Book Review: Partner Dance Success

Partner Dance Success by Don Baarns is a great collection of practical advice for anyone new to partner dancing.  The author is a professional drummer turned social dancer who brings experience from building skill as a musician to the dance floor.  The subtitle “What I Wish I Knew When I Started Dancing” is very on point.    While I come from a Ballroom background rather than social dancing background, I wish I had heard this advice early on.

The book is a series of independent chapters with good advice on many aspects of partner dancing.  It appears to be a cleaned up “best of” plus some extras from the author’s blog.  Unfortunately, it appears that the blog is no longer available.

His chapters on how to learn to dance are as relevant to American style Foxtrot as they are to social Salsa.  And while the club scene is significantly different than the social/practice dances at the Ballroom studios that I learned in, most of the snippets about etiquette and optimizing your dance experience work in both contexts.

Some of my favorite chapters are the ones where he emphasizes listening to songs many times and to listen deeply to the music off the dance floors as a form of practice.  I also particularly liked the chapter about protecting your partner.

I am particularly interested in a drummer turned dancer’s perspective on the relationship between music and partner dancing.  While his blog seems to no longer be available, his YouTube channel is still up and running as of the time of this writing – Music4Dancers – YouTube.  I’ve listened to a number of episodes and while there is less actual music than I would prefer, I will likely go through the rest soon and post if I find any special gems.

As a quick reminder: If you buy this book by clicking through a link on this site, it helps support music4dance.  Also, if you are feeling particularly generous, clicking through any Amazon link on this site before doing even unrelated shopping help a little.

And as always I love to hear from you – so please send me feedback about the site or with questions about this post.

P.S. As I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I realized that there is a Second Volume to this series, so I’ll give that a read.  If there is anything to say beyond “more good stuff” I’ll post again.

Ask Music4Dance: How do I find a “Pop Rock” song to dance a Slow Foxtrot to?

This is another question that I’ve seen a bunch of variations on over the years.  It’s one of the reasons that I started music4dance.  I love Big Band music and grew up playing Basie and Goodman in Jazz bands.  And my dad was a big fan of Buddy Rich.  On top of that Foxtrot and Swing co-evolved with this kind of music, so there is no problem finding plenty of music of that style to dance to.

But I’m also pretty eclectic in my musical tastes and some of the most fun I’ve had as a dancer is choreographing an exhibition dance to music that wasn’t written to be danced to – or at least not a traditional ballroom style dance.  There are obviously limits to this, but you see it all the time on shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.

When I received a variation on this question again recently, I checked and realized that in my big rewrite of the site, I had broken the easiest way to do this kind of search.  This is now fixed,  so you can go to the info page for the dance style you’re interested in by choosing “Dances” from the Music menu. Pick the dance style you’re interested in (in this case Slow Foxtrot). Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll see a tags section.  This is a tag cloud that includes all of the tags (other than dance style tags) that people have associated with songs that someone has also tagged as danceable to Slow Foxtrot.  From there you can explore all the unusual songs and musical styles that someone at some point has attempted to dance the Slow Foxtrot to.

I have to admit, going through some of these, that there are plenty that are a stretch – even with a choreographed set piece.  But still a lot of fun to think about.  If you go down this road and find things that stretch your ability to imagine dancing a particular style to and feel that they’re a mistake rather than a fun (but out there) variation, please feel free to vote them down.  Remember all of this content is crowd-sourced, so you’ve got a vote if you choose to use it.

One thing that I realized as I was writing this is that there isn’t an easy way to go the other direction.  You can use Advanced Search or the main Tag Cloud to list all of the songs associated with any tag.  But that doesn’t give you a direct list of all of the dance styles, you have to scroll through all the songs and figure that out yourself.  Let me know if that would be interesting to you and I’ll increase the priority of that feature. 

And as always I love to hear from you – so please send me feedback about the site or with questions about this post.  I may even feature your question in a future post.

Quick Tip:

If you want to be able to listen to a Spotify Playlist of all of the songs that you find in a search like the one above (or any other search on the site), you can do so by signing up for a premium subscription. I took the liberty of generating a playlist for the example above here in case you want to check it out – while you’re on Spotify, please “like” the music4dance account and any of the other playlists that you enjoy.

Ask Music4Dance: Why is a song tagged with the wrong dance style?

Variations on that question make up a significant amount of the feedback I get here at music4dance.  The first answer to these questions is that music4dance is crowd-sourced.  So someone at some point said that they could dance that style to that song.  They may or may not be right, but I think it’s worth stopping to think for a moment – is there a way they could they be right?

