Update (September, 2015): Unfortunately the site that I used to build this survey (http://conceptcodify.com) folded before I was able to get enough results to show patterns. If you find this interesting, please send feedback and I’ll consider trying again with a different service.
One of the fun things about learning more about different dance styles is that you start to see patterns in how one style evolves into another and how a dance style will move from one tradition to another, be transformed and possibly take on another name (or not). I have all kinds of crazy ideas about how to represent that information as you browse through songs searching for something that inspires you to dance or choreograph or to just throw into a practice play-list.
But not all of those ideas are feasible and even the feasible ideas will take some time to implement. So in the meantime I’d like to take a small slice of one of those ideas and get your input on how you categorize dances. I’ve set up a small survey that allows you to sort names of dance styles into groups. I’ve named some groups to start you off, but you’re welcome to change things up in any way that makes sense to you.
There is no right way to do this. It’s essential to get input from people with all different kinds of dance knowledge, all the way from those with professional training to those whose main exposure to dance is through television and movies. The tool I’m using only allows you to put any given dance into one group, so just choose the group that you most associate with the dance. I’ve intentionally started with group titles that include both names that some dancers may be familiar with and pop culture references. Use and extend whichever system makes sense to you by creating new groups or use a combination of both if that is what works for you. Remember, I’m just looking for patterns in how people think about grouping dances, so don’t spend too much time on this, just throw things where they make the most sense to you.
Not all artists are created equal when it comes to creating dance-able music. For instance, one of my favorite artists of all time is John Coltrane. Do you see him well represented in the music4dance catalog? Absolutely not. Because a consistent tempo just isn’t a core part of his music. Which is part of the appeal when listening, but doesn’t work particularly well when trying to Lindy Hop.
Towards the opposite end of the spectrum, sits Pink Martini. They are a band that plays a combination of original works and updated covers of classic melodies. Many of both types of song are in a musical style that co-evolved with a partner dance. Take “Let’s Never Stop Falling In Love“, which is a classic Tango if I ever did hear one, but still has the unique Pink Martini flare. Or “Amado Mio“, which has a extremely dance-able Rumba beat. And don’t forget “Hang On Little Tomato“, a wonderful Foxtrot as long as you can dance through the lyrics without cracking up, or possibly tearing up. That little tomato has quite a challenge ahead of him! And if you are up for a challenge yourself, try to West Coast Swing to “Hey Eugene” while keeping a straight face.
Pink Martini’s catalog is both broad and deep and most of their songs are well suited to partner dances. Check them out on music4dance.net and if you like what you hear, let me know and I’ll catalog some more of their songs.
One of the things that amazes me about the best dance teachers I know is that they seem to do this matching instinctively. They hear the first bar or two of a song and immediately know which dance(s) to dance. I imagine “instinct” in this case is some combination of natural talent, many hours of practice and the amount of time that they spend listening to music and thinking about how it fits with dance.
After dancing for 20 years, I have something of this sense myself, but being a techie first and a dancer second I feel compelled to break it down a bit more.
There are two sub-questions here; let’s call them 2a and 2b.
Question 2a: “Does the style of music match the style of dance?” This is very much about the general feel of the music – so salsa music sounds like music that you would want to salsa to and swing music sounds like music that you would want to swing to. But it’s also about the rhythm. The most straightforward example of this is Waltz, where the three-count rhythm is very distinctive. Conveniently, every partner dance that you can dance to three-count rhythm has waltz in its name. There are more subtle variations on this concept: Cha Cha music has a distinct “4 and 1 (or cha cha cha)” emphasis that makes it feel like a cha cha, mambo music sounds a lot like salsa, but with emphasis on the second beat, and there is something called “Swing Rhythm” that distinguishes swing music from other kinds of music. And the list goes on. I don’t have a great idea for a tool to help with this, but I’m considering writing a more in-depth series on how this relationship works. So if you’re interested please let me know and I’ll move that up my to-do list.
Question 2b: “Does the tempo (speed) of the music work for the dance?” Swing is a great example since there are a whole bunch of different dances that can be danced to music that is in the swing style, but they are each danced at a different tempo. For example, West Coast Swing is best danced between 28 and 32 measures per minute (MPM), East Coast Swing between 34 and 36 MPM and Jive between 38 and 44 MPM. I’m building a web application that at least partially solves this problem.
With this app. you can count out a few measures by clicking the count button on the first beat of each measure and it will not only show you what the tempo is, but also suggest a number of dances that will “work” for this tempo. Pretty slick, no? What would you add to this to make it more useful?
Okay, so that’s a slight rephrasing of the question from my previous post. But it sticks to the spirit of the idea. As a dancer learning a specific new dance, be it Cha Cha, Paso Doble or Waltz, where can I find music?
So how do I do that? Dance generally co-evolves with music, so to get a very traditional song for any dance, it’s usually easy to find a source. If you like swing dancing, Benny Goodman is a great source or if you like to waltz Strauss is always available. However, if you’re trying to learn a number of dances at about the same time or if you’ve got taste in music that is more modern than the traditional music that the dance evolved with, this starts to get confusing.
In any case, there are of course as many ways to answer the question at hand as there are dancers. From my perspective, one way to go about finding dances to Cha Cha to is to it to go ask the internets.
Well, I’ve done internet searches on various dance styles a number of times over the years. I’ve combined the results along with some songs from my personal catalog. I’ve done a bunch of merging, cleaning up and matching to four of the major music service (Goove®, Amazon® , iTunes® and Spotify®) and the result is the dances page on the site.
What do you think? Would you use the music4dance dances page now? What features would you need to make this something you would use? What would make this into a site that you couldn’t live without?
I’ve been spinning my wheels a bit with respect to this blog. It is much easier for me to write code than to write prose, but I realize that for anyone to see what I’ve been doing coding-wise, I need to start publicizing it. And one of the ways to do that is to start blogging about it. I had some grand ambitions to try to set up categories and start writing tutorials about the relationship between music and dance and have a bunch of thoughts around both those things, but nothing has quite gelled. Meanwhile, I’m continuing to spend time coding and cataloging.
So I’m going to go back to my original intention of writing small posts about what I’m currently thinking about, as well as doing a bit of catch up about what I’ve been doing with the main site and I’ll let you vote with your comments about what you want to see both on the blog/documentation and with the site and its features.
I’m an amateur dancer and with some training in music who also happens to be a professional software engineer. I love dancing, and I particularly love dancing when I enjoy the music that I’m dancing to. This blog is going to be about my journey in trying to build a technical solution to this problem. I’m hoping to build some community around this idea since music and dance are both so personal that multiple viewpoints early will be essential to any kind of success in this area.
I’m hoping to keep this blog in the short and frequent post format, and may start building more article like content alongside it. So please hop on over to my about page for a bit more detail, visit my alpha music catalog site and poke around and let me know what you think.