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Ballroom Dance

J M (Mike) Nelson
Phone: 612-810-0157

Dance Club Music Policies

The music policies essentially define, at least from a public perspective, the dance organization; thus it seems incongruous that so few are clear about their music policies. Everyone complains about dance music, and there are rationale for satisfying some people only about 17% of the time, as well as offending some about 17% of the time. Even so, though we will never satisfy everyone, and some will never be satisfied, if there is a clear policy for music, and if the guidelines are clear to members, guests, bands, and DJs, then there is less room for complaints and clear criteria for assessment.

Policy Statement. If you don't have one, you can't impose one. You are at the mercy of the band or DJ. You are open to criticism, and you can't respond properly to criticism. You can't provide critical information to members or prospective members. In contrast, if you have a clear policy statement, then bands, DJs, members, and guests will have little room to complain, for there will have been no excuse for their not knowing what to expect.

Here are some suggestions for topics for inclusion in a music policy statement along with some suggested criteria. Clear policies provide bands and DJs with specific, measurable guidelines, and they help deflect criticism from guests. Policies also provide members and prospective members with critical information about what to expect from the organization.

Song length. Between 1.5 and 3 minutes, with an average of 2 min., or, if you wish, simply make it clear that songs will be played as originally acquired and bands may continue a song without restraint, even if a song lasts for several minutes. (On one occasion, I stopped timing a rumba after it exceeded 20 minutes; both the band and the management were oblivious to complaints.)

Transition. A few seconds of silence between songs enables conversation and polite change of partners; 5 to 7 seconds is usually adequate. Continuous music is not conducive to a variety dance or social dance. Or, state clearly that music will be continuous and uninterrupted, leaving it to the dancers to decide when to take a break.

Style announcement. Some like it; some don't. Take a position.

Style Equity. With 20 or more popular styles, at an average of 2-minutes per song, you can't even get one of each style played during a half hour. With so many different Latin and swing styles, style equity slants the mix toward Latin and Swing. Examine the consequences before you impose style equity.

Music quality. Songs should have a steady tempo and recognizable beat.

Music volume. Dance is promoted as healthy; deliberate imposition of cumulative hearing damage seems incongruous to claiming health benefits. Though a bit on the liberal side, the following at least addresses the issue of excessive sound levels, to wit: music shall be played at nominally 80 dB or less as appropriate, never to exceed a nominal 85 dB, no peaks over 95 dB, and no sustained segments over 90 dB. Though many try, one cannot make up with volume what one lacks in sound system quality. Dance is a social event; if people can't visit during the dance, a significant aspect is lost. One does not need a dB meter to assess either quality or volume. If conversation is not comfortable, the sound system needs adjustment.

Song selection. Though often neglected, this aspect of the music defines the dance; to ignore it seems irresponsible. Bias in the music should be clearly stated in promotional materials. (e.g. Ballroom and Latin, Ballroom and Country, Latin and Swing, Polka and Country, etc.) Consider the following strategies for establishing an equitable mix, and take care not to allow bias to skew the mix inappropriately.

Strategy 1. Six-song cycle, one song per category.
Foxtrot (with an occasional Quickstep as appropriate)
Swing - EC Swing, WC Swing, Hustle, NightClub
Latin - Bolero, Cha-cha, Rumba, Tango, Salsa/Mambo, Samba, Merengue
Folk (if appropriate) - Argentine, Cajun, Country/Western, Polka, etc.
Latin - Bolero, Cha-cha, Rumba, Tango, Salsa/Mambo, Samba, Merengue
Waltz - mostly American smooth, occasionally Viennese

Strategy 2. Alternate between energy levels, with no more than two in a row of the same energy. Within the energy groups, alternate genre according to general popularity and dancer responses.
Low Energy - Bolero, Foxtrot, Merengue, Peabody, Rumba, Tango, Waltz
High Energy - ChaCha, Mambo, Polka, Quickstep, Salsa, Samba, Swing, Viennese

Strategy 3. Imposing the energy/genre categories of #2 onto the general sequencing of #1 might also lead to an acceptable mix.

Last Song. End the dance with a slow dance appropriate to the occasion. Few would be offended, and many couples would appreciate it.

The aforementioned variety mix, with its 6-song cycle, should keep each dancer happy perhaps 17% of the time, none really angry more than 17% of the time, and some happy most of the time. Variety dances are the most difficult to plan, and almost any mix can be criticized as skewed toward certain styles, even more reason to have a clear policy regarding song selection. For more on the variety dance mix, see SQQ and the Variety Dance Mix and Selection Policies.

Though an organization might not adapt guidelines for each of the aforementioned categories, to have no guidelines regarding music seems to avoid being clear as to the organization's intent.

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