DJ Mineh Ishida

Responsibilities for West Coast Swing DJs


Photo: trublueboy | stock.xchange

So you’re the local DJ and are responsible for the west coast swing music at your monthly dance. Congratulations. You now can play whatever you want right? Well thats not entirely true. This article addresses some responsibilities you may want to consider when selecting west coast swing songs for your dancers.

Who is your audience?

What kind of audience do you have? What kind of music do they like? Are you playing to their preferences? Remember that your job as a DJ is to play FOR your audience. It is not for you to play songs YOU like. Hopefully there is some overlap between what you like and what the crowd likes, but that said, when there is a conflict, make sure you’re playing a balanced set that addresses the needs of the audience.

Is your music up to date?

The popular songs in west coast swing don’t stay the same, and neither should your playlist. It is important as a DJ to attend national events and see what other DJs are playing on the circuit. If you have competitors in your scene, are you playing the music that they are likely to hear in competition? When people travel to or from your area and attend your dances, are they likely to hear the songs that are currently popular? Does your set evolve or are you stagnant? Now, don’t add a ton of new music all at once, but thats another article.

Do your songs have enough variety?

Do you label yourself as a more contemporary or blues west coast swing DJ? If you fit into either category, I propose that you’re not doing yourself or your dancers justice. The beauty of west coast swing music is that it allows a large variety of songs. Mix it up. Play soul, R&B, blues, pop, hip hop, jazz, and any other genre that provides a good musical experience for your dancers. Mix slow and fast songs, high energy with chill and smooth, new and classic songs. As DJs Victor, Cher and Ruby taught me: “Take them on a Ride.”

Danielle Blouin runs the Floorplay dance in Florida. It is one of the largest monthly west coast swing dances, if not the largest in the state. When she asked me to DJ for her dance, she explained her formula for success to me. She said “People come to the dances because they know that the music will be balanced. If they don’t like one song, chances are, they will like the next one.” She works very hard to make sure that all of the DJs who work with her understand that the balance is the key to the experience of her dancers.

Are your songs appropriate level?

What is the level of dancer in your audience? If you have a large contingency of beginner dancers, are you playing music that is easy for them to dance to? Songs that are too slow or too fast won’t provide a good experience for your beginner dancers. Also, pay attention to the consistency of the rhythm. Beginners may experience difficulty locating the beats of the song when the rhythm patterns are difficult or inconsistent.

Love what you do

Like all jobs, when you do it because you love it, you’ll do a better job. Just remember that your goal is to play west coast swing music that will make your audience happy and allow them to enjoy their dances. By paying attention to the needs of your dancers, the rest should come as common sense.

How do you better serve your dancers? As a dancer what do you appreciate in a good DJ? Let us know in the comments!

  • Essie Spencer Lutes

     Notice the age group of your dancers  might be  another good clue

    • djmineh

      Thank you for the reply Essie!  Certainly, age and other demographics can be a clue, but I caution DJs from making broad assumptions.  Each of us has our own opinions about music, and it’s better to read the floor than just make a blanket assumption about the type of music someone likes just because of their age!

  • Pamela Stergios

    Great advice! 

  • Savannah WCS

    What would you consider to be the lower and upper limits for BPM for beginner and intermediate WCS dancers?

    • Mineh Ishida

      Hi Savannah,  first of all thank you for visiting the site!  This is an interesting question since depending on location and who the instructor is in your area, the answer to this is going to vary.  In the last ten years the dance seems to have changed a lot as well.  Where in the past it w common to dance to music at higher speeds, the dance as a whole seems to be moving towards a slower sweet spot.    Now that I’ve disclaimered my answer, I’ve personally found that music from 95bpm to 120bpm is very comfortable for most west coast swing dancers. Outside of these boundaries the dancing seems to become less accessible to beginner dancers, although there are always exceptions!