The Influence of Dance on Music

This actually started out as a comment to Jerry’s post of another piece of his wonderful paper on the history of the Lindy Hop revival but it got too long. If you have not yet read the entire paper, you should definitely do so, now. Right now.

There is one particular sequence that stands out.  It starts at 4:06 with Jai Latimer dancing with Frida Segerdahl.  They end their shine with Jai landing a split.  Andy Reid follows suit while dancing with Nina Gilkenson.  Kevin St. Laurent, dancing with Giselle Anguizola, responds with his own split.   The band, particularly the drummer, responds to each successive split with their own musical hits.  Next Peter Strom and Jo Hoffberg (formerly Emily) come out, and Peter feigns a pained  half split to break the pattern, but Jo surprises him by executing her own.  Nick Williams and Carla Heiney end the sequence when Nick launches into an extended spin while Carla patiently waits before they both go down into simultaneous splits.

I found this clip particularly interesting. I especially liked how the drummer accents  the dancers movements with hits. I think I mentioned this in my review of Camp Jitterbug, but the band at Camp Jitterbug also did this for the strictly finals, which was awesome. (BTW, if anyone can tell me who that band was it would be much appreciated.) This got me thinking, how do dancers influence the music the dance to?

We all know that music greatly influences the dancers, and that’s the main reason why dancing evolves, from Charleston to Lindy Hop, think of the change in music from the 20’s (tuba, oom-pah, 2 beat) to the 40’s (more swingy, base on every beat, drums ). But how did the dancing affect what the musicians we’re doing?

When I read Frankie’s book it really surprised me how much interaction there was between the dancers and the musicians at that time. Dancers gave musicians ideas through their movements, their line dances (think shim sham and ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’), and their personalities. Musicians were inspired by dancers because they worked in such close proximity to each other.

During the 1950’s musicians began to carve their own path by experimenting more with the music, using groovier rhythms and not hitting the base every beat for the dancers. Music became something you listen to instead of something you experience. George Avakian mentioned this at the Frankie Manning Memorial in May, he said that when he was growing up there were no music concerts, there were dances where you would go to dance to a live band but never sit and listen.

Now music and dancing are almost separate and it’s hard to find a decent dance band because they all play 8 minute songs that are 260 bpm just because they want to do it. Even the Balboa dancers get tired.

What happened to the days where the dancers would create rhythms which the musicians were inspired by to create new rhythms, new sounds, and new ways of doing things which would further inspire dancers to create more new rhythms, new moves, and new ways of doing things?

I think we should push for modern dance bands to work closely with the dancers and the dancers work closely with the musicians. I love the new initiative that the showcases are performed to live music at ULHS. Dancers (including myself), learn to play an instrument! Even if it’s just a kazoo or a bongo or learn to sing! Learn to read music and learn the terminology. Talk to Jonathan Stout, easily the best dance band leader on the planet, or Mike Faltesek (or any  jazz musician friends who are also dancers) a lot. Do what you can but let’s keep the music as inspired as our dancing! Let’s eliminate canned music once and for all! MUAHAHA.


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