“The beat is what swing dancing is all about. It’s a perfect attunement between dance, movement, and music. Swing music. There’s never been any music so perfectly attuned to what the body can do.” Norma Miller
“I’m a true milonga dancer because I live every note.” Lampazo
“Swing” refers to a variety of dance as well as the music that accompanies it. “Tango” (milonga) also refers to a dance and its music. Samba, salsa, polka, waltz…each of these refer to the dance and its music as a single, symbiotic thing: it takes only one word to describe both. Here, music and dance are bound to each other, they drive each other because they were born together. The milonga dancer above didn’t say I’m a dancer because I live every “step,” but every “note.” Norma Miller has remarked many times about the close fit between swing dance and music and what a joyous experience it is when you are in sync with both.
Which is why watching Dancing with the Stars
sometimes drives me to fits of apoplexy!
They are constantly trying to dance across musical genres: Latin dances with American pop music being the worst offense. It doesn’t work. Its square pegs in round holes. It must drive the professional dancers crazy: they’ve spent their lives attuning their muscles to the rhythms of a particular dance-music. Now they have to choreograph contrary to all the work they embody. And, unless they’re auditioning for DWTS, I doubt they spend much time trying to figure out how to do salsa steps with a waltz
And pity the poor amateurs. They struggle just to learn the basic steps of the form but the music is working against them. Instead of dancing with the music, of letting the music carry you, of feeling the pulse of sound lifting a movement…instead of being assisted by the music, these dancers have to fight it, or ignore it. It’s hard to watch.
Mixing genres changes how the movement feels. If the music and the dance are in sync, if a sonic and kinesthetic symbiosis is achieved, the feeling can be transcendent. But if the music is not in sync with the movements, it feels like crap. Just watching such performances on DWTS, my own dancing muscles start to twitch a tango and are thwarted—even startled—by the musical dissonance.
American rock & roll and most pop music is performed on a 4/4 count with an accent on the back beat: 1 2 3 4. Latin music—and therefore its dance—is also syncopated, with accents often falling on the “and”s between the counts: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. When José René (J.R.) was learning his samba this week, he expressed his frustration because “I don’t count with ‘ands’ in my numbers.” Well, at least his music was Latin (Gloria Estephan’s Conga). Chas had to do a samba to Kool & The Gang’s disco hit Get Down On It. I don’t know how he did it with nothing happening on the “ands” to prompt his samba steps.
Its not that I’m averse to mixing genres; in fact, when it works it can be fresh and exciting. I’m thinking Bollywood, here. Its called “fusion” these days and dancers everywhere are actively experimenting, but even fusionistas admit that sometimes, it just doesn’t work. Too often—waayyy too often—it just doesn’t work on DWTS.