All posts by msc4dnc

I'm a software engineer currently taking some time to reboot my brain.

New Dance: Single Swing

I’ve added Single Swing as a dance style that can be searched on and voted for in the music4dance catalog. While I think of this dance as a short-cut to use when I want to dance East Coast Swing to faster Jive or Lindy-Hop music, I’ve received enough feedback from the community that it’s considered a unique dance in its own right that I am happy to add it. From some light searching on this dance, it has gone by several names in different regions and times. Some of the names I saw were “Sing-time Swing,” “Single rhythm swing,” and “East Coast Single Swing.” It’s also one of several dances that have been called the Jitterbug at some point in the twentieth century.

I set the initial tempo to 140-184 beats per minute (35-46 measures per minute), which I found listed in several places. Since, as far as I can tell, this isn’t a competition dance, I haven’t found an “official” tempo range and am happy to adjust if someone with more expertise in this particular dance would provide feedback. I also seeded this list of songs with publicly available lists that sounded reasonable. Please feel free to go through to vote up other swing songs that you think are good fits for this dance. You can do this by adding songs or by searching for Swing songs in the Single Swing tempo range and voting up the ones that sound like good Single Swings. I’m also happy to bulk upload lists if you’ve got a CSV file or Spotify playlist of single swings that you’d like me to include.

Over the past several years, I’ve been moving the site in a direction where I hope to be able to handle more different dance styles and add them more easily. I’m getting closer to being able to add dances quickly. However, to add a lot of different dances, I’ll have to replace the underlying search engine (or wait for it to add some new features – it will be interesting to see which comes first). Some of the things I’ve done are to make lists of dances somewhat flatter and allowing search by name in most places where dances are listed. I’ve loosened the tie between types of dances (e.g., Sing, Waltz, Latin) and dance style, so that dance styles don’t have to be as strictly categorized as before. I’ve also added synonyms to dance styles, so in most places where you see the name of a dance style, other names of the dance are shown in parenthesis.

In any case, I’m always interested in what you think would be most helpful. I’m sure there are plenty of dance styles I’m not cataloging that fit into the broad category of partner dances that are danced to a specific tempo range or style of music. If you have a dance style suggestion or other comments, please feel free to reply to this post or contact me here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider helping by adding to the Single Swing catalog or contributing in whatever other way makes sense for you.

Beta Feature: Export to a file

A number of the most active members of the music4dance.net community have requested the ability to download all or part of the song database. My sense is that this has generally been with the intent to tag songs in one’s local catalog with the dance style and other metadata from music4dance. I’ve been stuck trying to implement this for two reasons: First, I’ve put a significant amount of work into the music4dance catalog and don’t necessarily want to let someone download the whole catalog and stand up a competing site. Second, I’m not entirely sure I want to write a desktop application or other tool to tag songs in a personal catalog.

I’m less and less inclined to be worried about the first reason, as I continue to struggle to even cover server costs with subscription and advertising revenue. So if someone has the marketing ability to turn the music4dance catalog into a money-making proposition, I think that would be a good thing. In fact, I’m considering moving to an open-source or non-profit model once I get past a couple of issues with the source that prevent me from making it widely available.

As for the second reason, I realized that providing the information in a reasonably consumable format would allow anyone with a bit of scripting skills and sufficient motivation to do their own tagging. So I don’t have to write a tagging application for this to be useful.

I’ve cobbled together a quick beta feature to let folks play around with exported song lists. I’d love to know if anyone is interested in giving it a whirl before I invest in cleaning up the code to make it a more generally consumable feature. Just contact me, and I’ll set you up.

There are two entry points for this feature. First, in your profile, there is a new link to “export your votes and tags.” This link will generate and download a comma-separated value (CSV) file of all of the songs that you have edited in any way. This file is a denormalized list containing one line per song/dance combination. Each line will have a music4dance song id, title, artist, dance name, Spotify and iTunes links, as well as both your tags and votes and global tags and votes.

The second entry point allows you to download the same information for the first 100 songs of any search you create. This is similar to the ability to create a Spotify playlist I implemented a while back.

Some of the things that I’m interested in feedback on are:

  • Is this denormalized CSV format reasonable, or would another format be more useful (e.g., a normalized JSON format)?
  • Are title/artist or the Spotify/iTunes id sufficient to match your catalog? I’ve looked a bit at using musicbrainz.org ids. But by my reading of their licensing agreement, they want $100 a month donation for commercial use of their catalog, which is a bit steep for the music4dance budget.
  • Is downloading just the top search results or songs you’ve edited sufficient, or are there reasons you would want access to the entire catalog?
  • Is this a feature that would be worth the current annual Premium subscription level of $15? Or more?
  • Are there other ways you would like to use this information?