That’ s because of the second answer – which is that the dance world is diverse, so what people mean by naming a dance style can mean different things to different dancers.  Now, I could lock down the site and say that only songs that meet a very specific criteria of being strict tempo for American Style East Cost Swing can be marked as Swing.  There are advantages to being that strict – the biggest one is that it would make auto-generating playlists or rounds much more accurate.  But the disadvantage is that it narrows the world of dance.  Especially in these times I feel that it’s important to foster diversity even in the small ways, like what kind of music I would dance a swing to.

In any case, I bring this up now is in part because of a discussion I had with Brent T. Mills who found a song that he had produced listed on the site as a Swing rather than as a Foxtrot. He clearly intended this song to be a Foxtrot.  And aside from the (very important) fact that he has every right as the producer of that song to assert what he intended it to be danced to, he and I both come from a ballroom background and so share the same definitions of dance styles, at least at some level. Mr. Mills also wanted to make it clear that his main interest in contacting me was to help avoid confusion for dancers that aren’t experienced enough to know that many songs have a lot of crossover rather than anything negative. I very much appreciate the sentiment – and he speaks from experience – check out what he’s up to at www.MusicMills.net.

The thing that I realized as part of this discussion is that it wasn’t obvious from the page that he landed on that the dance information was crowd-sourced.  I hadn’t thought about that in exactly those term before, but as I’ve been reworking the site I’ve been trying to do a better job of re-using more common user interface elements than I did the first time around.  In the particular case of the voting mechanism for dances I think this I’m making some progress in making things like the crowd-sourced aspect of the site more clear.

In the original version (which is the current version running on the site as of mid-march 2021) I have a musical note next to a dance style that is filled up (like a thermometer) based on how many votes it’s gotten.  The only way to tell that this is a voting mechanism is to hover over the icon and read the text that says that this song has one vote. In my defense this is a little clearer when you’re on a page that lists a bunch of songs with their respective votes, but it’s still not great.

Original version of a song page on music4dance.net
An example song page from music4dance.net (current version)

In the new version (which I hope to release shortly), I use what I believe is a pretty standard mechanism to indicate voting. At least this is how the Stack Exchange family of sites that I spend an inordinate amount of time handles voting.   It’s the number of votes vertically framed by up and down arrows. Clicking on the arrows will allow you to vote (or ask you to sign in to vote).

An example song page from music4dance.net (upcoming version)

What do you think, is the new version easier to understand?  Or should I go back to the drawing board again? As always, I welcome feedback.

Quick Tip:

If you would like to vote on what dance you would dance to a song, create an account and start voting.

Ask music4dance: Why is the tempo that you’re listing for Ricky Martin’s “Casi Un Bolero” wrong?

I’ve seen a number of questions recently about why information on the site is wrong.  So I’ll start with one of the easier ones, which I’ve seen a number of variations on but is basically, “why is the tempo wrong”.  Here’s the specific question that prompted me to write this post:

There are a lot of Ricky Martin songs where the beats/minute are twice what they should be (186 for “Casi un Bolero” ?!?!).

The quick answer is that this is wrong for a dancer – listening to this music, I would dance to it at 93 beats per minute rather than 186.  And the fact that people have voted for this song to be danced as Bolero (96-104bpm) or International Rumba (100-108bpm)  indicates that others would agree.

So why was this listed incorrectly?  Unlike other things on the music4dance site like which dance you would dance to a song, tempo at least of a particular recording of a song is not subjective.  And even amongst recordings of a song, there is generally not that much variation.  Sheet music generally has some kind of tempo marking which will tell musicians the tempo at which they should perform the music.  This can range from a general marking like Presto that indicates a range of about 168-200bpm to actual metronome markings of a precise bpm tempo.  Music Theory Academy has a great explanation of reading tempo markings if you would like to dig deeper.  But my main point is that there is generally a “right answer” to what the tempo is of a piece of music.

This is a piece of music that is intended to be played ate 120 beats per minute as indicated by the quarter note = 120 marking circled in red

But if you notice the tempo that was listed for “Casi un Bolero” (186bpm) is exactly twice the tempo that we would dance to the music (93bpm).  Take a moment to listen to it (you can listen to a snippet on the “Casi Un Bolero” page on music4dance or the whole song on Spotify.com).  There are two instruments that are defining the beat – bass guitar and drum.  If we interpret this song as 4/4 at 93bpm, the bass guitar is emphasizing the first and third beats and playing occasional more complex phrases.  But you definitely hear a consistent one/three from that instrument.  on the other hand if you listen closely to the drum, it’s playing every eighth note (or 8 times each measure).  If you take the drum as the primary beat and definite that as a quarter note rather than an eighth note, you get a tempo of 186bmp.  Which is probably not what the musicians are thinking, and certainly not what a dancer is listening for.

