Lindy-hop and Balboa are two styles of swing dancing that I’ve been getting into over the past couple years, although admittedly I’ve spent more time on Balboa lately. One of the things that I’ve been noticing is that even though both dances are done to similar music (swing-era jazz), dancers tend to like certain songs for Balboa and other songs for Lindy. Common dancer wisdom says that faster songs are better for Balboa and slower ones for Lindy, but it seems like it should be more nuanced than that, since most dancers can also come up with slow songs that are great for Balboa or fast songs that get a Lindy dancer moving.
The jazz musician in me thought that there must be some characteristics of the music that could predict which dance is more appropriate for a given song. The programmer in me thought data might be able to give us some answers.
I gathered a group of 11 swing dancers, each with varying degrees of experience in both Balboa and Lindy (from 2 years of experience all the way up to those that travel internationally for dance events and competitions). A couple of them are DJs and local swing band musicians as well. I had them listen to a list of 29 songs, varied in tempo, style and size of band (full list at the end of the post) and mark each song as “Balboa”, “Lindy”, “both”, or “neither”. At the end of our listening session, we had a short discussion on what everyone thought were characteristics of music good for Balboa versus Lindy.
The output of the discussion was pretty varied. Most seemed to have strong opinions on which music lent itself more to one dance or the other. A couple of the theories floating around were that “smoother rhythms” or “strong rhythm sections with a consistent beat” were good indicators of a Balboa song. Others posited that a stronger backbeat (accents on beats two and four) were good for Lindy. Some thought that a smoother melody lent itself to Balboa whereas a melody with hits and accents were great for Lndy swingouts.
So what did the results look like? 32% of votes cast were for a song determined to appropriate for both Linday and Balboa. 39% were for songs deemed Lindy-hoppable, and 24% Balboa danceable. The remaining 5% of votes were for songs that the participant wouldn’t dance either to.
But did dancers agree with each other? First, I collated the results of the survey and ran Fleiss’ kappa, a statistical measure for how well study participants agree. Participants agreed moderately on whether or not a song was Balboa danceable, with a kappa score of 0.43. They were in slightly less agreement for Lindy-hop, with a score of 0.41. So, there were general trends, but it looks like opinions differ.
Next, is tempo really a good indicator of which dance is more appropriate? For each song, if most votes were for “Balboa” or “either”, I marked the song as Balboa appropriate. Similarly, if most votes were “Lindy” or “either”, I marked it as Lindy appropriate. Then I compared against their tempos. The songs marked as Balboa had a mean of 217 bpm with a standard deviation of 44.3. The songs marked as Lindy had a mean of 174 bpm with a standard deviation of 36.9. No surprise here, Balboa songs are on average faster, but there’s significant overlap in tempo. For example, “Any Old Time” by Artie Shaw clocked in at a low 115 bpm, but about half the participants marked it as appropriate for Balboa anyway. Similarly, the recording of “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” by Count Basie burns hard at 290 bpm, but most participants agreed that it was appropriate for Lindy hop anyway.
Finally, are any of the characteristics we discussed good predictors? I labeled each of the songs for three different attributes and tested them against the majority vote determined above.
Triplet-swing: The swing feel in a lot of older jazz had a very strong triplet feel in the eighth notes. Later swing tended to smooth even out eighth notes but maintained a hint of swing. Using triplet-feel as an indicator for Lindy got a whopping 83% accuracy. Using even-swing as an indicator for Balboa was only 62%. It seems that balboa dancers care a little less about this, but lindy-hoppers really like their triplet swing.
Strong backbeat: Songs with strong backbeats will accent beats 2 and 4 heavily, but those that don’t will be more even across all 4 beats. Some participants seemed to think that a strong backbeat was a good indicator of Lindy hop appropriate music, but the data resulted in only a 45% accuracy. Lack of backbeat got 72% accuracy for predicting Balboa music, though.
Accented melody: This one was a little hard to define. Some participants called this “strong horns” or “staccato melody” and thought it was a good indicator for Lindy. I marked this for any song with syncopated hits in the melody. Lack of these hits only predicted Balboa music with 59% accuracy, but got 86% for Lindy.
In conclusion, it looks like there are definite trends in preferences for music between the two dances, but it’s not clear cut. Not only was there no killer characteristic that definitely divided the two dance styles, but agreement between participants in the survey was not the strongest.
Note: I am not a statistician. Sample size of the survey was pretty limited, so results may be biased.
List of songs used in survey:
|Fine and Dandy||Benny Goodman Quintet|
|Three Little Words||Teddy Powell|
|Opus One||Tommy Dorsey Orchestra|
|Just a settin’ and a rockin’||Duke Ellington|
|Yacht Club Swing||Fats Willer|
|Jump Session||Slim and Slam|
|After you’ve gone||Benny Goodman Trio|
|Minor Swing||Boilermaker Jazz Band|
|Minor swing||Django Reinhardt|
|All that meat and no potatoes||Fats Waller|
|C Jam Blues||Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra|
|Any Old Time||Artie Shaw|
|Smoke Rings||Glen Gary and Casa Loma Orchestra|
|Jumping at the woodside||Count Basie|
|Gangbusters||Cats and the Fiddle|
|Head over heels in love||Tommy Dorsey|
|Lavender Coffin||Lionel Hampton|
|Go Harlem||Chick Webb|
|Jubilee Swing||Chick Webb|
|Lindyhopper’s Delight||Chick Webb|
|Manhattan Jam||Cab Calloway|
|Twelfth Street Rag||Lionel Hampton|
|Ain’t she sweet?||Bunny Berigan|
|Cement Mixer put-ti put-ti||Jimmie Lunceford|
|Christopher Columbus||Benny Goodman|