Ballroom Dance > Any ballroom DJs in here?

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by Me, Jul 27, 2008.

  1. Me

    Me New Member

    I would love to discuss the fine art of mixing a ballroom dance social. These are some of the key points I am interested in (but am welcome any other suggestions):

    1. Mixing smooths, rhythms and Latins for diversity and pacing purposes
    2. Integrating new music into the social dance repetoire
    3. Any misc tips for organization, etc.

    The main problem I am having is many of the dancers in this area seem to dance in a type of learned behavior way, meaning, when they hear the song, they know, "Hey, I am supposed to Foxtrot to this." This was discovered recently largely due to my using a pre-recorded mix with many FRENCH versions of familiar ballroom songs, and the dancers stood hugging the walls - They had absolutely no idea what to do until when told. Nat King Cole's "L-O-V-E-" in French left several dancers bewildered - Toward the end of the song many did make it out to dance Fox (only after watching a few other couples attempt it). It was quite bizarre. Upon hearing new music for this crowd (ie. "Low" by Flo Rida) there was mass confusion again. "Do we cha? Do we swing? Oh look, the buffet..." Dancers would cling to the walls. "Chilli Cha Cha" comes on and oh look, the floor is congested. After a while I could sense some frustration and put in a CD of very overplayed (in my opinion) ballroom songs and like magic, the floor was filled.

    As a DJ, what do you do? Do you continue to play the same songs, over and over again, to keep the dancers happy? Do you have a formula for integrating old into the new to keep things fresh? Do you generate dance cheat sheets so that when a song comes on, the dancer can read it and know what options they have on the next song? I would appreciate any help. There are dancers coming from a multitude of studios and locations. I want to keep them happy but I confess, I'm not sure I can take much more of some of these miserably overplayed tunes.

    Thank you! :)
  2. White Chacha

    White Chacha Active Member

    My starting point is .

    As for new music, I listen for stuff all the time. When I find a song I like enough to play, I check it's tempo and make certain it's within a reasonable range of the prevailing comp tempos, or can be corrected to such. I might play it for a couple of dancing friends to get their reaction. Then I'll play it at a dance.

    I tend to be very rigorous about vetting songs. For instance, I want a chacha to be a chacha, not *like* a chacha. I feel strongly that the dances developed with the music and support each other.
  3. BasicsFirst

    BasicsFirst New Member

    As far as your new music dilemma goes, try this. Before you start 'said new tune', think of an excuse to get on the mike to say something. Then close with "... and now back to dancing - - - Slow Fox!..." and play your new song.

    Or if you play your music in pairs i.e. 2 waltzes, 2 rumbas, etc. (and people know this), always play start the pair with a very popular one and follow with your new one.
  4. NielsenE

    NielsenE Active Member

    I've DJ'd several dances (same venue as White Chacha); I tend to be a little more "aggressive" in trying out new songs, but we also have the tradition of having a little sign-board at the DJ booth saying the Now-Playing/Upcoming dance (it normally gets flipped mid-way through a song, so if people are clueless as to what the DJ was intending, they can see for the first several bars).

    I'm also more aggressive than some of the other DJ's who do the same venue about bringing back "oldies" and skipping "current popular" songs for a dance if its been played the past several in a row.

    While I prepare a playlist ahead of time, I'm tweaking it throughout the night in response to requests and floor observations (ie the room is 100 degrees and even the die-hard QS'ers are sitting them out)

    I've tried to start "mood crafting" but in general I'm not sure if I've been successful. Haven't received any comments (positive or negative)... so I'm not doing anything "wrong", but probably not anything "right" either...
  5. suburbaknght

    suburbaknght Well-Known Member

    I wouldn't call myself a DJ. In my mind DJing is a highly developed skill that involves reading the crowd, responding to them, crafting a mood, and satisfying and surpassing expectations while continuing to educate. I do, however, prepare the party playlists used by my studio. Here's my usual method:

    1. Make a list of all dances people in my studio dance and that we teach.

    2. Divide the dances into four tiers. First tier dances are dances that everyone is exposed to and knows (the big six: waltz, fox, tango, cha, rumba, swing). Second tier are popular social dances we teach in group classes but that aren't as common (samba, salsa, hustle, etc.). Third tier are advanced dances that we do in group classes but not everyone knows (i.e. Viennese, bolero) or that we only teach rarely due to their being less popular (i.e. polka). Fourth tier are dances we only teach by special request and even then usually in private lessons (i.e. paso doble, peabody).