Why is this important?  Because while many of the tempos listed on music4dance came from dancers who would hear the tempo that they can dance to a song, many other listings are generated via machine learning algorithms.  And the machine hasn’t quite figured out how to decide between listening to the bass or listening to the drums. In fact, both algorithms that I’ve used seem to prefer the drums.  So I occasionally go though and fix things up.  But with a catalog of nearly 40,000 songs and growing I’m not always keeping on top of that task.

As I rework the site, I’m hoping to get a moderation/curation function in to make it easy for others to help out with this.  So if you’re interested in helping out in that way, please let me know.  And as always I’m happy to hear from you with any kind of question, comment or feedback.

Quick Tip:

In this post I talk about the beats per minute of Bolero and International Rumba.  You can find listings of tempos for these and other dances in different forms on the tempi tool and competition ballroom page.

Holiday Music for Partner Dancing 2020

On a normal year, this would be a bit late for my normal Holiday Music blog post.  But if you’re like me, you’re not planning to participate in a holiday dance party in the middle of a pandemic.  So it’s more of a case of thinking about past and future years.  There is no need to find a specific song for a routine or build a set list for a dance. But I would still like to listen to holiday music at home and maybe play with a few dance moves.

In any case, I’m continually working to improve the music4dance experience and this time of year concentrating a bit on holiday themes seems appropriate.  The main thing I’ve done with the holiday music pages is to update them to the new system.  Hopefully they are easier to read and work with in general.  I’ve also explicitly excluded “Halloween” music, since one tends to want to separate out that from the Christmas and other winter holiday music.  I’ve also updated the music4dance playlists on Spotify to reflect the larger catalog.

As of this writing there are 517 songs in the holiday catalog, up from 446 songs last year. If you are interested in helping build the catalog further, here are some things you could do:

  • Browse our music catalog and tag songs as Holiday when you find them.
  • If you have a list of holiday songs categorized by dance style that you are willing to share, please send me an email at info@music4dance.net or contact me through the feedback form.
  • In addition, general contributions will help the holiday music catalog and other efforts.

As always if you have comments or suggestions please feel free to reply to this post or contact me here.

How do you like to see lists of music to dance to?

One of the core features of music4dance is to be able to list songs for dancing in a bunch of different ways.  As I noted a little while ago, I’m at the point in the process of the site upgrade where I’m reworking that core functionality.  In a world of infinite (or even abundant) resources , I’d get the new functionality up and running and give you the opportunity to switch back and forth between the new and the old for some period of time and give me your feedback.  While that’s a bit out of my reach, it occurred to me that it’s pretty easy to just roll out what I’ve got on some of the pages and leave the old stuff in place on others. That will give you the opportunity to see them both and compare and give feedback.

As of this writing (November 15th, 2020) I’ve got an initial version working and rolled out to some of the pages.  You can see the new song lists on  the Holiday Music page including the specific holiday dance variants like Holiday Cha Cha and Holiday Foxtrot, the New Music page and the dance pages including both the dance group pages like the Swing page and specific dance pages like the Rumba page.  The old version is still live in the basic song library and as the results of advanced searches as well as any of the links from other places on the site that bring up a song list.

Please take a look and let me know what you think.  I’m particularly interested in anything that I left out in the new version that you used in the old version.  But I’m also always open to feedback and ideas for what I could do to make this content more helpful for you.

As always, thank you for supporting music4dance and please feel to provide feedback on the subject of this post or anything else relating to music4dance.

Are you looking for Halloween Music to dance to?

Halloween is almost here and yet again I am late setting up something for Halloween related playlists.  In past years, I’ve just let this go since it feels like it’s too late to get something together when I start thinking about it in mid-October.  But this year I decided to just do it. After all, we may be thinking about what we’re going to do for next Halloween, in which case we’ve got plenty of time to plan.

A few years ago I set up a holiday music page to do my best to collect the songs that are tagged in different ways but that all generally mean they might be useful to use in a holiday playlist or be fun to choreograph a dance to for a holiday party.  But this was specifically aimed at the Christmas/Winter holiday tradition.  And it was made more difficult because I was gathering together a whole bunch of different tags.

For Halloween things are much easier.  All I needed to do was pull in some Halloween playlists and match them with the existing music4dance catalog.  I’ve got a good start on this, which you can see here.  If you want to navigate to this yourself, just go to the tag cloud page (available from the music menu) and click on the “Halloween” tag. Then choose “List all songs tagged as Halloween.”  If you want to filter by dance style, you can click on advanced search and choose the style.

As of this writing, I’ve got about 80 songs cataloged as Halloween that are also cross referenced by dance.  If you have lists of danceable Halloween music, I’d be happy to include them on the site.  For this or any other questions or suggestions, feel free to reply to this post or send feedback.  You can also tag songs yourself.

