Pleasure & Pop

Today we get something really special!  Carsie Blanton is a super talented musician and dancer; maybe you’ve even met her, especially if you’re from Philly or New Orleans.  Some of her music is good for swing dancers, some of it is good for blues dancers, and some of it is just plain great to listen to!

Right now, she’s going to tell us about a song she wrote, My Baby Can Dance, which is one of the biggest Lindy Hop hits I’ve seen come out of a modern musician.  My laptop may know how many times I’ve DJed it, but I’ve certainly lost count!  If you already know the song, I hope you appreciate the insight into how it was made, and if you don’t, go listen to it already!

Carsie’s last project was an album of jazz covers, many of which are great dance songs.  Here’s another good one.  Right now she could use your help to fund her latest project “The Radical Magic of Pleasure and Pop” which is shaping up to be a really fun album … I’ve already gone to Kickstarter and backed it, so I’d certainly recommend that you do too!

What thoughts or feelings do you want to get across to your audience when they hear this song? What is there in the song that communicates that?
To me, this song is about the joy and physicality of dance (and, less directly, sex), and how that joy can short-circuit the rational part of one’s brain. I want the listener to be so full of joy that they are totally convinced that this is a good thing. I want the reaction to be “oh well, who needs rationality?!”
The lyric communicates these ideas fairly directly, but I’ve also used the age-old tools of rhythm and melody to get people moving and feeling (and not just thinking).

What music from the past did you draw from to create this song?
Well, the song itself is music from the past at this point (I wrote it ten years ago, and recorded it in 2008), so unfortunately I’m having a hard time remembering! But I know we used Slim & Slam’s “Tutti Frutti” as a reference track in the studio, because it was one of my favorite songs to dance to at the time. We tried to imitate that extremely tight rhythm guitar paired with a slightly looser snare drum shuffle (and then added even looser claps). So it swings with this tight little cute pocket – that makes me really want to dance.
We also referenced Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say Part II” for the vocal call-and-response part. That’s one of my top-5 favorite recordings of all time, in any genre, and it seemed like the time to try and rip it off (just a little).
What was the technical process like to make this song happen – writing, arranging, rehearsing, live vs. studio recorded etc? Any fun stories?
I wrote it on my friend Danielle’s bathroom floor, in about 2006, the morning after a dance in San Francisco. I had just got off the phone with my mom, and was lamenting this terrible dance crush I had, on this guy who I found totally unappealing – except for when I was dancing with him, at which point I found him incredibly appealing. (I was just learning how to dance, so it was one of my first experiences of the “dance crush” phenomenon.) My mom actually gave me the refrain; she said she’d always thought someone should write a song about a guy who’s a total geek and maybe even a fuckup, but then the song would go “my baby can dance!” and it was all OK.
And I thought, I know at least twelve guys like that.
We’re dancers. We love your music. If you were playing this song for a room full of people, how would you like to see them move to it?
Well, my favorite thing about Lindy has always been the levity and connection of it. I love to see people really making each other laugh, and doing sweet simple things in a connected way. I don’t particularly care about style or technique, except as it allows people to communicate better within the dance. I love to see people who are full of joy, and sharing that with their partner.

A Dance About Us!

I love this dance, but it’s not just about the dancing.  So often in our community I feel like we are dancing other people’s stories … the stories of musicians and a people from a far different time and place than the average attendee of a blues dance exchange.  We really mature as artists when we start creating pieces about our own lives instead of mirroring others’.

This piece really hits that on the head.  Joey took a really powerful experience of their own and has turned it into a performance that all the dancers I’ve talked to relate to because it portrays the kind of friendships, hopes, and loss that we’ve all had.  Sharing who we are with each other; it’s what art’s about.

What did you want to express with this choreography?
Joey: A few years ago, my best friend died unexpectedly due to complications with the flu. For the first long while, I would see her everywhere. Any one with even a slightly similar body or hair style would trigger all of the bits of my brain that were associated with her. I’d think about everything I had to tell her about what had happened since we’d last met. Of course, it was never her, and I knew that. So the stories would hang in my mind, and the realization that she wasn’t really there would sink in and hit me like a brick in the chest.

I wanted to honor that pain and in honoring that pain, the impact of her life on mine. I also wanted to highlight the importance of non-romantic relationships, and how they can be as uplifting and essential to our lives.

Laney: Joey really provided the concept for the piece, but while we were working on it we talked a lot about what kinds of movement gave the impression of a friend-type relationship vs. a romantic relationship. We also talked about expressing not just the “everything is wonderful!” part of being friends, but also the “life is really hard right now and I need support” part of those kinds of relationships.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?
Laney: Joey picked the song, so I’ll defer to their answer on this one.

Joey: I spent three years thinking about this piece before a song was ever picked. I never had any more details in mind, and at first it was too fresh. I was introduced to Albanie and Her Fellas by Mike Roberts in a class at Swing Out New Hampshire in 2014, and was all too stoked to throw the band my money. I had listened to the album maybe a dozen times (it’s reeeeeally good, guys. Like so good) before I was hit with December Song hard one day. I don’t know what made that listen different, but it threw me under the bus that day.

The lyrics are about just bumping into an old friend, and catching up, but there’s something wistful underneath it. The last lines of the song drive that home, “But now, once again it’s December. You know that time, really does move too fast”.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?
Joey: I feel really weird saying this, but none specifically. I’m sure others’ staging choices and framings did subconsciously influenced Laney and I while we were working on this, because we’ve definitely both watched our fair share of dance choreographies. But while we were working, we just jammed in our own bodies, and then experimented together, and went from there.

Laney: Agreed. It was pretty organic, we didn’t really draw inspiration from any specific piece or pieces. Workshopping it at Sweet Molasses was really helpful – it got us thinking about our blocking in a new way, and gave us lots of ideas for development going forward and how to make the story more clear.

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?
Joey: I guess I started to answer that a bit before. I asked Laney if she might want to work with me in…late April? I had been sitting on the idea for so long that I knew I would just not get anywhere without someone to be accountable to. So Laney and I both listened to the song independently in our separate cities, and worked on it and thought about it. Then we got together during LindyCON and spent a few hours jamming on stuff together. Living in different cities has presented some odd challenges to finishing and polishing the piece. We got some great feedback at Sweet Molasses, and had a little bit of time to work before North Star to make one more change that we thought would benefit the quality of the dance. We went back and forth about how much hint to give that there was something off, but in the end, I still feel like the shock value of Laney’s dismissal is more powerful and more like what I felt than something that had more foreshadowing.

Laney: Yeah, it was interesting doing long-distance choreography. I do think that made us use the time we had together efficiently though. For me, especially initially, there was a lot of just listening to the piece over and over and over again and messing around solo. After we met the first time and had a better idea of the arc of the piece, we split things up a little – Joey would work on this section, I would work on that section. Then we came back together and put those together and finessed transitions/beginnings/endings. Toward the end we talked *a lot* about how to make the ending less abrupt, or…ease the audience into it somehow? We still might change some things and perform it again, but I do like the punch-in-the-gut feeling it currently has.