Tag Archives: Ballroom

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.

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.

Tango, Argentine Tango, Ballroom Tango, Oh My!

I just took a beginning Argentine Tango class and really enjoyed the experience.  I’ve had some experience with Ballroom Tango (American Style) and even taken a little Argentine Tango before, but this particular class really underlined the difference in the actually dance style.  Searching the web, I find plenty of evidence for this.

From the musical perspective, I found that I would be comfortable dancing Ballroom Tango to most of what the instructors played for Argentine Tango.  The character of the music seems very much the same.  The tempo was definitely slower than I would choose, but it was a beginner’s class after all.  The beat was less clear in many of the songs than I would expect in a Ballroom tango played at a school, club or competition, which was surprising.  This was a beginner’s class after all.

Now that I think about it, the Spotify EchoNest integration in music4dance could shed some light on the subject of strength of beat.  You can do an informal analysis yourself:

  1. Go to the songs library page.
  2. Choose Argentine Tango.
  3. Click on the strength of beat sort (the header icon that looks like a drum) once for ascending and twice for descending order.
  4. This will get you a list of the (currently) 578 songs that have been classified specifically as Argentine Tango sorted by the strength of beat.
  5. Or just click here to see the list.
  6. In a separate window repeat step’s 1-4 substituting Ballroom Tango for step 2 to get the 438 Ballroom Tango songs that have “strength of beat” information.
  7. Or just click here.

Now you can see the lists of Argentine Tango and Ballroom Tango both sorted by strength of beat.  At a quick glance the distribution seems pretty similar, but if anyone is at all interested let me know via a comment to this blog and I will be happy to do a slightly more formal analysis.

The other aspect of Tango music for dancers that this brought up was where to draw the line on calling something generically Tango vs. Ballroom Tango vs. Argentine Tango, etc.  I am currently calling anything a Tango that someone has tagged as any kind of Tango, which I think is fair.  Often people will just call something just Tango if they are from a particular community and I think that’s fair too.

If you are interested in stretching your reach and finding all Tangoes of whatever classification that fit a specific tempo criteria, you can use advanced search to choose generic Tango as the dance and choose a tempo range you’re interested in.  Or if you’re a Ballroom dancer you can go to the Competition Ballroom Dancing page and just click on the tempo range for the category of Ballroom Tango that you’re interested in.  I’ve set things up with the current official tempos for DanceSport and NDCA competition classes.

Speaking of official tempos.  Although I’ve found quite a number of sites that advertise and even provide rules for Argentine Tango competitions, I have yet to find anything that defines any kind of official tempo ranges for the music played at the competitions.  I suspect this is something fundamentally different about those competitions.  However, if I’m missing something and there are such official ranges, please let me know and I’ll incorporate them into the site.

And as always, please let me know what I’ve missed.  This is a very nuanced subject and I would love to hear other perspectives.  Feel free to comment on this post or send feedback directly.

Musicians for Dancers

One of the things I enjoy most about the musci4dance project is when I get feedback from people who have found the site useful.  I’m especially happy when it comes from a direction that I don’t expect.  It’s exactly that kind of feedback that I received from Mister “D” (David Simmerly) – a musician who performs for Ballroom clubs and weddings and was looking to expand his repertoire with music that would be well received in those contexts.

I asked Dave to expand a little on how he used music4dance and (paraphrasing) here are a few of the things that he came back with:

The first and second points led to an extended discussion about songs that are listed as Waltzes but are not in 3/4 time – check out my blog post on “Fake” Waltzes for more on that.

But there is a more general point that I would like to make here with respect to “correctness” of music for dance.  I’ve compiled this catalog with an eye for finding music that inspires dancers to dance.  This makes for a very loose definition of what songs “work” to dance a particular dance to.  In a setting where a dancer is choreographing to a specific piece of music, even when that choreography is a traditional ballroom dance like in Dancing With the Stars, there is quite a bit of latitude in what music will “work”.  Whereas in a social situation the dancers are more dependent on the beat and feel of the music to enjoy the experience of partnering in a specific dance style.  And then of course when one is dancing competition rounds, there are even stricter rules about tempo.

