionality.  In a world of infinite (or even abundant) resources , I’d get the new functionality up and running and give you the opportunity to switch back and forth between the new and the old for some period of time and give me your feedback.  While that’s a bit out of my reach, it occurred to me that it’s pretty easy to just roll out what I’ve got on some of the pages and leave the old stuff in place on others. That will give you the opportunity to see them both and compare and give feedback.

As of this writing (November 15th, 2020) I’ve got an initial version working and rolled out to some of the pages.  You can see the new song lists on  the Holiday Music page including the specific holiday dance variants like Holiday Cha Cha and Holiday Foxtrot, the New Music page and the dance pages including both the dance group pages like the Swing page and specific dance pages like the Rumba page.  The old version is still live in the basic song library and as the results of advanced searches as well as any of the links from other places on the site that bring up a song list.

Please take a look and let me know what you think.  I’m particularly interested in anything that I left out in the new version that you used in the old version.  But I’m also always open to feedback and ideas for what I could do to make this content more helpful for you.

As always, thank you for supporting music4dance and please feel to provide feedback on the subject of this post or anything else relating to music4dance.

Playing with Dance Tempos

I just rewrote the Tempo tool for the music4dance site as part of the current effort to update the site.  In the process I went back and revisited the reasons for writing the tool in the first place. 

The main reason for this tool is to have a single place to do a bit of slicing and dicing of the relationship between the tempo of different partner dances.  It allows one to filter on the dances that you’re interested in (all Swing dances, or American Style dances) and sort by tempo to see the relationships.    This could, for instance, help find dances that one might mash up into an exhibition routine.

Another reason is just because I could.  The Tempo tool is really just a thin layer on top of the data that I use to drive the Counter tool and many other parts of the site.  I almost didn’t rewrite the tool because since I originally wrote it I added slightly less interactive but possibly more directly useful pages that lay out the different competition dances and their tempos in what I hope is an easily digestible way.

This is part of a larger rewrite of the site that I’ve been working on to get the code to a place where I can comfortably start adding more requested features.  The Counter and Tempo tools are a couple of the most isolated pages, but I’ll start digging into more core functionality soon.

As always, please send me feedback if you have ideas about the site, dancing, music, or how any or all of those subjects relate. And please consider supporting the music4dance project by sharing with your friends or any of the other ways listed here.

Quick Tip:  Many pages (like the ones mentioned above) have documentation pages that are easily accessible from the page.  Just go to the “Info” menu and choose “Help”, this will generally take you to a documentation page specifically about the feature that you were using.

Where did all the Collegiate Shag music go?

When I first started publishing lists of swing music on the music4dance site, I grouped all of the swing style dances together and then used tempo ranges to guess at specific dance styles.  This method works reasonably well for some of the core swing dances such as Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing, and Jive.

But a helpful Carolina Shag DJ contacted me to let me know that this method did not work at all for Carolina Shag since the dance ancestor might be swing, but the music that one typically dances to doesn’t even have a swing rhythm.  And of course, both Hustle and West Coast Swing are very much part of the swing family of dances but don’t require a swing rhythm to dance to.  So I went back and made the default searches only return songs that someone had explicitly tagged as a type of swing rather than inferring anything from general category and tempo.

Since the only exposure I had to Collegiate Shag was a reference that it was a swing style dance to music between 180-200 beats per minute when I turned off the “infer by tempo” feature,  I stopped listing any Collegiate Shag songs.  Well, that seemed wrong, so I did some digging around the web and found a few lists of Collegiate Shag songs and incorporated them into the music4dance catalog.

Do you dance or DJ Collegiate Shag?  Please, let me know if there are other songs that I should add to this list.

Feel the Beat

If you want to be able to enjoy partner dancing and look good while doing it, you have to be able to dance to the music.  A lot of what I’ve been working on with the music4dance project is solving the problem of finding music that works for particular styles of dance.  But for many beginning dancers, the first questions is more fundamental – you need to be able to hear the rhythm in the music so that you can match your dance steps to it.

