March 2017 Archives

PSA: Ballroom Music for DJs
March 31, 2017 6:43 PM | Posted in: ,

I received an email a few months ago from a DJ in Alabama who was preparing for an upcoming event where a number of ballroom dancers would be present, and he wanted some help in preparing a playlist. He admitted that he tended to play the same songs over and over when he got requests for a particular dance style, due to his lack of knowledge about ballroom. 
 
He had run across this list that I had posted several years ago, and since the iTunes Store link for each song no longer worked (thanks a bunch, Apple), he didn't know which musicians performed the songs on the list, and asked if I had a list that included the artists.
 
I was able to re-create that list for him, and I took the opportunity to add a few more recent songs. He was quite appreciative, and told me that he was adding the list to his file of "things to always carry to a gig."
 
My observation is that many (most?) DJs aren't very knowledgeable about ballroom dance music or steps (heck, a lot of band leaders aren't either; some seem to think that every song with a vaguely Latin beat is a bossa nova. I'm a ballroom dancer and I don't know how to do a bossa nova.). This isn't surprising, since ballroom dancers are likely a small and shrinking audience at most events. I was more than happy to help this gentleman because it meant being able to support and promote ballroom in some small way.
 
It also caused me to consider the likelihood that there are other DJs out there who are in the same boat: they don't often work a ballroom crowd, but when they do, they feel a bit inadequate for the undertaking. With that in mind, I'm going to draw upon my decade-plus dance experience (including five years of preparing ballroom playlists), and offer some tips to DJs in case Mr. Google leads them to this page.
 
  • I have created a downloadable list of suggested songs showing song title, artist, and suggested dance step (PDF format).

  • The waltz is your friend. Waltzes are to ballroom dancers like the Star Spangled Banner is to most Americans (some NFL players excluded): if you want to get their attention, or better yet, get them on the dance floor, play a waltz. 

  • But don't play a fast waltz. Mr. Bojangles is a great song, but a bad choice for a dance song...it's too fast (and too long...see below). The best waltzes are slow and romantic, and the ladies will make sure the guys get them onto the dance floor. Moon River is always a great choice; for something more contemporary, try Easy by Rascal Flatts.

  • Many Latin-flavored songs lend themselves to both rumba and cha cha steps, so when in doubt, simply introduce the song as "Latin." Leave it up to the dancers to decide what to do. Santana's Smooth is a great example of a song that will accommodate both steps, as is the Pussycat Dolls' version of Sway.

  • West Coast swing is completely different from East Coast swing (the latter is noted on the playlist simply as "swing"). However, while one can generally do an East Coast swing  to a West Coast number, vice versa is rarely true. Wilson Pickett's Mustang Sally is a good example of a song that works for both steps. If you're at a loss for a West Coast tune, find a slow blues number; it will likely work.

  • If someone asks you for a Night Club 2 Step or Night Club Slow, they're wanting a slow, romantic song (sometime referred to as a "belt buckle rubbing song"). Unchained Melody or Patsy Cline's Crazy will always do the trick.

  • If you're playing a gig that is primarily geared toward ballroom, be sure to vary the songs. There's nothing more aggravating than getting three or four of the same steps in a row, whether they're fox trot, waltz, Latin, or swing. This will require some advance planning, and even the best plans will be derailed by special requests, but try to vary the steps as much as possible.

  • Ballroom dancers differ from the usual party crowd in wanting to have a little time between songs. For one thing, since ballroom is always partner dancing, this gives the gentlemen time to escort the ladies back to their seats after a dance, if they're not a couple.

  • Never include a song that's more than four minutes long. (Rules are made to be broken, and this one can at least be bent, but try to adhere to it.) The Gotan Project's Santa Maria tango from the movie Shall We Dance is popular, but at almost six minutes, it's too dang long for most dancers. Unless you're a pro, you don't have enough tango steps to fill six minutes of music.