    3. I then adjust the list based on recent goings on. Did we bring in a mambo coach? move mambo up from second to first tier. Did several couples just start Viennese waltz? Up it. Did the floor clear last party for every tango. Downgrade it.

    4. I make a list that basically reads "first tier, first tier, lower, first, first, lower," and so on.

    5. I change the "lower" entries to "second." Every third "lower" I change to "third." Thus you get twice as many first tier dances as second and third tier combined, and twice as many second tier as third tier dances. Fourth tier danes don't make it onto the list.

    6. I fill in the first tier dances with "smooth first," and "rhythm first," more or less alternating between the two.

    7. Go through and fill in the dances from each group.

    8. Check the list. Make sure we don't have any song groupings that don't work. For example, waltz and Viennese one right after another. Or three fast songs or three slow songs in a row. Verify the starting song will get people out on the floor and that the closing songs have either a sweet note to end the evening on or a chance to explode all remaining energy.
  6. suburbaknght

    suburbaknght Well-Known Member

  7. Joe

    Joe Well-Known Member

    Huh. Hadn't seen that before today, but that's pretty much what I do when putting together a playlist. Except the mood crafting business. I like to do one Ballroom song, then one Latin/social song. Even though the last song is always a waltz, the penultimate song is a rumba.
  8. Purr

    Purr Well-Known Member

    I am not a DJ, but I have made a number of party CD's for the studio. I look for songs that most folks seem to enjoy, with an easily recognized tempos. I try to alternate between slow and fast dances. I also look for songs that run between 2 and 3 minutes in legnth. Once I put together a playlist, I'll listen through it a couple of times to be sure the songs flow well together.

    Here's the general formula that I follow when putting together a CD:

    Cha Cha
    East Coast Swing or West Coast Swing
    Mambo or Salsa or possibly Merengue

    Usually, I can get three sets onto a party CD. I do not include v. waltz, quickstep and samba on party CD's at this time. However, if someone wanted to request one, they could. Also, I don't include line dances, as they can be played anytime, as appropriate.
  9. Indiana_Jay

    Indiana_Jay Active Member

    So what's wrong with telling them? Personally, I appreciate a DJ who will do the following:

    1. Leave enough time between songs for me to escort my current partner off the floor, find a new partner and escort her onto the floor.
    2. During that time between songs, announce what the next dance will be and what dance will follow that ("Find a partner for a waltz. We'll have a cha-cha after that."). That way, at the end of the waltz, if I happen to remember that a cha-cha is next, I can immediately begin looking for followers who I know love the cha-cha (or a newcomer who was in the cha-cha group lesson before the dance).
    Not all social dancers have strong music appreciation skills. As a university-trained musician, I can usually recognize a foxtrot in an instant ("I can name that dance in two notes, George") but I find that I'm in the minority at social dances. I think, therefore, that DJ's should not be hesitant to help dancers out of their confusion by announcing every dance.

    Even if you announce every dance, it's important (or at least helpful) to choose music that fits the dance really well. For example, cha-cha could be danced to almost any music that American bronze foxtrot can be danced to, but I wouldn't want to do a cha-cha to Natalie Cole's recording of "Orange-Colored Sky." Even if a DJ announced it as a cha-cha, I'd probably go "cling to a wall" until it was over. On the other hand, Duffy's "Mercy," which was played recently on SYTYCD for a contemporary dance, would make a dandy cha-cha (I've already added it to my collection) because of the strong "four-and-one" rhythm.

    Particularly when choosing new music, choose music the style of which will encourage dancers to do the intended dances.
  10. ChaChaMama

    ChaChaMama Well-Known Member

    Oh waaah! I feel sad for the samba and the quickstep!!! Samba is my favorite dance. (It may not be my best, but I love the music and the mood of it.)

    Is it your experience that more people know bolero than samba or quickstep? Can't say I've ever learned that one. I've never thought of it as an essential social dance the way hustle, west coast, mambo/salsa, and merengue are (all of which I can do).
  11. Purr

    Purr Well-Known Member

    I'd expect two or maybe three couples dancing on the floor for samba, and everyone else would be sitting around waiting for the next song. It would be the same for quickstep and v. waltz. Perhaps as the base that comes to the parties changes they will be included in future playlists, but not now.