In any case, I hope that many of the songs in the music4dance catalog fall into the category (as Mr. “D” says) of “making your pants want to get up and dance.”  In the future, I hope to do a better job of tagging dances in a way that separates the strictly ballroom from the fun to choreograph to from the great songs for social dancing.  The system is at least theoretically set up to do this since I’ve enabled arbitrary tagging of songs.  It’s a big project to go through each song in an 11,000+ song catalog and make the kind of distinction I’m talking about here.  On the other hand, it is exactly the kind of thing that works well when others jump in to add their own ideas to the mix.

As always, I welcome your feedback and participation.  Thanks to David Simmerly for permission to use his name and information in this post.  If you’re in the midwest and are looking for a great solo entertainer for your Ballroom Club, Wedding Reception or another occasion, you can find him on gigsalad.com.

What is a fake Waltz?

I was recently asked why there are songs tagged as Waltz in the music4dance catalog that are in 4/4 time.  This seems almost like the dance version of an oxymoron.   In my brief description of the Waltz on the website I start with “Waltzes are dances that are danced to music in 3/4 time…”

To be honest, the main reason that there are “Waltzes” that aren’t Waltzes in the catalog is that I pull from lots of different sources and even with something this fundamental there are different schools of thought.  I intentionally error towards the inclusive in these decisions since I think that dance should be as inclusive as possible.

A substantial number of these songs come from sources that cater to people looking for wedding dances.  But there are definitely “Waltzes” in 4/4 coming from other sources as well, I’ve certainly seen some exhibition Waltzes performed to music that has almost no discernable beat,  much less a strong 3/4.

I’m not sure where I picked up this term, but these songs are what I have been calling “Fake” waltzes.  If anyone has a better term for this, I would love to hear it.

In any case, a “Fake” waltz is generally a song that is in 4/4 but has a strong downbeat and very weak rhythm otherwise, so that one can dance three steps to a measure without being too distracted by the actual rhythm of the song.   You can find all of the songs that I’ve tagged as “Fake” waltzes by following these steps:

  1. Go to the Advanced search page
  2. Under “Dance styles”, choose Waltz
  3. Under “Include tags” , Choose “Fake”
  4. Click the Submit button

Or just click here for the pre-built search.

You can use the same process, but replace step (4) with choosing “4/4” and you can find all the songs that are cataloged as both waltz and 4/4.

The more interesting variations are to use the same process to find all waltzes that are not tagged “Fake” and not tagged “4/4”.  You can do this by using “Exclude Tags” in step 3 above.

And while I’m on the subject of unusual waltzes, there is another variation on this theme. It is a song with an extremely slow primary tempo where you can fit a very fast waltz half basic (three steps) on each beat. I’ve been labeling these as “triple-time” and the list can be found here.  Although that’s an exaggeration, there is only one song on that list as of this writing – Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful Life”.  Perhaps I’ll find more by the time you read this.

I’m looking into ways to make the fact that a waltz is “Fake” more obvious.  Currently, it’s a tag on the dance which can only be seen when you click on the dance tag in a song list or by going to the song details page.

In the meantime, if you have a strong objection to songs in 4/4 being labeled as Waltz, you’re welcome to sign up and start voting them down or tagging them as “Fake.”

Even more than usual, I’m interested in how other people view this, so please feel free to comment on this post or send feedback directly to me.

Oops, I didn’t mean to throw that needle into the haystack…

I recently heard from a customer that he was searching for “Oh, These Dark Eyes on the site and this is what he saw:

Search with bad sort

In fact, “Oh, These Dark Eyes” by Tango No. 9  is in the music4dance catalog, but it wasn’t even showing up on the first page.  That seems crazy.  And wrong.

