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.

Share Your Favorite Searches

Have you found a particularly useful or exciting way to search for music on the music4dance site?  Just for instance, were you choreographing a swing-cha combo and constructed a search for songs that can be danced to both East Coast Swing and Cha Cha and that are not categorized as Latin Music?  Or did you perhaps want to see a list of songs that could be danced to Cha Cha, Bachata, or Rumba but that are specifically 120 beats per minute?

You can do both of those pretty easily by using the Advanced Search page.  And then you can get back to your own searches by using the My Searches page.  But what if you want to share that cool list of songs with someone else?  You can do exactly what I’ve been doing here – do the search and then copy the link from the address bar in your browser.  That is a perma-link to the search that you just did and can be shared with anyone, anywhere.

As a bonus, if you’ve created an account, the searches that you share with your friends can include your likes and dislikes.  For instance, you can share a list of all Cha Cha songs that you have “liked”.  Or if you have a search you are particularly fond of but one of the songs just doesn’t work for you, you can unlike that song and then when you or your friends look at the list using the link you built you won’t see that song, and neither will your friends.

Feel free to share your favorite or most interesting searches here.  If enough people do that, we can add a new section for interesting searches to the site.

How do I find the latest music added to music4dance?

I’m adding new music just about every week, so if you’re a frequent visitor to music4dance how can you see what is new?

I used to show you music sorted by most recent by default.  But as I noted in this blog post, that’s no longer feasible, when balanced against the ability to do google-like searches.

Don’t panic – it’s still easy to do.  Whenever you’re looking at a list of songs in the song library, you will see that the last column is a single letter and the header for the column is a pencil icon.  Clicking on that icon once will show you the most recently modified songs first, clicking a second time will show the oldest songs first.

If you want to get even fancier, you can go to the advanced search page  and choose either “Last Modified” or “When Added” and a direction.  “Last Modified” is exactly what you get with the pencil icon, “When Added” sorts by when the song was first added rather than when it was last changed.

Are there songs that you love to dance to that you don’t see here?  I’d be delighted to add them, just send me a list include title, artist, album and what kind of dance and I’ll add them to the catalog.  Or would you prefer to add them yourself?

 

P.S. For those that may be wondering, here is what the letters in the date column mean:

  • s = seconds
  • m = minutes
  • h = hours
  • D = days
  • W = weeks
  • M = months
  • Y = years

You can see the actual date and time that a song has been modified by hovering over the letter.

Feel the Beat

If you want to be able to enjoy partner dancing and look good while doing it, you have to be able to dance to the music.  A lot of what I’ve been working on with the music4dance project is solving the problem of finding music that works for particular styles of dance.  But for many beginning dancers, the first questions is more fundamental – you need to be able to hear the rhythm in the music so that you can match your dance steps to it.

There are probably as many ways to do that as there are dancers.  But as far as I can tell there are two major schools.  Those dancers that have a musical background and those that don’t.  I’m definitely in the second category, but the first category is critical.  You don’t have to know how to play music or have in-depth knowledge of music theory to be able to dance.

So for those of you who don’t have a musical background and are working on dancing to the music, I would highly recommend James Joseph’s Every Man’s Survival Guide to Ballroom Dancing: Ace Your Wedding Dance and Keep Cool on a Cruise, at a Formal, and in Dance Classes.  The entire first section is devoted to “feeling the beat.” He does a great job of building up a system for learning how to find the beat and phrase.  He also spends some time on talking about the breadth of systems that dance teachers use to do a verbal count which is really useful because this can confuse the heck out of a new learner whether they have a musical background or not.  Joseph also talks a lot about hearing the eights – which I found apropos of one of my recent posts.

The biggest downside to the system that he’s teaching is that it really glosses over the idea of swing rhythm, which is particularly ironic since it’s based on Skippy Blair’s system and has its roots in the swing dance world.  To be fair, though, I suspect this gets down to the idea of feeling the music vs. being able to put it down in musical notation – the early swing musicians just started adding a swing accent to their music, they didn’t figure out how it fit into a classical notation system until later.

I’m continuing to search for either a website or a book that does a good job of showing the musical notation and instrumentation for a wide variety various kinds of partner dances.  I’ve found a few sites  that will go into a single dance and a pretty stale site with many broken links that does a better overview.  But nothing comprehensive in sight yet.  Please share if you have good resources on this subject, I’d love to get a good reference section going here.

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.

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