I saw this on a website for Austin Swing Syndicate, it's a list of guidelines for bands who play their events. I thougt it was excellent!
Greetings! And our thanks for considering (or accepting) our invitation to perform for the Austin Swing Syndicate! As a non-profit organization supporting the continuing existence of swing dancing (in all its forms) in the Austin area, we are also proud to support the efforts of the many great jazz and swing bands that live, work, or tour in Austin.
In an effort to make the planned event a smashing success for all of us — your band, our organization, and the dancers and audience members — we have put together a few guidelines that should help you in choosing a set list and reading the crowd.
We'd like to emphasize that these are not rules, nor are we going to kick you unceremoniously off-stage for reaching beyond these principles once in a while. We've asked you to play a gig with us because we like what you're doing, we respect the art you're making and the entertainment you provide, and we want to mess with that as little as possible. We're not only dancers, we're also lovers of music, and we love the music you're making.
So, without further ado, here a few guidelines to help you know what to expect from an Austin Swing Syndicate event.
* Our repertoire of dances includes the full pantheon of swing and swing-related dances (lindy hop, 6-count "club" or "street" swing, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Collegiate Shag, Balboa, Charleston, plus a variety of jazz or blues-inflected line dances). We've also been known to do the occasional foxtrot, waltz, cha-cha, salsa, or tango. We've even been seen lindy-hopping to hip-hop beats. And we also practice a sort of jazzy slow-dancing commonly called "blues dancing". But our primary focus is on lindy hop and 6-count "street" swing. We invite you to incorporate elements of all of the above into your set, but we appreciate a strong emphasis on lindy hop and 6-count.
* Our group of dancers covers a wide range of dancing ability, from absolute beginner to seasoned veteran. We endeavor to keep our events exciting and inspiring for dancers at every level. This often requires playing songs which are ideal for dancers at one extreme of the spectrum but distasteful or intimidating to dancers at the opposite extreme. Thus, it takes careful attention to maintaining a balanced mix throughout the night to keep all of our dancers happily spinning across the floor.
* Please note that there may be special circumstances for a particular event — we'll advise you in advance if we are expecting a crowd predominantly composed of beginners or advanced dancers, 6-count swingers, or lindy-hoppers. (e.g. if we have just held a workshop in beginning 6-count swing the same day)
* For song lengths, we prefer that the majority of the songs be between 2:45 and 5:00 in length. Dancing is a physically demanding activity, as well as a social one. No one likes to leave a partner before the song has ended, but it is difficult to do more than one lengthy song without a substantial rest period in between. Plus, we like to dance with as many of our fellow dancers as possible—shorter songs mean more opportunities! Longer or shorter songs are acceptable, but try to keep most within this range.
* Try to make the music flow throughout the night. Radical changes in tempo or style can be jarring to the ear unless the songs lead naturally into one another. Since you consider this all the time when making a set list, it's probably the last thing we need to remind you of.
OK, with those guidelines in mind, here's the nitty-gritty on what these types of dancers prefer.
Lindy Hop — Lindy Hop is the most flexible and adaptable dance you'll see our dancers do. Tempos ranging from 95 to 260 bpm (beats per minute) are acceptable. However, you'll want to keep most songs in the 125 to 180bpm range. Types of music we enjoy for lindy hop include:
* Classic hot jazz, big band and swing from the 20s to 40s (e.g. Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington)
* Big band and swinging jazz of the 50s and 60s (e.g. Count Basie again, Duke Ellington again, Oscar Peterson, Billy May)
* Jump blues (e.g. Louis Jordan, Louis Prima)
* Modern post-50's jazz on the swing tip (e.g. Maxine Sullivan, Nina Simone, Diana Krall, Harry Connick, Frank Sinatra, Ernestine Anderson)
* Jazzier neo-swing (i.e. modern bands recreating a classic sound, such as Squirrel Nut Zippers, Indigo Swing, or Asylum Street Spankers, as opposed to modern rock-swing fusion bands such as Cherry Poppin' Daddies or Brian Setzer Orchestra)
* Occasional funky or hip-hop beats, rockabilly, western swing, and more.
For beginners at lindy, something with a clearly audible backbeat is best. Jump blues does especially well in this category, but anything with a discernible walking bass line or similar audible cues will do.
Beginners will also prefer tempos from 140 to 165bpm, while advanced lindy hoppers travel the whole range of tempos and musical styles. Resist the temptation to keep every song between 140 and 165bpm, because advanced dancers love variety.
We also like occasional "breaks" and tempo changes in the music. So feel free to do the verse of that Cole Porter standard at 80bpm before launching into the 145bpm chorus — we dig it!
