New Feature: More ways to see what’s going on at music4dance

One of my goals for music4dance is to build a system that people can use to share their knowledge of partner dance music with others.  I probably spent too much time early on in this project building bots and scrapers to seed the catalog with content and neglected the community aspect of the site.  So I am now trying to focus on more community-building features.  This includes everything from simplifying the system so that it’s easier to add new styles of dance to making it easier for members to add new songs to making it possible for members to see who else likes to dance to a song.

Following on to the feature where I added the ability to see the voting history on a song on the details page, I’ve added a couple of small feature-lets.

Now,  when you filter music on a user you will see a column  with that user’s changes:

If you know a user’s username, you can filter by a user in the advanced search page by typing the username and choosing what you want to filter on (likes, tags, etc.).  Or you can go down the path described in a previous post and click on a username anywhere that one shows up.  That will take you to a page that will let you filter on all the songs that the user has tagged or all the songs that that user has added to favorites among other things. Eventually, I’d like to have that page contain additional user profile information.

The other fun thing you can do is on the new music page.  The song list on that page has a similar column to the one above that shows latest change to each song and who made it.  That’s a way to find users that are actively adding songs and seeing what they’re up to.

And finally, when you’re exploring these features if you find a search that you want to share with others, you can just copy the URL and send it to a friend. That’s what I do with links back to the music4dance site with these blogs – so it’s not a new feature, but it is becoming more useful with the other community features that I’m building.

As always, I welcome feedback on not just the feature, but the site in general.  And if you find the site useful, please consider contributing in any way that you can.

Holiday Music for Partner Dancing 2021

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

This year, 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.  But I have continued to add songs.  As of this writing, there are 667 songs in the holiday catalog, up from 517 songs last year. And, yes, there were 666 songs before I started writing this post – it seemed inappropriate to have that number of the holiday catalog so I dug up one more song to get to 667.

Check out the current Holiday Music Catalog here.

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. 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.

Sorry about that nasty bug

I introduced a bug in the last update of music4dance and then went on vacation.  This is a pretty classic software engineering blunder and I’m very sorry for the trouble it caused.  The good news is a bunch of people noticed it and cared enough to report it. Thanks, everyone for that and I’ll be sending you your bug bounty shorty!  The bad news is that I had another series of other issues that meant that I didn’t actually see the feedback until I found the bug myself.

In any case, the bug is now fixed and things should be back in working order.  The reason that I didn’t notice the bug as I was testing is that I was working on a feature to help show member activity on songs to improve the feature I talked about in a previous post and the bug cropped up for people that aren’t logged in which I failed to check with the very last change.

It’s entirely possible to set up a system where automated testing would catch this level of bug.  And I certainly have that kind of testing in place for the sites that I build in my day job.  But that kind of testing costs both in my time and dollars for infrastructure.  Since music4dance isn’t even a break-even proposition without adding more infrastructure, I will probably leave that level of testing on the back-burner for a while.  The good news is that I checked and the last time I had this level of an issue with the site was well over two years ago.

Speaking of the finances behind music4dance, I will take this opportunity to note that if you find the site useful I’d really appreciate your support.  While financial support is always welcome, I know everyone is not in the position to provide that so there are plenty of other ways to help the project. I’ve listed a bunch of them on the Contribute page.  Please check it out and do what you can.

Again, I’m very sorry for the inconvenience that this bug caused and wish everyone the best dancing during the upcoming holiday season.

What is the difference between adding a song to Favorites and voting on a  Song’s Danceability?

From discussions with dancers navigating the music4dance site and observing people’s usage of the site I realize that I still haven’t made it easy to understand the nuances of a couple of important features.  I’m trying to default to simplifying the site wherever possible. But enough people are using both of these features that I don’t feel good about getting rid of either of them.  So I made some changes in terminology and behavior and I’m interested to know if this makes more sense.

Here are the two features at issue:

  1. The concept of voting on the danceability of a song to a particular dance style.  For instance – I love dancing Cha Cha to “Let’s Get Loud” by Jennifer Lopez, so I’ll vote on that.
  2. The concept of adding songs to a favorites or blocked list.  Up until this change I labelled the favorites/blocked list as like/dislike, which I now believe is part of the source of confusion.

It’s important to the music4dance community that people vote on the danceability of a song to dance styles – this is what helps build and refine the catalog that is the core of the site and the main reason that people visit it.

It’s also useful to be able to add songs to a favorites list so that you can filter on that for future searches.   And frankly, blocking a song that you are just sick of is kind of nice as well.

The two concepts are almost completely separate in how they would be used.  But they are too easily confused.  I hope that moving from the like/dislike nomenclature to favorites/blocked list will make things less confusing.

Since I feel the voting concept is more useful to the community, I’ve also done some things to make that more discoverable.  The most recent of these is that when you click on the heart (add to favorites) button in the main song lists, rather than just toggling through favorites/blocked/neutral, it will bring up a modal that will let you explicitly choose one of those options as well as quickly vote on any of the dance styles already associated with the song.

I’ve also added a voting button to dance info modal that is available by clicking on the dance voting results button.