After a little digging, I discovered my mistake.  When I merged the Search Like Google feature into the default search I left the default sort set to “most recent”.  So when you search for anything with a bunch of words in it, there will be a whole lot of results (in this case 464) and if I sort by anything other than closest match what I’m really looking for is likely to get lost like a needle in a haystack.

This should now be fixed.  When you search by default you’ll get the most relevant results at the top of the page (just like a normal search engine).  I’ve also added a “Closest Match” button to the search order possibilities on the Advanced Search Page which is the default.

So hopefully there will be less searching for needles in haystacks.

dark-eyes-good

Thanks to the gentle customer that pointed out my mistake.  I’m always looking for ways to improve the site so please feel free to send me feedback if anything looks like it’s not working the way you suspect.  Even if it’s not an outright bug (like this one was), I’m happy to take feedback and see if I can make music4dance a more useful resource for you and others.

And lest you think I’ve dropped my head completely back into code and failed to continue to improve the content, I’ve added some more DWTS songs this week as well as digging up and integrating some fresh lists of  ballroom music, including some fun new Cha-Cha, Rumba, and Tango songs.  You can still find the most recent changes to the catalog by sorting by modified date.  That’s the little pencil icon right below the “Advanced Search” text on any search results.   Or if you want to get tricky and just find the songs that have been most recently added, you can go to the Advanced Search Page  and choose “When Added” in the “Sort By” field.

Do Dancers Think in Eights?

I was tickled to hear Nigel Lythgoe talk a little about choreographing tap on a recent episode of So You Think You Can Dance. The commentary is at about 1:13, but please start at about 1:10 so you can see the performance that he’s referring to.  It’s a tap piece that Emma, one of the young competitors, choreographed to “Rather Be” by the Pentatonix.  Just amazing – pause for a moment of silent appreciation for some real talent.

Nigel asked if she choreographed by listening to the rhythm or by counting eights. Quickly followed by the statement – “Musicians only count to four, dancers count to eight.”  Funny!

Besides making for a pithy quote, it ties right into a project that I’ve been working on recently.  I am experimenting with a phone application that I hope will be useful to choreographers and one of the things that I’ve been thinking about is phrasing of music.  It’s a variation on the web-app that I have on the site for counting out tempos. When choreographing for many ballroom dances, the basic unit of measure tends to be a two-measure mini-phrase, which would be 8 counts in most dances and 6 for the waltz.  And then there are longer phrases, which are closer to what musicians think in.  Here’s a quick mock-up of the phrasing page for the app – the idea is that you can count out (or just enter) the tempo of the song, choose a standard length and get a quick cheat-sheet of the number of phrases of various types that one would need to choreograph to fill the song.

Phrasing Page

Would this be useful to you as a choreographer?  Are there other features that might make as much or more sense to have your phone figure out for you?  I’m always looking for feedback, and the early the better since most of this isn’t even coded yet.

What are Your Favorite Song to Dance Bachata?

A number of people have pointed out that my attempt to generalize the “rules” that I use to pick Ballroom music, especially slightly edgy ballroom music have caused the social music parts of the music4dance catalog to veer a bit (or more than a bit) off course.   One way to solve this is to spend some time on each of the social dances and see if I can get some more concentrated people knowledge to help contribute to a better list.

And since I’m going to be taking Bachata lessons for the first time starting next week, that seems like a great place to start.  I’ve pulled together a couple of the albums that the teacher recommended and some Bachatas from a few other sources to get an initial list together here.  What do you think?  Am I anywhere close to a decent list?  What am I missing or what is on this list that you absolutely wouldn’t dance Bachata to?

The other thing I noticed is that it looks like Bachata has a broad enough history that it may make sense to either split them up (like I did with Tango) or maybe more reasonably start tagging them by sub-style?

Please feel free to respond to this post with song ideas or more general suggestions.  You’re also welcome to sign in to the site and start voting on songs.  And if you’re not a Bachata expert, that’s all right, there is plenty of room for improvement elsewhere in the catalog.