There are probably as many ways to do that as there are dancers.  But as far as I can tell there are two major schools.  Those dancers that have a musical background and those that don’t.  I’m definitely in the second category, but the first category is critical.  You don’t have to know how to play music or have in-depth knowledge of music theory to be able to dance.

So for those of you who don’t have a musical background and are working on dancing to the music, I would highly recommend James Joseph’s Every Man’s Survival Guide to Ballroom Dancing: Ace Your Wedding Dance and Keep Cool on a Cruise, at a Formal, and in Dance Classes.  The entire first section is devoted to “feeling the beat.” He does a great job of building up a system for learning how to find the beat and phrase.  He also spends some time on talking about the breadth of systems that dance teachers use to do a verbal count which is really useful because this can confuse the heck out of a new learner whether they have a musical background or not.  Joseph also talks a lot about hearing the eights – which I found apropos of one of my recent posts.

The biggest downside to the system that he’s teaching is that it really glosses over the idea of swing rhythm, which is particularly ironic since it’s based on Skippy Blair’s system and has its roots in the swing dance world.  To be fair, though, I suspect this gets down to the idea of feeling the music vs. being able to put it down in musical notation – the early swing musicians just started adding a swing accent to their music, they didn’t figure out how it fit into a classical notation system until later.

I’m continuing to search for either a website or a book that does a good job of showing the musical notation and instrumentation for a wide variety various kinds of partner dances.  I’ve found a few sites  that will go into a single dance and a pretty stale site with many broken links that does a better overview.  But nothing comprehensive in sight yet.  Please share if you have good resources on this subject, I’d love to get a good reference section going here.

What if I just want to search for songs on music4dance like I do on Google?

One of the things that I’ve had a lot of fun with is building a sophisticated search engine where I (and you) can do things like find songs that someone has tagged as Waltz and someone else has tagged as Foxtrot.  Or find all swing songs that are in a particular tempo range.  There are lots of neat things that you can do with the Advanced Search system if you’ve got some knowledge of dance and music and want to dig deep into these corners of the music4dance catalog.

But what if you just want to search through the catalog the same way you would on Google or Bing?   For instance, what if you’re looking for a song that has been tagged as Wedding and has the words “Love” and “Time” in it?  With simple search you can just type Wedding Love Time into the search box and you’ll get some useful results.  You can further refine the search by using some of the standard search modifiers like + and – and putting quotes (“) around phrases to be more precise about your searches (for instance try “First Dance” +Foxtrot +Rock).  But if you’re the type that doesn’t bother with that on Google you should be fine not worrying about it here as well.

More information is available on the help page but you should be able to go to Simple Search from the “Music” menu on the music4dance home page and dive right in.

The Google Miniseries:

Quality over Quantity?

One of the things that I’m struggling with in the music4dance project is the pull between finding lots of recommendations for songs to dance to against the desire that those recommendations being in some sense ‘good.’  As I noted in my last post, more manual curating will certainly help.

Another way to attack this problem is to tune down the mechanical methods I’m using to find recommendations.  So for now I’ve changed the default for most dance recommendations to only pull up songs that someone has explicitly noted are good to dance to that particular style. So, for instance, the Carolina Shag catalog doesn’t get polluted by songs that someone has tagged generically as ‘Swing‘ that happen to be a reasonable tempo to dance Carolina Shag to.  And the top 10 lists for individual dance style pages are filtered the same way.

Hopefully this will give you a better start at ‘core’ songs that work for each dance style.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

P.S.  What if you’re interested in getting the broader range of recommendations?  Say you’re looks for songs that might work to dance a style to that might not be quite the musical style that is normally danced to.  There are a couple of things you can do.  First, you can go to advanced search page and check the “Include Inferred” check-box.  This will give you the old results where we pull in songs that are marked with a related dance style and are of an appropriate tempo.  Or you can just do a tempo filter on the advanced search page and see what comes up…