Sunday, January 10, 2010

Blues rooms and lighting (or the lack there of)

While DJ’ing the lindy room at a recent exchange mid-Atlantic exchange, a number of follows from the northeast told me, “I like blues as much as the next person, but the blues rooms in the south are so dark I can’t see who I’m dancing with or if there’s anything around me to avoid so I’m staying in the main room where I feel more comfortable.”

It seems to me, the further south you travel down the eastern seaboard the less well-lit blues rooms are. Some of us joke, it must be a Bible Belt thing and people don’t want to be seen dancing to “that devil baby-making music”. Also, strictly blues events are generally more well-lit than lindy blues rooms (with a few consistent exceptions), as are events organized primarily by women.

Not sure about the northeast, but in NYC, Philly and DC you’ve got good visibility and tempo’s vary. Heading south into Virginia (and up until a couple years ago also NC) things suddenly go dark. I remember older events when the 1st thing coming in the door were the black lights and red bandanas, then the case of booze, and finally the sound system.

At ATLX this year blues room DJ’s stunned organizers by saying “the lindy room gets the food, the drinks and enough light to watch everybody else do their cool moves, we’ve got to use flashlights to find our way safely to the DJ table”. Although they replied, “we’ve never heard a blues dancer ask for more light”, the next night, we got better lighting. Get into parts of Florida and blues rooms can seem almost vampiric… any bit of light and dancers will scatter.

Lighting levels also seem directly correlated to expected tempos (and intentions) at lindy late night blues rooms. When I first started DJ’ing one mid-Atlantic state dancer approached me to say, “hey chief, enough with the bouncy-bouncy-- see that follow I’m dancing with? Yeah, smoking… so can you play more, you know… (rolls eyes suggestively and gyrates his groin in my direction).

All this leads me to ask:

Do overly dark rooms start ringing potential comfort level alarm bells in female dancers (it’s a rare lead who will ever complain a room’s too dark)? If so, why do some organizers (usually the boys) and some regions seem less bothered or concerned by that? Have some missed reading the memo or am I completely wrong?


Nathan Malone:
"I prefer darker blues rooms. Most dance nighclubs not related to the dance scene tend to be dark, at least in Texas. That is the experience I draw from, darker rooms have a certain atmosphere, there are always brighter rooms that people can hang in.

But, what do I know, never heard a complaint about rooms being too dark, I have heard complaints about the room being too bright.

I am sure there are people in my area who have the opposite view though. Just like people's opinion of what should actually be played in blues room varies, etc..."

Susan Brannigan:
"Too light is annoying, and so is too dark. I like to be able to see who I'm dancing with. More importantly, though, I like to be able to see who I'm talking with, to make eye contact and have a normal conversation when I'm not dancing. On the other hand, after midnight I like a relaxed lighting atmosphere. My eyes are tired late at night, and frankly I probably look too tired to look, er, radiant in "normal" light.

IMHO, blues rooms should not strive to be like nightclubs. If I wanted to dance in a nightclub, I'd go to one. Blues rooms are supposed to be for dancers, not hokey ladies-men and women desperately seeking them. Er, right? :-p"

Bill Speidel:
"Its a tough gradient. There's definitely too bright, what I would call appropriately dim (how's that for nebulous?), and pitch black where the lone light source is the glow of the dj's laptop screen on the far side of the room."

Kyla Anderson:
"This is a great discussion... i like my blues room lit for mood...(lower light but not dark!) i have a ton of blue and white holiday lights on backup in case i need to add light to rooms..i know that sounds cheesy but if placed correctly it works.

I second the vote for enough light to see faces, have conversations, avoid falls and actually maybe just a hair brighter..i have to fight with several dancers about too much light...which is funny since i like it dim already!!"

Bill Speidel:
"I also think lighting can be very room size dependent. The larger the room and greater the # of dancers, the more light I like (maybe so I can see the floor better as a DJ?). Intimate house parties, darker is fine."