As always, if you have comments or suggestions, especially if you’d like to try the beta feature discussed above, please feel free to reply to this post or contact me here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

Holiday Music for Partner Dancing 2022

It’s the time of year again to talk about Holiday Music.

For the second year in a row, I haven’t done any new work on the Holiday Music page other than keeping it up to date with the rest of the site (which sometimes isn’t a small task).  But I have continued to add songs.  As of this writing, there are 953 songs in the holiday catalog, up from 667 songs last year.

Check out the current Holiday Music Catalog here.

If you are interested in helping build the catalog further (maybe we can get to 1000), 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. Please consider helping with the music4dance project either by helping with the Holiday Music catalog as mentioned above or any of the other ways listed on the “Contribute” page.

New Feature: Searching for only the songs that someone has voted for

Arne pointed out the other day that it would be useful to be able to build a playlist for just the songs that he had voted for dancing Cha Cha. I scratched my head a bit because I thought this was already possible. I even added a feature last year to make it easier to see who has voted on dance styles for songs so that you could look for other songs that a user voted on.

I should have noticed that you can search for a dance and that someone has tagged it in some way. But you can’t specify that someone has voted for a particular dance. They might have voted against the dance or just tagged the song with another kind of tag, and someone else voted for the song, so it still shows up in the search.

This wasn’t too bad when the catalog was relatively small and when you’re just looking at search results to find ideas for songs to dance to. 

However, things have gotten worse over time for a couple of reasons.

In Arne’s case, he wanted to export a playlist to Spotify of songs that he explicitly voted for Cha Cha. Using advanced search, he can choose Cha Cha then search “By User” and “Include all songs arne has tagged.” This search resulted in 50 songs, only 26 of which he had voted for Cha Cha. On that list were songs that he had explicitly voted against and a number that he had just voted for other dances.

The new feature is to add an option to the “By User” section of advanced search to “Include all songs [user] has voted for [dance].” In this case, choosing “Include all songs arne has voted for Cha Cha” yields the correct 26 songs he voted for.

The other case this feature solves is that as the catalog grows, there is more variety in how people vote on songs, so there is more noise. For instance, searching for the songs that DWTS (Dancing With the Stars) has tagged that someone has also voted for Cha Cha results in 305 songs, while searching specifically for the songs that DWTS has voted for Cha Cha results in only 130 songs.

Thanks, Arne, for pointing this out and helping to make music4dance more useful for everyone.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way makes sense for you.

P.S. The DWTS list is a list I maintain, and any mistakes in are mine. I use a semi-automated method of scraping the published information about the dances each week to populate the information in muic4dance. DWTS, in particular, is challenging because the music they dance to is generally covers performed by their house bands, so they don’t always match the tempo of the available recordings. Please let me know about any mistakes you see.

Book Review: How to Read Music in 30 Days

While dancers definitely don’t need to be able to read music, it is helpful to be able to dig up sheet music for a song and understand the meter and tempo markings. This can act as a sanity check against what you hear, tap out in a tempo counter, or find by just stepping out the dance.

The catch is that the simple idea that 3/4 meter is a waltz and 4/4 is everything else only gets you so far. What is 12/8 or 2/2? Can you even dance to music that is marked in those ways and others? How to Read Music in 30 Days describes simple and compound meters and tempo markings in enough detail to get your head wrapped around these markings and translate them back to something meaningful to a dancer.

Last year, I wrote a blog post about how musicians and dancers might think of tempo differently. In that case, it was a simple matter of the written music and the musician thinking about the pulse or underlying beat as being twice the tempo as the dancer does.

In the case that prompted this post, I was asked about “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” by Meghan Trainor featuring John Legend which is marked as 12/8 with a dotted quarter note = 72 beats per minute.

12/8 meter

This could be translated to a 3/4 meter at 72 measures per minute or 216 beats per minute. That would be a very fast Viennese Waltz, which is what 6 people have voted for. Alternatively, one could translate this to 4/4 time 72 beats per minute or 18 measures per minute, which would make a good Slow Dance, Blues Dance, or a very slow West Coast Swing, all of which have votes. See the book for how to do these translations; it’s explained better there than I can manage.

Since I can only have one tempo listed per song, I’m a little stuck on being able to get the “dancer’s tempo” correct for songs that can be danced to different interpretations of the beat. I’m starting to think about reworking music4dance so we can override the tempo on a per-dance style basis. That’s a pretty significant lift for a small number of songs. But this keeps coming up, so let me know what you think. If I get enough people asking for this, I’ll figure out how to make it work.

This is a topic that I’ve touched on quite a bit, so here are some other posts and resources that might be of interest:

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.


