Tag Archives: Book Review

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 this site.

Book Review: Hear the Beat, Feel the Music

As anyone who has spent any time reading my blog or interacting with my website should know by now, I’m very passionate about music, dance and the relationship between the two.  I’m also very analytical about those subjects.  And, yes, I believe passion and analysis can co-exist, don’t you?

The fatal flaw with my perspective for people who are learning to dance but don’t have a musical background is that I came at music first and dance much later.  So as much as I try, the way I think about the relationship between dance and music comes from a music first perspective. 

That’s why I was thrilled to happen upon the book Hear the Music, Feel the Beat by James Joseph.  This book is a well crafted dance first perspective to understanding how dance and music relates.  He does a terrific job of walking through the basics of music theory with pretty close to the minimum amount of information that a dancer needs to get by.  And he is very careful to call out the places where he goes deeper than absolutely necessary so those that aren’t interested in those details can skim past.

On the subject of going deeper, one thing that I took away from this book that I hadn’t heard before was the term mini-phrase.  This is a nice term for what I think of (and Mr. Joseph also refers to) as an eight count (or six count in Waltz).  For many dances this is the basic unit and I’ve heard dancers refer to this unit simply as a phrase, but that causes substantial cognitive dissonance with my musicians brain which insists on thinking of a phrase as the substantially longer chunk of generally 48 to 64 beats (although that varies depending type of music or even the particular song).  So mini-phrase fits perfectly, and that even lets me use the term “phrase” out loud with dancers while tagging on the “mini” part in my head.

This mini-phrase is also something that I would like to incorporate in my tempo counter tool.  When I wrote this years ago I set things up to consider tempo in beats and in measures (of different meters).  But I’m in the middle of a rewrite, so I think having a 8 count and 6 count mini-phrases would be a valuable addition.

Overall this is a great read.  And the bonus videos with practical exercises will be an immense help to anyone learning to dance that is struggling with “musicality.”

As always, I welcome feedback both on this post and the site in general.  I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to the site in any of the many possible ways.  And if you enjoy the site please consider contributing in any way that makes sense to you.


Note: If you found this book through this blog, please be kind and click on the link 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 help support the site as a very small fraction of those proceeds will be directed to musci4dance.

Book Review: The meaning of TANGO

The Meaning of TANGO: The Story of the Argentinian Dance by Christine Dennison

This is a fun book for Tango dancers of all types.  The book is very centered around traditional Argentine Tango and does an excellent job of conveying that perspective.  It’s also somewhat unusual in that it is predominantly about the history and philosophy of the dance but contains a section that is straight up technique with diagrams.

The book is a quick read and full of wonderful tidbits about the dance and its history.  Rather than a full-fledged review, I would like to highlight a few points that I feel gave me some useful insight into Argentine Tango.   I am someone with a ballroom background and  I believe this book helped me understand the dance in a way that I didn’t have even after taking a number of beginning Argentine Tango lessons.

Dance to the Melody

There is a section called “One Name, Many Dances” where the author talks about the relationship between Argentine Tango and ballroom dances.  In particular this quote from Freddie Camp, an early German Ballroom dancer:

In Argentina dancers prided themselves on their ability to dance the melody rather than the rhythm. Indeed, Tango orchestras almost never have a drum section. While most other dance music around the world is based on a strong, clear rhythm, generally emphasised by drums, newcomers to Tango music often complain that they find the rhythm of the music difficult to hear. This is one of the qualities that makes Argentinian Tango unique.

The idea of dancing to the melody rather than the rhythm goes a long way to explaining the thing that puzzled me about the practice music that was used in the beginning Argentine Tango lessons that I’ve taken.  I felt that the teachers were choosing music where the beat was hard to find, which I would not expect of a beginning class.  So I’m going to spend some time listening to the melody of Argentine Tango music and see if I can find myself moving to the melody.

Learning to Lead by Following

I found the description of how Argentine Tango was taught traditionally particularly enlightening.  The men would learn in prácticas which were all male and composed predominantly of expert dancers.  When learning to follow a young man would spend his formative years being led by experienced dancers.  Then he would spend additional years within the práctica leading other men before he ever went to a mix sexed milonga and lead a woman.   The fallout of this is that in the context of learning the dance, one was surrounded by experts.  Contrast this with the current practice of dance classes where there are one or two teachers and a crowd of inexperienced dancers.

In addition, from a lead’s perspective, learning to follow is invaluable.  I didn’t do this until I had years of lead experience and when I finally did spend some time learning to follow it fundamentally changed the way I lead.

The Tango Trinity

Finally, the author talks about the “Tango Trinity”: Tango, Milonga, and Vals.  From some other research and some discussion with Argentine Tango dancers, this appears to be the purist’s set of Tango dances.  I had originally categorized Neo Tango into the set of Argentine Tango dances, but that appears not to be the case.  Based on this, I almost went down the path of pulling Neo Tango from the catalog as a distinct dance and reworked it so that Neo Tango (or Tango Nuevo) would just be a style tag on top of the Tango Trinity dances.  But I’m glad I did some further research.  It looks like Neo Tango is a distinct style of dance and related to traditional Argentine tango about as closely as Ballroom Tango is.

The main thing that I got from that set of discussions is that Argentine Tango dancers are even more concerned with the tradition of the music that other styles that I’ve studied.  I got the impression that some would only consider “true tango music” to be that recorded by a specific set of artists from the golden age.  Someday, I’d like to see if I can get things sorted out so that it’s easy to distinguish these from others.

If you have thoughts on the Argentine Tango, the music4dance website or corrections to anything I’ve said about Tango and Tango music, please feel free to comment here or send me feedback.

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The Meaning of Tango: Kindle Edition

The Meaning of Tango: Hardcover Edition

The Meaning of Tango: Paperback Edition