Susan Brannigan:
"Agreed, Bill. I think I can trust you to use your common sense. :)"

Jean Gonnella:
"I personally like a blues room dim but not so dark I can't see the person I am dancing with....but also depends on song... b cool if the dj could also have dimmer switches so they could decide on lighting for various if the lighiting changed every song that may be annoying but every say 10 songs or sooooo..oh i dunno... love blues dancing n alarm never went off and stopped me from blue dancing cuz of light :) lol"

Mike Legett:
"Honestly, I get a little irritated when I hear people say, "I can't dance blues in here- it's too bright." Unless it's too bright for any dancing (Walmart is what I picture). Mood lighting is great to create an atmosphere, just like a well-decorated venue, but it's certainly not make-or-break for me. I suspect that those people aren't approaching the dance the way I do... there might be some motivational differences, so to speak. Rule of thumb- if my eyes need a moment to adjust before I can see, coming from anything other than sunlight, it's too dark. And people who say that about classes? Prepare for a punch in the face. In my imagination.

I agree, too, about blues rooms at lindy events being darker. They're often, well, sketchier in general. Makes me sad that some lindy hoppers don't like blues, and it's based on the blues at lindy events. At a lindy event, you'll rarely find me in the blues room, and that's part of why."

Claudia Thornburgh:
"Of course, at VBLX the blues room tends to serve a double purpose-- tired dancers go in there to sleep."

Yossef Mendelssohn:
"I get annoyed enough with the dim lighting at lindy dances, since it seems some people think there can't be dancing at all unless the main lights are all turned off and christmas lights strewn around the room.

It seems strange to me that all of this changes when there's an obvious reason to watch dancers, like a competition or performance. Why can't there be enough light to see the entire time?

For me, the groin-gyrating attitude is a) a reason I avoid blues in general, and b) a conversation for another time."

Steve Stone:
"Everyone is going to have a problem with the lighting, it's an impossibility to please everyone. I personally like it dim, so my eyes can have time to rest. Our blues dances in Orlando go from 1am - 4am so I've already been dancing swing for 4 hours and working all day. We start the blues with the lights on until about 3am when someone pulls the plug.

Blues to me is a different expression of dancing focusing more on connection and leading, following rather than moves people know. It seems to me, the darker the room, the more people have to actually follow and lead. Now I do realize that the creeps come out in the dark and as Natch stated, they want to grind, but I think that's an individual choice... I just want to dance, but in Orlando it's either annoying light or just about pitch black. ........ we need a lighting coordinator. Natch! We need your lighting magic."

Kate Larson:
"I prefer blues dancing in dim but not pitch black- and this is my own personal reason. I am a bit ADD (well, I have ADD) and get easily distracted by extraneous visual stimuli. When it is dim, there is less to distract me from the dance, the music, and my connection with my partner. I actually have my best blues dances when I close my eyes, but since I don't like to do that often, it helps me to have dimmer lighting.

Even for swing, whether it be Lindy or WCS I also prefer it more on the dim side, too, though not as dim as for blues.

I do agree that no matter where, it should be bright enough at least to see who is asking you to dance. In the end though the lighting isn't going to stop me from dancing whether bright or dark."

Steph Beck:
"Add me to the crew requesting "dim" rather than "dark." As a follow who simply enjoys dancing, I walk into a blues room with the same objective I have in mind walking into a lindy room: assess the situation, the music, the leaders, who's DJing, and to decide whether I want to dance in that room. While I'm ok with it being dark enough that my eyes need a second to adjust, if it's so dark that even after that time, I can't tell what leads are in the room, or I can't see the DJ, or I can't see anything that's not two feet in front of my face, it's too dark and I won't dance.
Chances are, as some of the previous comments have called out, that the darker the room, the more likely some of the guys are to try something. However, most leads who would make me uncomfortable on the blues floor I've already spotted on the lindy floor doing something weird there, and flagged them in my head. If it's so dark that my brain can't compute to compare notes... yup. Too dark."

