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Lindy Hop and jazz music evolved together, and many of the famous jazz bands adapted their music to please the dancers – ‘lindy hoppers’ – at the time. Songs had names such as “Lindyhoppers’ Delight” (Chick Webb) and “That Lindy Hop” (Duke Ellington), and lyrics were littered with references to Lindy Hop moves such as the “Suzie Q” and “Shorty George.”


The Lindy Hop has a syncopated rhythm that matches the music. Although Lindy Hop (and the other related dances) work fine when danced to modern music (Marilyn Manson had lindy hoppers in his “Mobscene” music video), most dancers new to lindy hop end up developing a taste for 1930s-40s jazz and its more interesting, syncopated rhythm, which inspires and drives the Lindy Hop dance moves.


Lindy Hop DJing
A Beginner’s Guide
by DJ Steve


They say lindy hoppers will dance to anything – even the sound of a tap dripping! So as a first time DJ with a full dance floor, you may feel like a bit of a superstar… but be careful, you might be mistaking desperation for appreciation! There are no rules (or are there?), but here are some personal tips, stolen from others of course, which I use.



Lindy Hop music starts in the Savoy Ballroom, New Orleans, Kansas City... if you’re going to travel far from these origins it’s best to check whether your host is okay with this first. I feel breaking out of jazz for a song every hour or so for fun is just fine if you want to do it (I don’t) and provides a contrast – but any more than that and you need to apply for a special exemption! 



A song below 100 BPM will feel really slow for Lindy Hop – anything above 110 BPM is just fine. Mid-tempo songs around 130-160 BPM are a sweet spot for swing outs, but often hard to find (bands favour either slow or fast). Slow Balboa begins at 150 BPM and is comfortable up to 200 BPM. Above 220 BPM even a Balboa dancer might admit that the song is fast. In summary, dancers (the experienced ones at least) enjoy a wide range of tempos, so it’s best to serve a balanced diet!


Perhaps you have a great ear for tempo and know exactly how a song will feel on the dance floor, but if not then a BPM count for your songs will give you control. Generally, fast songs will sound great on while you’re sitting on the sofa but you may be surprised at how un-danceable your playlist is on the dance floor. DJs have different philosophies about changing tempos – some might try and gradually build up the tempo through the evening or the set. Others advise going through a tempo wave – build it up, drop it down, do it again. My approach is the latter, and to do it fast! There are exceptions of course – if the band has played nothing but fast music and the dancers are tired then that approach is out the window and I’ll slow everything down.



Some DJs have a particular sound and style that defines them, and they will consistently play within this style. This creates a particular, special atmosphere... for an hour perhaps you feel like you’re in really old time New Orleans... or that 1950’s rock’n’roll joint just around the corner. While I like the atmosphere this creates, it isn’t my preference. My approach is to vary tone and style like tempo –to move from the shrieking clarinet of Sidney Bechet in one song to the dulcet tones of Nat King Cole in the next. To me, they sound better when juxtaposed. I need a rest from blaring trumpets, but after a song with soft vocals I want those trumpets again.



So you’ve found a fantastic new, special song you want to try out. It sounded great at home, but when it’s playing it becomes clear it was a little too special... You can feel the frustration building on the dance floor. It’s great to try out new songs – otherwise we would never have any variation. But a wise tip is to have an old favourite lined up as the next song so that frustration doesn't turn into full on annoyance. You will always be forgiven for one song gone wrong!



As a DJ you would probably like to play new and previously unheard music, but this can lead down obscure and frankly not very danceable avenues. Dancers like the favourites and for good reason – they are great songs that can survive heavy playing and provide comfort and familiarity. So again, a balanced diet of old and new is my preference.



A good DJ will watch the dancers and adjust the music to what they see – are the beginners having fun, are the experienced dancers getting a challenge, do people need a rest, or more stimulation? Of course they might not get it perfect but they will be doing their best to entertain you – the dancer! So by now, if you still think DJing is creating a playlist, perhaps you might want to think again!…

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