As I noted at the beginning, this is something that I’ve been struggling with for some time (check out this post from 2016) and hope I’ve improved it a bit.  But I’m sure there are other things I can do to make this better, so please send me any of your ideas and let me know if you think the latest change works better (or worse) for you.

And, as always, I’m open to feedback about the feature discussed here as well as the site overall.


Music4dance could use your help:  Please take a look the contribute page:  This lists a bunch of ways to contribute from purchasing premium memberships to voting on songs to sharing with your friends and a bunch of things in between.

Dance in Science Fiction and Fantasy

The music4dance project is an expression of the overlap of three of my lifelong interests – music, partner dancing, and programming. Reading Science Fiction and Fantasy is another life-long pass time that precedes both my entry into computer science and my introduction to ballroom dance. So I thought I’d share a few works of fiction that I’ve enjoyed over the years that have substantial dance components.

Stardance by Spider and Jeanne Robinson is an example of science fiction at its best. The authors take an idea, in this case, “what would it be like to dance in space,” and explore it in a way that makes you see implications that make you do a double-take. At the same time, they build believable and relatable characters that carry you through the story and leave you wanting more. The novella is an excellent read by itself. Still, if you’re an SF/Dancer hybrid like myself, I’d definitely recommend the full Stardance Trilogy that goes deeper into the realm of Science Fiction to explore some concepts around first contact. I read this trilogy in my mid-twenties as I was learning to dance. While the dance portrayed was obviously very different than the dance that I was learning, even absent the outer space element, the way of thinking about dance was enlightening and helped shape my appreciation of dance, both as a performer and an audience member.

The first several books in Seanan Mcguire‘s InCryptid series feature a Professional Ballroom Dancer who happens to be a “crypto-zoologist” who studies and protects fantastic creatures that live unseen among us in the modern world. This series is straight-up fun urban fantasy, and I got a real kick out of Verity Price and her struggles to balance the different aspects of her life.

Confessions of a Ballroom Diva by Irene Radford is another straight-up fun Urban Fantasy. In this case, one of the two main characters is a celebrity on a television show called “Dancing from the Heart,” who is a psychic vampire. The other main character is a judge on the show who also happens to be a member of a guild of vampire and demon hunters. If you’re a “Dancing from the Heart” (I mean, “Dancing With the Stars”) fan, you can just read this as “Len Goodman, Vampire Slayer.”

I stumbled across Ballroom Diva while looking for another early read that I can no longer find. As I was learning to ballroom dance, a friend recommended a book that featured a vampire ballroom dance teacher. As I recall, the book was basically an extended metaphor for some of the worst aspects of what a ballroom teacher and a ballroom studio can be. I can’t remember the title or the author, so please point me in the right direction if anyone recalls that book from this very vague synopsis.

If you have books that you’ve enjoyed that feature dance in any kind of fiction (don’t limit yourself to Science Fiction and Fantasy), please comment on this post. 

As always, any kind of feedback is welcome both on the site and the blog. If you’ve enjoyed this little romp through dance in fiction, please consider supporting the music4dance project. If you purchase any books from these recommendations, please do so through the links provided, as that helps fund the site.

P.S. The books in this post and other books about dance can always be found on the reading list page of the music4dance site.

New Feature: Adding Songs to the music4dance Catalog

I’m excited to announce that I’ve nearly completed a feature that will let you add songs to the music4dance catalog.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have a couple of kind folks test it so far and they’re pretty happy with it.  I’ve documented the feature here and am keeping it under beta for a little while longer – I’d love to have a few more people give it a try before I open this feature up to all music4dance members.  So please reach out to me soon if you’d like to give it a try.

Who else likes to dance to this song (and what do they dance to it)?

As I browse the music4dance catalog and find a song I like, it’s nice to be able to see who added it and use that as a way to find other songs that I might like.  To this end, I’ve added a new section to the song details page called Changes that lists the changes people (and the bots/scrapers that I’ve written) have made to the song.

For instance, I like dancing East Coast Swing to Demi Lovato‘s Confident.  If I look that up in the music4dance catalog (I can just search for that on the catalog page) – I can go to the song details by clicking on the title of the song and then look for the new Changes section in the lower right.

This shows me that ZacharyPachol, BatesBallooom and JonathanWolfgram have all voted for this song to be danced as an East Coast Swing.  So I can, for instance, click on ZacharyPachol and get to a list of all songs that he has voted on.  I can then click on “Change Search” to filter the list down to East Coast Swing songs that ZacharyPachol has voted on.  Or I can just click on any East Coast Swing tag in the original search and choose to filter the list that way.

Even as I write this, I see that there are several ways I might want to improve this feature.  But I have a limited amount of time and so many ideas, so please let me know if you find the feature useful and if you would like improvements. Also, I’m very interested in getting more direct participation in rating songs (the site is currently built much more on automation than direct user participation) – so let me know what would make rating songs interesting to you.

P.S. There are about ten other things I’d like to say about this, but I’m trying to keep this short so I can get out more posts.  But I can’t resist noting that you can also see that this song was used on Dancing with the Stars to dance Paso Doble and Ballroom Tango – a good example of how one can use a song for a performance piece that you might not want to dance (that dance style to) socially.

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.

Shall we dance…to music?

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