Amy Davenport:
"It is indeed impossible to please everyone, which is why I would opt for dim, maybe dimmER than regular dances, but not dark. That way people who like it bright may not consider it perfect but at least they can still see. And those who like it dark may not consider it perfect, but at least there is some moodier atmosphere."

Teresa L. Radke:
"Candlelight level"

Heather Adams:
"I don't like bright light in general, because my eyes are pretty sensitive. That said, despite my vampiric love of the night, I DO want my dancing space lit. I'm with Mike, there's a lot of real estate between "cave" and "Walmart," and it seems we could find somewhere comfortable along that spectrum. I also fail to see why anyone who isn't looking to push the boundaries of what is acceptable at a public social dance would object to having some comfortable light in a room.

Also, I have to say, I am confused why we are mocking people who want to distance themselves from grindy "blues" dancing. I certainly danced blues back when my only option was grindy blues dancing, but I avoid it like the plague now that I have choices. I never went in search of grinding, I just wanted to dance to blues music. Now that I have outlets where I can dance WELL to actual blues music, I certainly don't relish returning to the dancing that made me uncomfortable in the first place."

David Ljung Madison:
"Considering that Mike T. Girl is awesome, I'm surprised I disagree with her.

A well-lit Blues dance doesn't work. Classes are a different matter. Consider the fact that people feel weird doing Blues outside in the daytime, but not Lindy. The feeling is different - Blues is much more about the little bubble that you create with your partner (and no, no gyrating happens in this bubble).

I do agree that you have to be able to *see* - I do remember ATLX being way too dark. Here is what I have learned.

When I started having house parties, I didn't take lighting at all into consideration. All the lights were on. Dima (who is massively responsible for much of the beginning of the Blues scene as we know it) changed my house party by putting in the red light bulbs which are still in sockets in my house ready to be turned on. That created the Blues atmosphere that changed everything.

I have seen events with too much light ruin the "party" feel. For example, the Doghouse (which was a Lindy event, even) finally died because the ambience was wrong. The simple fix they never used was to turn the lights down. Not to dark, but to dimmer. Would've changed everything.

So yes, add me to the list that thinks that lights all the way on or all the way off is a no-go. And I won't even talk about the gyrating, because I think trying to connect that to our dance is a foolish assumption."

Damon Natch Burke:
"I have been corrected on my history of blues dancing in Orlando and thus retract my comment on who grinded what and where.

As a personal opinion of an old man, dancing at 2 am is difficult for me because I'm quite tired, removing the light makes me really sleepy."

Joy Arico:
"My 10 cents...When I dance blues I move around the floor just as much if not more than when I dance lindy. I want to see the other couples on the floor. I do not like when my lead runs me into people. Give them a little more light and that happens less often. For those who want to make a bubble and micro blues all night..let them stand in the middle of the floor. The rest of us will be moving around them.

As for the lighting--When we do dances in a bar, that is full of neon beer signs because we have our parties in "jook joints" the lighting is always dimmed a little. I agree with Susan-- we want to be lit enough, but not so that ppl can really see what I look like at 4 am. The exception is at Playwright with the terrace that opens up to NYC light pollution so we have to turn everything off on 1 end to achieve dim."

David Ljung Madison:
"I did not say bubble to imply micro blues.

I don't think many people who have seen me dance would claim that I don't move around the floor. :)"

Joy Arico:
"Parties in Fancy Ballrooms-- I want it slightly dimmed for ambiance the feeling of candlelight and pretty sconces. Definitely not dark. Dance studio parties depend on the studio...If the studio has bright lights, fluorescent...then they will all be off and we'll bring in lamps.

If it is a dance studio set up for throwing parties as well, with a great sound system and lights on a dimmer.. we just dim them a little and light candles. Again, we want ambiance, not invisibility."

