Ensure your swing dance social goes off in style with the following essential advice for event organisers.

Music

Without a doubt this is the most important factor, although it is commonly over-looked. To dance is to ‘move your body in a way that goes with the rhythm and style of music that is being played’. A good dance experience relies therefore upon the availability of good music.

Choosing the right band for an event can be particularly challenging, or at times impossible. Playing for dancers is something most bands don’t get to do often enough, so their standard sets and styles are often wildly inappropriate. It’s better to have an experienced DJ than an inappropriate band, or one great band rather than two mediocre bands.

The style of music should be determined by the expectations of the majority of the attendees, which in turn will be determined by how the event is billed. If the event is aimed at Lindy Hoppers then most of the music needs to ‘swing’. This sounds obvious but it is one of the biggest causes of frustration for attendees.

Here are some handy pointers for bands and DJs…

  • Each song should be a maximum of four minutes each.
    As Gordon Webster says ‘If you make each song 3.5 mins, people get to switch partners regularly, and then you have momentum’.
     
  • It’s not a race.
    Although some people enjoy dancing at fast tempos, most dancers - especially those with less experience - prefer mid-tempo music. For every fast song, aim to play at least two at a more moderate pace.
     
  • It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
    Never were a truer word said. The classic swing rhythm - often described as syncopated - is what Lindy Hop was created for. Without that, the dance just doesn’t work.
     
  • Take a break.
    Drum breaks and similar punctuation in music allows dancers some space to be creative, or simply pause for breath. Meanwhile, allow a small gap between songs for dancers to thank one another, but not so long that it becomes awkward.
     
  • Remember to have fun!
    If the band are enjoying themselves and are playful in their style, there’s a good chance the dancers will follow suit.
     

Sound Management

So you’ve got a great band and DJs, but if you can’t hear the music properly, how are you going to dance to it? Meanwhile, excessive volume is both painful and dangerous and there are laws to comply with.

The DJ and sound engineer (if present) should work together to balance all music to an appropriate level. Each recording is different, so this is an ongoing process which shouldn’t be neglected.

The ideal location for the DJ and sound engineer is in the middle of the room - not behind the speakers, or at the back of the room - so they can monitor volume levels properly.

Big bands were big for a reason; so that they could be heard before amplification became widely available. Don’t underestimate how powerful the sound system should be. A large system running at half capacity allows some headroom and provides a fuller, richer sound than a small system working flat out.

Place loudspeakers on stands so that the sound doesn’t get absorbed by those dancers at the front. Consider wether your event budget allows for a professional sound engineer or technical manager who can take responsibility for this.

Acoustics

There’s a good reason why recording studios have egg-box shaped foam on the walls. Soft uneven surfaces absorb sound and prevent it from bouncing between the walls, ceiling and floor. In contrast, many event venues used for swing dancing have flat, shiny surfaces such as marble or glass. Such spaces are a nightmare for sound engineers and make for a difficult listening (and therefore dancing) environment.

You can improve acoustics by drawing curtains, adding soft furniture or filling the venue with people! In reality, there’s normally a compromise to be struck. Old scratchy recordings - so a lot of swing music - sounds particularly bad in poor acoustic surroundings. If acoustics are an issue, try to play more recent recordings which benefit from modern production methods.

Lighting

When people talk about events they’ve attended, they often refer to the atmosphere as being perhaps ’good’, or ‘lacking’. Many factors contribute to the overall atmosphere of an event, and lighting is just one of them. Bright fluorescent lighting is particularly unpleasant so try to avoid this and instead get a little creative with fairy lights, warm temperature lamps and coloured LEDs. If you’re having competitions or performances then you should pay particular attention to how you light that section of floor. Getting your lighting right will also make a huge difference to the quality of photos and videos.

Announcements

Talking into a microphone is a skill. If you get too close then your voice will boom, too far away and nobody will hear you. If you lack confidence on the microphone or haven’t planned what you want to say, then you won’t command the attention of the audience.

Headset microphones are great for classes in a quiet dance studio, but terrible for making announcements in a bustling dancehall. Choose the right tool for the job, and the right person. Ideally, find somebody who is good at talking into a microphone and give them the role of MC. And remember, it’s about quality, not quantity.

A handheld microphone such as the Shure SM58 is a crucial tool for any social dance event where people’s ears have adjusted to listening to amplified music. You should never attempt an announcement at such an event without a microphone.

 

Of course, many events are run by volunteers on a tight budget, and it's not always possible to pay full attention to all of these details. Remember though, people generally pay to attend events and for many, social dancing is the highlight of their week. Reward them for choosing your event by making it a night to remember!