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.

Also, if this post sparked your interest enough to buy the book, please follow the affiliate link below.  And as a small aside, any of the Amazon and ITunes links on the site and blog help support the site, so if you find things of interest here, please use the links to make purchases.

Hard Cover Kindle

Finding the latest music on music4dance (take 2)

There are enough people that visit music4dance regularly that I thought it would be worth revisiting how to make it easy to find the most recently added and changed music on the site.  I did one pass at this back in November of 2016 when I had to change the default away from listing songs in order of most recently changed.

But that involved adding a link the home page and some options in the Advanced Search page and didn’t do a great job of leading people to that option if they didn’t know it was already there.

So I’ve added a “New Music” option in the “Music” menu.  This will take you directly to a page showing the songs with the most recently added first as well as an easy link to switch over to the most recently changed songs.  I hope this is a bit more discoverable than previous methods.

Once you’re on the New Music page you can use all of the usual methods of tag filtering to narrow down your search and we’ll preserve the sort order that you started with.

You can still use Advanced Search to do things like finding the most recently added Rumbas or Tangos.

We’re adding new music as we find it.  You can help in a couple of different ways.  Sign up for beta feature to add your own songs, mark exiting songs as danceable to a particular style, or send me lists of your favorite songs and what you dance to them – I can import any reasonably formatted list and will be happy to associate those songs with your account and set up a back-link to your site.

It’s great to see so many people use the site.  Please let me know how you use the site, I’m always delighted to hear your feedback both positive and not so positive (the latter is often what leads me down the path of new and revised features).

Holiday Music for Partner Dancing

It is that time of year when dancers are looking for holiday music for dancing.  That seems like a pretty good thing to be able to search for on the music4dance site.  So I thought I’d give it try.  The easy thing to do would be to just type Holiday into the search bar in the song library.  Which certainly shows a bunch of holiday music.  But some of the top results are songs by Billy Holiday or songs with Holiday in the title like “Holiday” by Madonna or “Holiday” by Green Day.  All great songs, and even great songs to dance to, but not really what we think of as songs for the holiday season.

So then I went to the tags page and looked for Holiday.   This was a little better, I can click on the musical genre tagHoliday tag and get a list of nearly two hundred holiday songs.  But then there are over a hundred songs tagged with the other tagHoliday tag.  There is a bunch of overlap between these two lists, but not 100%.  Then there are the 30ish songs that are tagged as tagChristmas music which also overlap with the other lists, but not 100%.  This is one of the wonderful but somewhat chaotic aspects of crowdsourcing content – everyone has a bit different way of looking at things.

Since none of the above were quite right, I created a Holiday Music page that pulls together all of the music tagged with any of the tags above into a single list, which is really what I want when looking for holiday music to dance to.  Take a look and see if it helps you as well.  As always, feel free to tag any of the songs in the catalog however you like, including adding a Holiday tag to any songs that are missing it (your choice as to whether you make that a Musical Genre tag or an Other tag).  Also if you have any lists of holiday songs cataloged by dance style that you would like to share, please send them to me and I’d be happy to load them up.  Finally, if you are interested in adding your own songs to the music4dance catalog please contact me, I am looking for beta testers for the add song functionality.

 

P.S. I intended to get this up earlier but ran into a bit of a snag when the site went down for almost a day last weekend.  If you’re technical and have any interest in what happened I wrote a description of the event on my technical blog.

Farewell to Groove Music

Microsoft is “retiring” its Groove Music Service (aka Xbox Music aka Zune).  Why am I blogging about this?  Partly it is because I just removed support from Groove from music4dance. Partly because that service was part of the reason that music4dance evolved the way that it did.  But mostly it is because there is some overlap between music4dance users and Groove subscribers.  Approximately 15% of users that expressed a music service preference checked the Groove Music box as one of the options.  So for those of you that are Groove Music subscribers, please make sure to check out the Spotify migration option before the January 31st, 2018.

In any case, you’ll no longer see the Groove Music symbol in the play or purchase song options on the site.  Spotify, iTunes and Amazon Music are still fully supported though, so most songs can be located in at least one of those catalogs.

The other statistic I noticed while checking on Groove usage is that only about 25% of registered music4dance users have expressed a preference for any music service.  So if you’ve got a minute please head to your profile page and let me know which music services you use.  This helps me prioritize features.  And if you use a service that I’m not currently listing, please send me feedback directly and I’ll add it to the list of choices.

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.

crowdnote.org

Another programmer and amateur ballroom dancer created a site called crowdnote.org that solves some of the same problems that I’ve attacked in the music4dance project.  He has done an extremely good job of streamlining the process of browsing through music and finding songs to dance a particular style to.  He has also done a great job of making the voting process very easy.

Check it out here:  crowdnote.org.

We would both be very interested to hear your thoughts on what you like/dislike about each of the sites and we’re both open to suggestions for improvements.  Feel provide feedback by commenting on this post or via the music4dance feedback form.

World of Dance

Have you seen the new TV series World of Dance?  If you have any appreciation of dance you should really run – not walk – to your nearest available device and watch it.  Even if you don’t have any interest in the competitive/reality show aspect of this kind of programming it is 100% worth it to just see the amazing performances.  I had to scrape my jaw off the floor after watching the first episode.

They also have a whole lot of online content and an extensive blog, so I’ll definitely lose some hours immersed in that.  But before diving in, I decided to look up how the WOD judges are represented in the music4dance catalog.  They all are.  Jennifer Lopez and Ne-Yo because their music has inspired many to dance and Derek Hough because I’ve been cataloging DWTS choreography over the last several seasons.  Click on the links above to see which of their songs are in the catalog or just type their names into the search box on the song page (for Derek you’ll have to use just his first name since that’s how I cataloged the DWTS choreographers).

Are there J-Lo or Ne-Yo song that you love to dance to that I haven’t identified yet?  Let me know by commenting on this post or sending private feedback and I’d be happy to add them.  If you would prefer to add them yourself, let me know that too – I’m working on a feature for that and it won’t take that much of a nudge for me to give you access to that as a beta tester.

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” click on the blue drum (tempo tags)
  4. Choose “Fake” and click Include
  5. Click the Search 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 you can do one or more tags at the same time.

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.

Where did all the Collegiate Shag music go?

When I first started publishing lists of swing music on the music4dance site, I grouped all of the swing style dances together and then used tempo ranges to guess at specific dance styles.  This method works reasonably well for some of the core swing dances such as Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing, and Jive.

But a helpful Carolina Shag DJ contacted me to let me know that this method did not work at all for Carolina Shag since the dance ancestor might be swing, but the music that one typically dances to doesn’t even have a swing rhythm.  And of course, both Hustle and West Coast Swing are very much part of the swing family of dances but don’t require a swing rhythm to dance to.  So I went back and made the default searches only return songs that someone had explicitly tagged as a type of swing rather than inferring anything from general category and tempo.

Since the only exposure I had to Collegiate Shag was a reference that it was a swing style dance to music between 180-200 beats per minute when I turned off the “infer by tempo” feature,  I stopped listing any Collegiate Shag songs.  Well, that seemed wrong, so I did some digging around the web and found a few lists of Collegiate Shag songs and incorporated them into the music4dance catalog.

Do you dance or DJ Collegiate Shag?  Please, let me know if there are other songs that I should add to this list.

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