Tag Archives: Ballroom

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.

I am learning the Foxtrot, where can I find some music?

The quick answer is to just click this link where you will find a list of over a thousand songs that have been labeled as Foxtrot.

But that’s definitely not the full answer.  In that list you will find songs that are too fast or too slow for you to dance to because the Foxtrot is not just one dance style but a family of dances each of which can be danced to a different range of tempos.

When I first started dancing  my teachers were from a background that was influenced by American Smooth style of Ballroom dance.  So there was a very specific dance that I first learned as “The Foxtrot”.   This is what is more precisely known as American Style Foxtrot and the was danced in the range of 30 measures per minute plus or minus a bit depending on competition rules.

In order to answer the more precise question of what kind of music will work for the dance that you are learning, it helps to get a bit of a historical perspective.  The Foxtrot follows a pretty common pattern in how partner dances evolve.  A style is first danced socially and pulls in moves from multiple traditions.  Often something resembling the social dance is performed on stage by exhibition dancers as well.  As the style becomes established, teachers take it and formalize it and possibly simplify it for their students. Then social dancers start pulling in things from different traditions and the dance evolves.  Sometimes it gets renamed, and sometimes the dance with the same name is just danced differently depending on where and when a dancer learned the style.   And never forget the influence of the music that is evolving alongside the dances, perhaps speeding up or slowing down or changing in character in a way that influences how dancers dance to it.

In the case of the Foxtrot, two of the early influences were Peabody and the Tango.  The Peabody was a very fast “one step” dance, and the Tango was imported from Argentina via Paris.  Harry Fox is the exhibition dancer who lent the Foxtrot his name.  Vernon and Irene Castle are the teachers who first formalized the Foxtrot as well as using it in their performances.

Arthur Murray standardized the particular version of the Foxtrot that I learned.  He also revived the Peabody as a competition dance to occupy the fast end of the Foxtrot style dances, as he felt that it was more reasonable for students to learn than the slightly slower but more complicated Quickstep.

At some point Charleston influences crept in as a style dance-able to faster music developed, called appropriately, the Quickstep.

To round out this family of dance styles I’ve adopted the name Castle Foxtrot to represent the slowest variations.   Much of the music that I’ve cataloged as Castle Foxtrot has been labeled by others as Slow Dance, especially when it relates to Wedding Dances.  Many of the moves that are used in Foxtrot can be slowed down and made to stay in place  (or on spot) to create something that is much more elegant than the side to side swaying that I first “learned” as a slow dance.

Here is a snapshot of the Foxtrot filter of the music4dance Tempi Tool, as a jumping off point to help you find music in an appropriate tempo for your style of Foxtrot.  Just click on any of the tempo ranges to get Foxtrot music in that range.

Name Meter MPM BPM Type Style(s)
Castle Foxtrot 4/4 15-25 60-100 Foxtrot Social
Slow Foxtrot 4/4 28-34 112-136 Foxtrot American Smooth, International Standard
QuickStep 4/4 48-52 192-208 Foxtrot International Standard
Peabody 4/4 60-62 240-248 Foxtrot American Smooth

With the full tool on the music4dance site you can dig further into the relationship between dances and tempos.

Foxtrot was further complicated by the fact that it co-evolved very closely with swing and was often danced to the same music, or at least music played by the same bands.   I’ll take at look at what I’ve been categorizing as the Swing family of dances next.

Does this categorization help you at all in how you think about dancing and how it relates to music.  Is there a different way that you would slice and dice these dances?

One thing that I completely over-simplified in my description was the influence of regional traditions.  Would anyone from around the world care to shed some light on your regional influences to the Foxtrot?

Useful Links:

I’m a competition ballroom dancer, can I find practice songs that are a specific tempo?

The quick answer to this question is yes, definitely!

First, many of the songs in our catalog have been tagged with a tempo, so it is easy to get a list of suggestions.  However, these are tempi that have been sourced from all over the web, so please use this as a first approximation rather than some kind of official source.

That said, it’s very easy to get  a list of songs of a particular tempo.  Just go to the song list page (the “Songs” item in the “Music” menu), choose the style of dance you’re interested in practicing [A] and click on the “More” button [B].

dance-selector-annotated

Then you can fill the minimum tempo (C) an the maximum temp (D), and click the search button (E) to get a list of songs.

tempo-filter-annotated

If the list is empty we haven’t tagged any songs in that tempo range for that dance style.  Which is the perfect segue into the another way to do this kind of search.

If you are competing in a particular category (International Standard, International Latin, American Smooth and American Rhythm), you can go to the info page for that category by  clicking on the name of the category on the  Ballroom Dancer section of the home page or at the bottom of the dance style page.  The core of each of these pages is a table with the dances styles for that competition category and the competition tempo ranges.  The tempo ranges are active links to just the kind of song search that I described in the last paragraph.  Starting here will assure that you’ve started with the approved competition tempo range. Full documentation for the dance category pages can be found here.

Finally, if you are practicing a particular dance you can start from the dance style page (from the “Dances” item in the “Music” menu) and click on the dance style that you’re practicing.  The tempo info link on that page will take you to the same table as the category page but with just the single dance style specified.  Full documentation for the dance style pages can be found here.

Hope that helps.  If you are interested in helping refine our catalog (by, for instance, adding ‘strict’ tags) please sign up for our upcoming beta via this feedback form, or use the same form to report incorrect tempi or other information in our database.

Help: How would you group this dance style?

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.

Thanks in advance for taking a few minutes to try this exercise. Here is the link: https://conceptcodify.com/studies/II5fJIxuQOzjSEB3fMLCCA7b/via/98u3CehK9xmYMwaWE2K7OYCp/
This is an open survey, so please pass this link along to your friends.

The Pink Martini Solution

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.

The Two Questions that Inspired Music4Dance

As a beginning ballroom dancer there were two questions that kept coming up:

  1. What are some songs that I could play to practice the dance that I’m currently learning?
  2. Which dance style(s) can I dance to this song that I’m currently listening to? For instance, would this work for a Cha Cha or an East Coast Swing?

The dances page on the site is the beginning of an answer to question #1.

Dances Page
Snapshot of the Dances page from music4dance.net (August 6th, 2014)

And the counter page is the beginning of an answer to question #2.

Counter Page
Snapshot of the Dances Counter page from music4dance.net (August 6th, 2014)

Which of these questions is most important to you? Or what other questions are more important to you?

If you’re a dancer or teacher, what are the questions you ask?

Where to Start?

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.

Do you think this post is small enough?