Final note-- you'll notice we do the same in the Lindy rooms at our events as well."

Ben Nathan:
"Personally, I like a room decently lit. If a room can be where I can see my partner clearly and make out their face, that's ideal for me. Granted, I'm not asking it to look like noon, more like dusk where the lighting is comfortable, safe, etc."

Joy Arico:
"Just to throw out the other side of the coin to quote Frankie Manning describing rent parties while quoting Fats Waller..."Turn Out The Lights and Call The Law!"
Dark is the right lighting for our house parties."

Katie Lee:
"I am one of those follows who gets scared off of blues by creepy leads (which is a pity, because I really enjoy non-grinding blues). As this does seem to correlate to lack of lighting...dim-ish, please, not dark!"

Ali Connell:
"My personal rule of thumb is, I want to be able to take a picture (no flash) and at least be able to tell that it's a person in the picture (grainy is fine, can't tell who it is is fine) A room so dark that if you take a picture all you see is black and a few shadows is too dark (and I've definitely seen rooms this dark). Avoiding the fluorescent lights = good. But it's good no matter what the dance or music. However, I've been in blues rooms where I've been looking for friends and been unable to find them despite 5 minutes of searching because the room was so dimly lit. And it definitely seems to me that the constant body rolls and grinding is correlated with the decrease in light.

And I think a house party is a somewhat different matter. It's a private event, different expectations."

Summer Leigh Shapiro:
"I agree with the "dim for ambience but not dark" idea. That would go for pretty much any dance or music style, including lindy. There's a reason nicer restaurants, theaters and music venues aren't harshly lit from overhead. Slightly dim is simply a more pleasant nighttime atmosphere.

This especially relates to dancing in dance studios. Most of them tend to be barren and underdecorated. You have to do something to make them more pleasant and party-like, and ambient lighting is the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to accomplish that.

I don't want it dark, though. I'm a non-grindy blues dancer, and frankly, I think the vampiric mostly-darkness just encourages the type of people I'm looking to avoid dancing with. Give me wall sconces, ropes of Christmas lights, halogen lamps, whatever... but I'd like to be able to see, thanks. :)"

Sarah Beth:
"Not sure about the geographical implications of blues room lighting, but I agree with Summer & the idea that house parties are okay much darker than public dances, and Mike's opinion of Blues at Lindy events (I usually abstain for the same reasons).
I actually had the same experience at VBLX a couple years back, leaving Sol's great dj'ing because the only light in the room was from his laptop. It encourages creepiness, and anonymity, and discourages mixing up partners.

Here in Memphis, we keep it dim to save our eyes, and have some twinkle lights if needed. But again, we dance pretty fast Blues here--and like Steve said, you want it darker cause is 2am--but you still need to be able to see the band, avoid other couples and find your next partner. ;-)

Bill, hope you can come to Memphis in March & see for yourself!!"

Martin Beally:
"1) Tempo and energy of the music should affect how lit the room is.
2) Public events should be brighter than house parties.
3) I should always be able to see people's faces.

Sidebar: We should stop caring and devoting so much energy to saying what's "wrong" with blues dancing, be it grinding or whatever. Lead by showing a positive example and people will follow."

Emi Mastey:
"Dim not dark. Blues room at ATLX at the warehouse place was so dark I had no idea what leads were in there. How do I know if there are great leads or creeps if I can't see them?"

Photo credit: Evrim Icoz Photography

1 comment:

  1. I want it to be light enough that I can recognize faces from at least 10 feet away. That way I can look around and decide who I want to ask to dance. If it's really dark, I just have to randomly go up to a shadowy figure, and once I'm close enough to see them - perhaps a foot and a half away - I'm kind of stuck asking them to dance even if it's someone I'd rather not dance with (I don't like to noticeably snub people).

    So dim lighting is fine, non-lighting sucks.