    I wouldn't consider bolero an essential social dance either, but it seems to go over well. I've seen that even if folks can't do the bolero, they'll go out and do a slow rumba. Not everyone can do west coast swing either, but if one is on, they'll still go out and do a slower east coast swing or maybe a cha cha. So, from that point of view including bolero and west coast swing is a little easier than other advanced dances.
  12. NielsenE

    NielsenE Active Member

    It really depends on the venue.

    At the collegiate team & club dances that I attend and sometimes DJ, Samba and Quickstep are practically tier one dances and will be played often. At the studio where I take lessons QS probably makes one appearance a night, and its always one that is chosen to double easily as single time swing to appeal to more of the crowd. Samba, if it appears at all, is normally the "teach" for the evening.

    Bolero is rare both places, but either place will play a slow (super slow in the studio case since its supposed to be an American one) Rumba that people could choose to Bolero to.
  13. kimV6

    kimV6 New Member

    to solve the problem of songs being open to interpretation, or at least being confusing, i either print out a list of my playlist for the night with "suggested" dances, or when technology allows, project my itunes playlist on a screen. that way, not only do people know what the intention is, they also know what is coming up, so as to prepare their "dance card."

    then again, i don't really DJ in the sense that i respond to requests from the dance floor. i just make CDs beforehand. the only changes i make are to skip songs if i overestimated for time, and i need to skip forward to the penultimate rumba and last waltz to get everyone out on time.

    also, whenever i do "DJ" it's usually for a college ballroom crowd; as NielsenE alluded to, this makes samba, quickstep, int'l foxtrot, etc. much more palatable as "tier one" dances... though my friends will still lament the difficulty of "social dancing samba."
  14. emeralddancer

    emeralddancer Active Member

    I honestly like it if someone would tell me what dances go to which song. It is hard for me to figure it out. :(

    At my studio ... they put on a CD and don't announce it. Also I am frustrated to a point to because same dang songs over and over and OVER again!

    I hate to say this ... but being on the younger side at my studio when it comes to socials can be a bit frustrating too because the music is more for the older generation. I mean I appreciate the music ... but there is some great stuff out there that is a bit more up to date ... right? Hm ....
  15. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    the client is always right - especially if you want to retain them as clients. reading their comfort level is imperative - and if you're not sure - ask! you might create a completely esoteric DJ experience in terms of songs with great lyricism as well as predicable rubato to facilitate phrasing, predicable phrasing for hitting breaks, etc. but if the only thing the dancers involved want revolve around a strict tempo, they won't be pleased.

    one thing i didn't see mentioned is length of music. this is probably less critical for ballroom vs. other genres, but i know that in some swing circles, follows don't like songs to go too long - if they're stuck with bad lead they can move on, if they're with a partner they enjoy dancing with, they can always dance a second dance when the songs are shorter. a lot of live bands would be more sought after if they were cognizant of this.

    the bottom line: art for art's sake, money for god's sake!
  16. Purr

    Purr Well-Known Member

    Exactly. You need to keep in mind the base that you're building the playlist for.

    Hey, I did! ;)

    Using shorter songs seems things moving alonger better in general; more dance choices can be included on a party cd; folks don't get as tired during faster dances; and if a song turns out to be dud, it's not as much of a problem.
  17. Me

    Me New Member

    Just wanted to say, thank you for all of the great suggestions!

    Please keep them coming. :)
  18. Ppl don't get as tired during faster dances?
    for the love of god pls cut VW and jive to < 1:30.

    thank you.

    Also I don't like pauses in between the music if they're not announcing the next dance, I prefer the songs to keep rolling otherwise I think the energy level keeps getting interrupted.
  19. Purr

    Purr Well-Known Member

    That's a good suggestion, if v. waltz and jive were being included. Perhaps someday they will.
  20. Purr

    Purr Well-Known Member

    I re-thought about the statement. The intent was that folks won't get as tired during faster dances, like east coast swing or cha cha if the song was shorter (i.e. 3 minutes or less), as opposed to going on forever.

    Sometimes legnth of song will be the overriding factor why it will be on a playlist opposed to another song I might like better. For example, I'm not particularily fond of Bette Midler's Mambo Italiano. But, I have a version around 3 minutes or so, so it made it onto a playlist.

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