How to Read Music in 30 Days: Paperback

How to Read Music in 30 Days: Hardcover

How to Read Music in 30 Days: Spiral Bound

Note: If you found this book through this blog, please be kind and click on one of the links above to purchase it. This helps support the blog. If you’re feeling especially generous (or just like the blog a lot), clicking on the Amazon links in the blog or on the music4dance site and then doing your regular, unrelated shopping, which also helps support the site as a very small fraction of those proceeds will be directed to musci4dance.

Book Review: Swingin’ at the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer

Swingin’ at the Savoy is a beautiful memoir of one of the greatest Lindy Hop dancers of all time. Ms. Miller was not only one of the dancers that defined Lindy Hop, but as Lindy Hop faded for a while post World War II, she launched a career as a Jazz Dancer.

It’s a real treat to see a slice of history that’s so important to American partner dancing through the eyes of one of its early practitioners. 

I was especially touched by being able to catch a glimpse of what it was like to be a strong woman of color in a male-dominated world. Ms. Miller jumps from the pain of the internal politics of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers to the joy of dancing to Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman to tales of traveling overseas.

There is, unsurprisingly, a good amount of overlap between this memoir and Frankie Manning’s Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Having read them both, I feel like they complement each other and help paint the picture of the early Lindy Hop scene from somewhat different perspectives.

I grew up listening to and playing Big Band Music – Count BasieGlen Miller, and Duke Ellington were some of my favorites in the genre, and she met and danced to them all live. Even though I built music4dnace.net in part to be able to find songs to dance to that aren’t part of the genre that they evolved with, one of the reasons I was attracted to Swing dancing in the first place is my love for Swing Music.  

Another tidbit in this memoir was the mention of the “Savoy Hostesses” and the fact that you could purchase a dance with one for a quarter. They would even teach you to dance if necessary. This was the first I had seen of historical backing for the core plot line of a fun coming-of-age novel I read a while back called Ten Cents a Dance. Set in a 1940’s Chicago dance hall, the main character is something like what Ms. Miller describes as the Savoy Hostess. Of course, as I write this, I realize I must not have done even a light search on the background when I read the book. There is plenty of information about “Taxi Dancers” and even a song, a film, and another book called “Ten Cents a Dance,” all about dance hostesses or taxi dancers.

Swingin’ at the Savoy also includes a preface and epilogue that give some great context. “Portrait of the Swing Era” has a bunch of great tidbits, including some history of the Jitterbug that I’m hoping to do some more reading on and share with you. And “The Future of the Lindy and The New York Swing Dance Society” puts some perspective on the New York Swing revival.

Overall, Swingin’ the Savoy is an enlightening read about a fantastic woman.

As always, I’m interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.


Swingin’ at the Savoy: Paperback Edition

Swingin’ at the Savoy: Audible

Note: If you found this book through this blog, please be kind and click on one of the links above to purchase it. This helps support the blog. If you’re feeling especially generous (or just like the blog a lot), clicking on the Amazon links in the blog or on the music4dance site and then doing your regular, unrelated shopping, which also helps support the site as a very small fraction of those proceeds will be directed to musci4dance.

New Feature: Saving and Sharing Searches

Searching for music to dance to is what music4dance is all about. 

I’ve been adding features such as Filter by Song Length, General Search, and Searching for a song from Spotify or iTunes to improve your ability to do just that. 

Another thing that I hope music4dance will be used for is to share those songs with other dancers.

There are two features that I haven’t blogged about recently that have suffered from some bit rot over the years. Since I’ve got them up and running again I want to increase awareness about them and get your feedback as to how useful these features are to you.

The first is Saving Searches. Whenever you do a search that is nontrivial, we save the search in a list that you can access through your account menu. See the help for more details.

The other is the magic of URLs. You can copy the link from the address bar and share it with other dancers. This is true of everything from the simplest searches you do from the top menu bar to the most complex searches you create using the advanced search tool. Or you can embed the link in a blog post, which is what I do regularly here. It’s one of those wonderful web features that should always just work, but often is not correctly implemented. It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine when this doesn’t work for websites, so I try to make it work for music4dance.

And there is a third feature, which I’ve implemented more recently. With a premium subscription, you can create a Spotify playlist from a search and share the results.

I’m very interested in feedback, about this set of features. I can think of several ways I might want to improve the saving and sharing of searches, but I hesitate to invest much more into this until I hear from you. For instance, would you like to be able to show your favorite searches on your profile page? Or would you like to refine searches even more? Or would you be interested in seeing what others are searching for?

Besides the specific feedback request above, I’m always interested in your more general feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

New Feature: Filter by Song Length

If you’re trying to get a playlist together for a social dance, it would be nice for the songs to be a reasonable length for your audience. 