As always, thank you for supporting music4dance.

Quick Tip:

When you have a list of songs (such as the Halloween list) you can refine the list by clicking on the advanced search link or by clicking on any of the dances or tags listed on the page.

What is Your Favorite music4dance Feature?

I’m in the middle of doing a substantial rewrite of music4dance to modernize it and, hopefully, clean up the code enough that I can start adding new features without breaking things.  I had originally intended to keep all of the functionality of the site as I moved forward.  But this has been a bigger undertaking than I anticipated.  In additional, the original site grew somewhat organically, so there are multiple ways of doing things that weren’t so much designed as grown. I’m not sure that it makes sense to preserve all of the different ways of doing the same thing.

Right now I am rewriting the core song list functionality that is used on all or the pages that (surprise) list songs.  This includes the main song library, all of the dance pages, and the holiday music pages.  In addition the results of advanced search and the pages that you navigate to from many of the other pages like the wedding music, tags, and the ballroom dance pages will be affected by this round of changes.  And I’m finding it difficult to reproduce all of the existing functionality while keeping the code clean enough to feel like I can move forward.  Not to mention that I’m itching to get through this to start writing new features.

So, before I arbitrarily start cutting things, I thought I’d ask:  How do you use music4dance?  What are your favorite features?  Please let me know, so I don’t go and remove something that I don’t think is essential, but that is the reason that you love the site.

Please reply to this post or send feedback with your favorite features or a description of how you use the site.

Quick Tip: You can share your searches.  Any time you create a list of songs, whether that is through using advanced search, or by refining a search in other ways, you can copy the URL out of the browsers address bar and share it with friends and fellow dancers.

Is Simple Better?

I’m making a good deal of progress on updating the music4dance site to more modern technologies.  The main reason for doing this, as I’ve noted before, is to make it easier to add new functionality.

While I’m still in transition, it seems like a good time to get feedback on the new look.  I’m going for the simpler is better concept.  Where the old site had a different color for each section, the new pages are all themed in the same way.  I’ve also dropped back to using standard fonts and styles.  Among other things, it’s faster to do it this way (which will let me get to new features more quickly), it’s more accessible, and it is generally the direction I’m trying to go with things like simplifying search.

As of now (August of 2020), I’m about halfway through the transition.  Pretty much all of the pages except for the core pages that include song lists and the home page are converted.  So you can compare a page like the song library page (old style) to one like the ballroom page.  Or you can compare the dance style page to the help for the dances style page (which still contains an image of the old page).

So what do you think?  Old or new?  It’s not too late for me to add back in some of the customization if you think that’s a key part of what makes music4dance a place you spend time.

Oh, and while I’m at it – can I get feedback on how useful the help pages are?  I’ve not written help for all of the functionality and I haven’t bothered to convert help pages where the functionality is close to the original even if the look is different.  But if I get feedback that they are particularly useful, I’ll prioritize help higher.

As always, feedback is always welcome on any part of the site.

Quick Tip: If you’re looking for music that is within the specific tempo guidelines for NDCA or DanceSport guidelines, you can find links on the ballroom page.  Each of the tables on that page links to lists of songs listed at the correct tempo for that dance.

Playing with Dance Tempos

I just rewrote the Tempo tool for the music4dance site as part of the current effort to update the site.  In the process I went back and revisited the reasons for writing the tool in the first place. 

The main reason for this tool is to have a single place to do a bit of slicing and dicing of the relationship between the tempo of different partner dances.  It allows one to filter on the dances that you’re interested in (all Swing dances, or American Style dances) and sort by tempo to see the relationships.    This could, for instance, help find dances that one might mash up into an exhibition routine.

Another reason is just because I could.  The Tempo tool is really just a thin layer on top of the data that I use to drive the Counter tool and many other parts of the site.  I almost didn’t rewrite the tool because since I originally wrote it I added slightly less interactive but possibly more directly useful pages that lay out the different competition dances and their tempos in what I hope is an easily digestible way.

This is part of a larger rewrite of the site that I’ve been working on to get the code to a place where I can comfortably start adding more requested features.  The Counter and Tempo tools are a couple of the most isolated pages, but I’ll start digging into more core functionality soon.

As always, please send me feedback if you have ideas about the site, dancing, music, or how any or all of those subjects relate. And please consider supporting the music4dance project by sharing with your friends or any of the other ways listed here.

Quick Tip:  Many pages (like the ones mentioned above) have documentation pages that are easily accessible from the page.  Just go to the “Info” menu and choose “Help”, this will generally take you to a documentation page specifically about the feature that you were using.

Shall we dance…to music?

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