Music is the food that fuels dancers. At any event, you can have a gorgeous ballroom, world-class teachers, and amazing Event Directors, but if you’re missing spectacular music from DJs, you miss a key element to a great weekend. Event DJs have a LOT on their plate, and as an aspiring event DJ myself (I’m currently a local DJ in my hometown), I want people to understand it’s more than just pushing a bunch of buttons on our laptops. The music creates the environment you play in, so to help event attendees better understand the DJ’s role, I’d like to give you a peek into what an event looks like for the DJs.
Small Town to Big City — Obviously, there’s a lot of dancing going on at events, both social and competitive, and it’s the DJ’s job to make sure people want to keep dancing. Nationally recognized and event DJ favorite Ruby Lair says, “DJing at an event is very different from DJing at your local dance. First and foremost, the DJ has to encourage dancing.” When you’re DJing for a local dance, you have a good grasp of the mixed levels in the room and generally you understand the vibe and preferences of community. When you’re at an event, people come from all over the country and from all different levels. Two hundred dancers would be a decent-sized attendance for a local dance. For events, there could be as many as 1,000+ dancers and a large portion of dancers will be on the floor at one time. Those dancers all have different musical tastes, so you have to understand the DJs are constantly monitoring what draws a large group to the floor to dance and what isn’t so popular. DJ Chris Singley told me that “the ballroom is a living breathing thing.” If you’re hearing a couple songs that aren’t really your “jam,” that’s ok! Take a breather, and wait to dance. Your jam is in the works. 🙂 You can also make requests, which I’ll get into a little later.
Comp Music to Keep You Moving – Music keeps the heartbeat of the competitions going. “During competitions, […] our focus is on the MC, the head judge, the dancers and the music,” says Lair. Without great jams, contestants won’t be inspired to perform their best. DJs who play during the competitions adjust to the division competing on the floor. Generally, in a given heat for a competition you’ll get a blues, a slow, and a fast song. However, DJs could have their own take on the round (especially in finals), and do a theme like 90s throwback, late-night jams, peppy pop,etc. That being said, don’t be surprised if you are challenged sometimes! I was once at a comp in the novice division, and the songs that were playing I typically hear being played for the upper tier at other comps. It motivated me to elevate my musicality and show off a different side of my technique. DJ Helen Tocco says she’s “not a believer in saving all the best music for All-stars and Champions.”
Bro, feel the room – I went to a local dance, and the DJ just pushed play on the playlist and never monitored the crowd’s reaction to the music. This had me curious. Luckily, I’ve yet to see that happen at an event (if they did their job security would be in question 😉 ), however, it’s important to note that DJs DO pay attention to the floor! That’s their job. That’s why you’ll never have the same set twice. You’ll hear a few songs being played more than once that weekend — those are the ones DJs know will draw a large number to the floor, and will inspire the ones sitting out to join everyone. The “mood” of the room is something that definitely holds the DJ’s set together. Music played at 5 in the afternoon is completely different than music played at 5 in the morning.
Hey! DJ Play My Song!
Social dancing at events can be my favorite thing EVER. When you have good energy, a big crowd on the dance floor, and wonderful social dancing music, it’s like a magical combination for a good weekend. Often times, we hear songs on the radio, or we found it Spotify, and we dream of dancing to it. So, how do you go about requesting songs at events?
DO Request songs!
Don’t be afraid to ask the DJ to play your jam! However, make sure the DJ isn’t in the middle of a competition, or a conversation with a staff member/event director.
“Late night or after competitions are over is usually the best time to engage with the DJ or to make requests. We always say hi or speak to the dancers but long conversations mean we can’t focus on the dance floor as well as we should. So I say keep interactions short and sweet.
Lair advises, “The DJ will determine whether to play the song requested. The determining factors are: if I have the song, do I know the song, will the song fit into my current set. Sometimes your request may not get played for various reasons and if that happens it’s probably best not to make the request repeatedly. We are usually playing one song and trying to pick 2-3 more songs to play while the current song is playing.”
DON’T Interrupt! – Don’t request a song if the DJ is in the middle of a competition, speaking with a staff member, or deeply focused on the dancers currently on the floor. Remember they are paid to do a job that weekend, and a lot of it involves keeping the dancers happy. So if the DJ seems occupied at the moment, wait until the ballroom’s a little bit more laid back.
DON’T Diss the DJ!
PLEASE! I haven’t seen this at an event, but as a local DJ I’ve had someone come up to me in the booth and very aggressively comment on the music choices I was making. One dancer a crowd does not make. If you don’t like a certain genre, use it as an opportunity to drink water, sit out or talk to a friend. However, don’t outright berate the DJ. They work tirelessly at keeping people entertained and dancing. Remember they’re taking care of a whole entire room. If there are several songs in a row you don’t like, let the DJ know with some constructive feedback (i.e. “Oh, hey I noticed the past couple of songs were a lot of pop songs. Do you mind playing something R&B or hip hop?”)
DO Give feedback! We’d like to know if you’re enjoying the music, so if you find a brief moment to let your DJs know they’re keeping you moving, please do so.
All in all, those in charge of your music needs for the weekend want you to have a good time. Enjoy the company of your peers, dance the night away, and have fun! One of the coolest things about West Coast Swing is that we are able to dance to so many different genres of music. I’ve definitely broadened my musical tastes, and it’s awesome when people hear songs they don’t normally listen to and end up liking them!
That’s it for this week’s post. Return next week for your weekly dosage of event tips! For Wandering Westie blog, I’m Stephanie Pham. Keep dancing!