6-Count Swing and East Coast Swing — 6-count swing dancers are theoretically able to be almost as flexible as lindy-hoppers, with the acceptable range of tempos reaching from 130 to 300bpm. However, most of our advanced dancers prefer not to do 6-count swing at very fast tempos, and at any other tempo will choose to do lindy hop instead. So in reality, the majority of our 6-count swingers are beginning or intermediate dancers.
So your best bet is with tempos between 150 and 210 bpm. Note that there is a "sweet spot" where this overlaps with the beginner range for lindy hop—a good song in the 150 to 165bpm range is a great thing to sprinkle into your set to get everybody back on the floor for a big group dance. But again —remember advanced dancers love variety, so resist the temptation to keep every song in this range.
Types of music 6-count swingers particularly love:
* Up-tempo jump blues (e.g. Louis Jordan, Louis Prima)
* Neo-swing, either jazzy or not (e.g. Indigo Swing, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers)
* Rockabilly and neo-rockabilly (e.g. Stray Cats, Kim Lenz, rockabilly Elvis)
* 50's rock and roll
* Uptempo big band music (e.g. uptempo Count Basie or Benny Goodman)
Collegiate Shag / Balboa — Faster tempos, 175 – 250bpm, focusing on hot jazz and the classic swing sounds of the 20s to 40s period. Most dancers are advanced dancers, but have limited knowledge of these particular dances, so keep the song short if possible (3:30 or less).
West Coast Swing / Blues Dancing — We have very few West Coast swingers — most will "blues dance" given an appropriate song. In either instance, tempos below 130bpm are acceptable (WCS ranges as high as 180 at times), with a definite emphasis on a bluesier, sultry sound. Slow ballads are also nice on occasion, but blues dancing has a cult following among our dancers which leads to a preference for that sultry sound. Any sort of blues, from hot jazz blues to Chicago blues to Texas blues, will work for this dance.
Foxtrot, Cha Cha, Tango, Salsa — We're all beginners or intermediates at these dances, so keep the tempos moderate and the songs to a moderate length (4:00 or less).
Line Dances — Most of these won't happen unless someone announces it, although on occasion they occur spontaneously. Feel free to ask a Syndicate officer to announce the dance. For Jitterbug Stroll, a 12-bar blues at a moderate lindy tempo (around 160bpm) is ideal. For Shim Sham, any 160-190bpm jazz tune built in 8-bar units that sticks to the form will work, but "Tuxedo Junction" is a traditional favorite, and often sparks spontaneous Shim Shams. The Big Apple is done to more up-tempo non-blues numbers (180-210bpm) such as "Flying Home", but we're still trying to get it down, so Shim Sham and Jitterbug Stroll are bigger crowd-pleasers.
The "Steal" — This is another special dance you can announce, in which dancers constantly hop from partner to partner, artfully cutting in to a dance in progress. If you have a particularly long song in your repertoire, announcing a steal beforehand is an excellent way to ensure everyone finishes the song in one piece, since a certain amount of time spent not dancing is a natural consequence of the game. It may help to have a Syndicate member come up to the mike and explain how the "steal" works to the crowd before beginning.
The "Jam Circle" — When a group of dancers circles up and couples take turns showing off in the center, we call it a "jam circle". These generally happen spontaneously, but can be announced. In either event, the song should be up-tempo (180 to 210bpm is ideal), with an exciting feel that will inspire wildness and creativity in the dancers. Don't be alarmed if all eyes turn away from the band to the dancers — to us, part of a jam circle involves showing the band the best of what we've got in return for all the great music they've given us. So feel free to watch the dancers with the rest of us, and consider it an emblem of just how crazy we are about your music! Gauge the length of the song by the size of the crowd – for a small crowd of 50, 3:30 is sufficient, while for a crowd of 150 to 200, 7:00-8:00 can easily be filled. This might mean playing two songs and exhorting the dancers to "keep it going", or use this opportunity to let the band shine, too, and take solos all around.
The "Birthday Dance" — A special version of the jam circle. To celebrate birthdays, we form a circle and take turns dancing with the birthday boy or girl. Take the tempo down a notch from the jam circle — something closer to 160 to 190bpm insures that we don't wear out the birthday dancer halfway through the song.
Well, that's more than you probably ever wanted to know about swing dancers. Just remember we've invited you here because we love to hear your music, and we love the inspiration it gives to our dancing. We can't express enough how much we appreciate our incredible luck at having bands like yours still making the music we need for a dance that is decades old.
And there will be an encore, you can count on it!
Best Wishes For A Great Performance!!
The Austin Swing Syndicate