  • Line Dancing Prohibited!
  • Keep the volume reasonable. If you normally crank Uptown Funk to 10, Fly Me to the Moon should be around 7. Ballroom lends itself to conversation while dancing, and chest-pounding bass won't make the DJ any friends.

  • Unless your client has given you strict instructions to the contrary, it's OK to throw in some non-ballroom songs, as long as you don't overdo it. The occasional Texas 2 Step, polka, or a "Golden Oldie" tune like The Twist is actually a welcome change for even ballroom dancers. And, what the heck, see if you can get away with Uptown Funk near the end of the gig...you might be surprised at the good response.

  • Last, but certainly not least, line dances shall not be tolerated. Remember when I said rules are made to be broken? This one isn't. Not even in Texas. (I can't, however, speak for Alabama.)

Running Down the Rabbit Hole
March 10, 2017 3:14 PM | Posted in: ,

Wait. Is it really "down the rabbit hole," or is it "down the rabbit trail"? Or is it "bunny trail"? Hold that thought; it might become relevant later on.

I went for a run on Wednesday after work, the first one this year (in Midland). It was...well...you know how sometimes you get into a workout and it starts out hard and you're feeling miserable but at some point you settle into a groove and it becomes almost effortless and you think you could just do it forever? This was nothing like that. It started out bad and basically stayed that way, until the point where it got worse. Which was almost immediately.

Visual contrasting the beginning of my workout with the ending
In all honesty, I didn't look this good at either the beginning or end.

In 45 minutes of running primarily on the trails around the neighborhood, I managed only a painful 4.3 miles, and I was dead tired when I got home. The next day, my legs — and my quadriceps in particular — were incredibly sore. I couldn't help wondering why running outside was so different than running on a treadmill, and why my frequent workout on an elliptical trainer didn't better prepare me for that run. Naturally, I turned to Mr. Google for answers, and he helpfully provided some potentially useful links.

The first one was a general discussion of the pros and cons of running on a treadmill, and the key takeaway is that there's really no difference other than the presence of wind resistance and the possibility of terrain changes when running outside. The article then offered this simple tip, via reference to a scientific study: set your treadmill on a 1% incline and it will provide exactly the same workout as running outside. Genius! Why didn't I think of that?

But I wasn't content to leave it there, so I followed some other links, including one on the respected Runner's World website. That article muddied the waters considerably, stating that the 1% guideline was "mostly urban myth." It in turn linked to this blog post by Dr. Casey Kerrigan. Kerrigan seems to be a fairly credible source, given her background as a distance runner, Harvard-educated physician, and noted researcher specializing in running biomechanics. 

With support from the National Institute of Health, she has done extensive studies on treadmill running. One of those studies demonstrated that there is absolutely no significant biomechanical differences in treadmill workouts done at slight inclines, declines, or when level. Her article also cited the results of this study concluding that treadmill workouts are more efficient than any other type of indoor exercise equipment (sorry, elliptical/stairmaster/rowing machine/exercise bike owners).

Winding my way down this rabbit hole (see what I did there?) made me feel better about running on a treadmill, but it did nothing to explain why that outdoor run was so challenging. So I have to offer my own theory. Neither the treadmill nor the elliptical can duplicate the challenges of running along a rutted trail where footing is often sketchy and the surface varies from sand to hard-packed caliche to loose rocks (and while it's a bit too early for this to be a big concern, later on I would be additionally distracted by the possibility of rattlesnakes in the road). I realized during the run that I was lifting my feet higher on the trail to navigate around and over the dips, ruts, and rocks, and I think this put a lot more stress on my legs than running indoors or on pavement.

In the end, it boils down to a simple rule - specificity of training. You can get aerobically fit by cycling...but cycling alone will not ensure that you can run a marathon. (The reverse is also true; running will not get you into cycling condition; your legs and lungs might be up to the task, but cycling stresses other parts of your body and you'll realize that after about 30 minutes on that narrow saddle). So, if I want to get more comfortable with trail running, I simply have to do more trail running.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2017 listed from newest to oldest.

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