I realize that DJ tools will let you manage this in multiple ways, but sometimes it’s just easier to start with songs in the length range you’d like. There are probably other good reasons to be able to filter on the duration of a song; let me know if you think of any.

Again at Arne’s prompting, I implemented the ability to filter on song length using the advanced search page. My quick and dirty implementation is to filter on a range of seconds. This implementation will let you do things like get all the Salsa songs in the catalog between 90 and 180 seconds between 150-180 beats per minute. Or any other variations that you come up with.

I already store the duration values for songs, so this wasn’t a heavy lift. But I did take some shortcuts to get this feature out quickly. I’d prefer a slicker control to choose the length, and it would be awfully nice if when you searched or sorted on the length that the length showed up in the results. Neither of these would be particularly hard to do. Still, I’d like to hear if others are using this feature and how they’re using it before I invest more into it.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

Ask music4dance: Should you add a Single Swing Dance category?

Arne had another great question (paraphrased): I see Single Swing being danced a lot these days.  Should music4dance add another swing category? Is Single Swing a local thing, national, really new? Do people still dance triple-step Swing?

Here is a slightly cleaned-up version of my response:

East Coast Swing (the triple step variety) is a competition dance, so it’s still being danced regularly in ballroom environments. But the Lindy revival of the ’90s seems to have dominated the social swing scene from what I can tell.

In the ballroom community that I learned to dance in during the ’90s, they used the term East Coast Swing to refer to the competition dance, which was definitely a triple-swing. But if one was dancing socially to music too fast to comfortable dance triple swing, you would revert to something they were calling Single Swing or East Coast Single Swing or some variation on that.

I fell down a rabbit hole, trying to see if my recollection had anything to do with current thinking on this. This video shows a “Single Swing” basic that is exactly what I think of as Single Swing. Duet Dance and DanceTime both have descriptions of various kinds of swings. They seem to agree that what I think of as Single Swing could also be reasonably called “The Jitterbug” (which I had thought was just a different name for Lindy Hop). As with any of this stuff, the history is so twisted up that there probably isn’t a correct answer, or if there is, it would require a historian to dig up.

Even without adding a new dance, you should be able to find some good ideas for Single Swings by searching for generic Swing in the tempo range between 140 and 184 MPM. When I first responded to Arne, I had broken that feature, but it’s now up and running again. So you can go to the Advanced Search Page, choose Swing in the dances section, and type in the tempo range you’d like to filter on. 

I am interested in incorporating Single Swing into the music4dance catalog. Should I do this as Jitterbug or Single Swing or by adding single and triple tags to East Coast Swing? I’d love to get others’ thoughts on this so please feel free to send feedback.

Asking to add a new dance style to the catalog is certainly in the top ten questions I’ve been getting. So I’ve been working on streamlining how I manage dance information to make that easier. Most of this work has been under the hood (although the bug mentioned above was one side effect). One of the more visible aspects of this is a small redesign of the Dance Styles page to simplify it a bit and hopefully make it a little more usable.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

New Feature: General Search

I’ve finally added a feature that should really be a part of any good website. A general search of the entire site is available by typing one or more keywords in the search box in the upper right and clicking search. Try it out, and let me know what you think.

As I continue to improve music4dance, I find myself torn between making things easier for new or casual members of the site and deeper features that may only be used by more dedicated members. I tend to lean towards the latter because they are often the features that I use or the features based on feedback from members who have been using the site a lot. But I would love to get more people involved, which means making the initial experience as seamless as possible.

Search is pretty much the core feature of this site. The idea is, after all, to try to help partner dancers find music that inspires them to dance. I’ve invested a lot in the search engine that lets you search for songs and made a big push to make the core search work better. But in the meantime, I’ve written many blogs posts, some help pages, and added other content to the site that isn’t directly embedded in the song catalog.

So how do you search for any of the other information? And for that matter, if you’re a first-time user of the site, shouldn’t you be able to search the whole site easily without clicking through to a search page from the home page?

Some technical issues made this a bit more challenging than it would appear. Not the least of which is that the blog and help system are actually an entirely different site using a different technology that I have less control over. But after going down a few different paths, I think I’ve got something that I’m happy with. It could still use some work, and a couple of things about it feel a little kludgy. But I feel like it’s a significant improvement, especially for a first-time user. It also enables a full-text search of the core site, which will let me invest more in content that isn’t directly part of the song catalog. I’ve got a bunch of things I’ve been thinking about along those lines that I haven’t implemented because I was worried they’d be buried without a generalized search.

So as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. You should be able to just type a keyword or two into the search control in the header (or under the hamburger menu if you’re on a smaller device), and you’ll be taken to a search results page. That page is a little more complicated than I’d like but hopefully pretty effective.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.