Tag Archives: Ballroom

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” 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.

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.

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.