Friday, January 14, 2011

DJs and Bands: Give Me A Break!

This article was originally published in Jan 2009, but lately I've run into a new set of DJ's that are enhancing the music for me. STOP THAT! For some reason the bachata DJ's seem to do it the most in my area, and it's NOT ideal. Please forward this to all you're DJ friends. 

Friends don't let DJ's ruin the music!

[RANT starts here!]
To all my DJ friends: Quit seamlessly mixing Latin tunes together, imitating the hip-hop DJs. Just give me a break! Stop the music every so often and nobody gets hurt.

Especially you bachata DJ's who seem to like a 12 minute mix. Because your dancers are not leaving the floor, doesn't mean they like it! They just don't want to offend their current partner.

I don't want an extended mix, creating one long song. That is a great energy at a hip-hop event, or a rave, but generally not a win for partner dancing. Even if your mix is brilliant and the two, three or five tunes are my favorites, putting them into one longer tune usually irritates me and my dancing friends. A quick break between the tunes and I'll love your selections.

It also sucks the life out of the musicality in many cases. We know the tune, save our complex emotional material for that section, and you cut to another song before the best part of the current song. Frustrating!

This same concept applies to the bands; don't take extended solos or join two or more tunes together. Medleys are for listening audiences and concerts, not dances. It makes little sense in a partner dance scene. (Disclaimer: I was guilty of this when I was a non-dancing musician. We thought the music was so great you'd love more of it... boy, do I feel bad now, seeing it from the other side.)
[Calming down now...]

As a rule, social dancers like shorter tunes. Music with an obvious ending and a few seconds between tunes is much, much better. We don't need long breaks, just a clear ending and a quick break. Again: don't take the fact that we don't leave the floor as a sign we love your mix! Under our breath we are swearing at you, hoping management gets a clue and hires someone else to spin.

Why? The break gives us a chance to change partners gracefully, or not, but our choice!

If she hasn't looked at me in the first three or four minutes, is swearing under her breath, looking around the room for her next partner, or trying to get that knife out of her back pocket to slit her wrists or "accidentally" stab me, having another 3-5 minutes of my "amazing" lead probably isn't going to change her mind. We're both hoping the brain damage ends soon, but an extended mix or double length tune ruins that dream.

Once we are a few minutes into the dance, the magic is either there or it's not. A quick and obvious break gives us a convenient way to change partners if desired. If the magic is there, we can dance the next tune. The music change provides a slightly different feel, making it even more fun. Occasionally we wish it lasted longer and look forward to the next dance, but that's a great problem and most can deal with it.

A break also gives her a chance to say, "Thank you... the street lights are on and I have to go now..." without being inconsiderate. If she hated my lead but was faking it (something I hear women do occasionally), she can gracefully move to another partner without my knowing how bored she was with my lead. I feel good and can find someone else to torment for a few minutes in the next song.

If you're in the band, don't be ignorant like I was in my playing days, assuming the dancers are so in love with your playing they hope your solo will never end. Most social salsa dancers don't like marathon tunes. With a few exceptions, most dancers aren't paying lots of attention to your solo. They may feel the energy, but when it goes too long, they miss the details and start worrying more about their partner or how their dancing is holding up over time.

Give us a quick break between tunes, and when in doubt, shorter tunes are better in the social scene. Stay in the four to five minute range and we're all happier. We don't need long pauses, but remember: we do want you to give us a break.
The difference between love and sex is that sex relieves tension and love causes it.
--Woody Allen


  1. I couldn't agree more.

    I also hate when DJ's mix out a slow part in the middle of the song, or a nice ending to a song. This robs me from the possibility to dance "in" the music, instead of only loosly coupled to the rythm the music provides. The whole concept of musicality is under pressure.

    (/rant off :-) )

  2. Yes - completely agree too. A short pause between each dance is essential - that is the nature of salsa - it is not a rave where people dance without a break for a long time.

    Further related point is to properly play the intros and endings - this is part of the dance too - there is nothing worse than lining-up a beautiful graceful ending to a dance, only to have the last few bars rudely truncated with the blasting opening bars of the next song. Grrr.

  3. Joe,

    Great point. I forgot about that one... We hear the ending coming, and the DJ stomps on it by starting the next song. Just let it finish and THEN start the next tune.

  4. Hi Don! I agree with your post 100%!!!! Bravo!

    I am a dancer first, Salsa DJ second & I play for the dancer!! When it comes to Salsa music, I am purist.

    If we're playing good danceable salsa, we don't need to mix it, stomp on it, or tweek it! The musicians have done a great job with the music - just play it!

    DJ Latin Leprechaun
    Greg Fitzpatrick

  5. I've done quite a bit of DJing, mostly just as a hobby.

    As far as salsa goes, I do not mix tracks, although I do have virtually no gap between one song and the next...just because the silence annoys me (it makes it seem like the DJ or Band isn't properly prepared). I do try to make it as clear as possible though that a new song is beginning: I tend to vary styles quite a bit. I do mix bacahta and merengue on occasion though, but those are just salsa breaks anyway. ;-)

    It probably is best to have a little gap to give people a chance to get off the floor and find a new partner (although I personally like to know what song I am dancing to first, since certain songs are better suited for certain kinds of people).

    One of my biggest pet peeves though is being robbed of my dramatic ending. =P Its so awkward too when you know it just switched to a new song, and you aren't sure if you should keep going or not.

  6. Daniel makes a good point - and I think a lot of DJs are scared of leaving any gaps as if it is sign of professional failure or it might break the mood of the club. This might be true in a conventional night club - but gaps and silences are part of the music too, the dynamic and emotional ranges of salsa music are much greater than conventional night-club music - the DJ needs to respect this.

    My preference is for several seconds of silence between tracks. There is a moment of post-dance pleasure during which you can smile and thank your partner, maybe walk her back too (if you are a gentleman) and find someone for the next dance in a relaxed manner. If there is little or no gap you are forced to rapidly dump your partner and grab someone else quick before you miss out altogether and have to sit out. Dancing twice with the same partner is the exception and even then, you need a gap to part amicably at the end of the second dance.

  7. What do you do if you end up in a song with a partner that doesn't enjoy it and both of you are trying to get that knife out and slit the wrists? You just don't have that connection.. Are you being rude walking away in the middle of the 'mix'?

  8. #Michael: That is not so easy. I don't think doing it is such a problem but HOW you do it is the key.

    If it's only once song, my gut says finish... (especially for the guys).

    IF you stop and they are mixing multiple songs, the next time the tune changes you use that as a break point.

    She did accept your invitation to dance. So I'd want to respect that and make the break as graceful as possible. "I appreciate the dance, this is so long I don't want you to get bored..."

    I've don't have a great plan for getting out in the middle, but I'll think about it and maybe someone else will have a better suggestion.

  9. I agree. Give me some notification that the song's over.

    But on the other hand, when I've got a partner that I've been dying to dance with all night and the band is sitting there talking for several minutes it just makes me want to yell "Just play will ya."


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

Feel free to send me private mail if appropriate.

Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero