Tag Archives: Music

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:

What if I want to build a list of songs that are tagged as either Bolero or Rumba?

There are a bunch of different reasons that you might want to build lists of songs that are more sophisticated than just the songs that can be danced to a specific style.  For instance you may be choreographing a piece that you want to switch between Cha Cha and East Coast Swing.  Or you might want to get a more comprehensive list of songs that are in the Bolero/Rumba range so you want everything that’s tagged with either of those dance styles.  Or, you’re like me and just want to see what dances people have tagged as both Waltz and Foxtrot (two apparently contradictory labels – more on that in a future post).

I’ve just added a feature that enables all of those scenarios.  The documentation is here, but let me break a couple of the scenarios down into specifics.

First, let’s say you’re looking for a song to choreograph a mixed East Coast Swing/Cha Cha routine to. Here’s what you do:

  1. Go to the song list page by clicking on Music -> Songs in the menu at the top of the music4dance.net website.
  2. Click on the “more” button near the top of the page
  3. Click on the “any” button that appears and choose “all”
  4. Click in the text box that says “Choose some dance styles…” and start typing “East Coast Swing”, after the first letter or two you should be able to choose from a list.  Do the same with Cha Cha
  5. Click on the search (magnifier) button and you should see a list of songs all of which are tagged with both East Coast Swing and Cha Cha

Next, let’s take a look at finding a mixed list of songs.  For example, if we want to find all songs that are labeled as either Rumba or Bolero, here’s what you do:

  1. Go to the song list page by clicking on Music -> Songs in the menu at the top of the music4dance.net website.
  2. Click on the “more” button near the top of the page
  3. Make sure that the “any” button that next to the “Dance to” label reads “any.”  If it reads “all” then click to choose “any.”
  4. Click in the text box that says “Choose some dance styles…” and start typing “Bolero”, after the first letter or two you should be able to choose from a list.  Do the same with Rumba
  5. Click on the search (magnifier) button and you should see a list of songs all of which are tagged with both East Coast Swing and Cha Cha

I hope this is useful to you.  If there are combinations of dances that you find particularly useful, please let me know by commenting.  Similarly, if there are combinations that you can’t manage with the current implementation please comment and I’ll look at extending this capability even more.

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.

The “Dancing with the Stars” solution

I learned to dance in part because Dirty Dancing made me want to be Johnny Castle.  Or at least dance like him. And my first dance partner was similarly moved by Strictly Ballroom.  These days So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars are both inspiration for aspiring dancers.

Since one of my goals with the music4dance project is to build a catalog of music that inspires you to dance, it seems appropriate to make sure I’m folding in the songs that the choreographers from these shows have found inspiring.  I’ve started by adding in the songs from (season 20) of Dancing with the Stars since that is currently airing.

All of the Dancing with the Stars songs that I’ve cataloged can be found at this link.  You can refine your search to a particular episode by clicking on the episode number and choosing to include that episode.

One fun side effect of this is that you can click play on the Spotify Player at the bottom of the page and play all of the songs from an episode (or you can follow the individual links to iTunes or Amazon to purchase the songs). Here’s an example of the spotify player for DWTS Season 20, Episode 1:

What other movies and shows have inspired you to dance?  Did they include specific songs that really make you want to get up and move?

Before you go, I’m continuing to gather data on how people group dance styles and would appreciate your input.  More information about that is available in this post.  Or just go directly to the survey.

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.

Question 2: What dance styles can I dance to my favorite song(s)?

Again, I rephrased the question from my original post.

One of the things that amazes me about the best dance teachers I know is that they seem to do this matching instinctively.  They hear the first bar or two of a song and immediately know which dance(s) to dance.  I imagine “instinct” in this case is some combination of natural talent, many hours of practice and the amount of time that they spend listening to music and thinking about how it fits with dance.

After dancing for 20 years, I have something of this sense myself, but being a techie first and a dancer second I feel compelled to break it down a bit more.

There are two sub-questions here; let’s call them 2a and 2b.

Question 2a: “Does the style of music match the style of dance?” This is very much about the general feel of the music – so salsa music sounds like music that you would want to salsa to and swing music sounds like music that you would want to swing to.  But it’s also about the rhythm.  The most straightforward example of this is Waltz, where the three-count rhythm is very distinctive.  Conveniently, every partner dance that you can dance to three-count rhythm has waltz in its name.  There are more subtle variations on this concept: Cha Cha music has a distinct “4 and 1 (or cha cha cha)” emphasis that makes it feel like a cha cha, mambo music sounds a lot like salsa, but with emphasis on the second beat, and there is something called “Swing Rhythm” that distinguishes swing music from other kinds of music. And the list goes on.  I don’t have a great idea for a tool to help with this, but I’m considering writing a more in-depth series on how this relationship works.  So if you’re interested please let me know and I’ll move that up my to-do list.

Question 2b: “Does the tempo (speed) of the music work for the dance?”   Swing is a great example since there are a whole bunch of different dances that can be danced to music that is in the swing style, but they are each danced at  a different tempo.  For example, West Coast Swing is best danced between 28 and 32 measures per minute (MPM), East Coast Swing between 34 and 36 MPM and Jive between 38 and 44 MPM.  I’m building a web application  that at least partially solves this problem.

Snapshot of Counter page on August 13th 2014
Snapshot of Counter page on August 13th, 2014

With this app. you can count out a few measures by clicking the count button on the first beat of each measure and it will not only show you what the tempo is, but also suggest a number of dances that will “work” for this tempo.  Pretty slick, no?  What would you add to this to make it more useful?

Question 1: I’m learning to Cha Cha, where is some great music for practicing?

Okay, so that’s a slight rephrasing of the question from my previous post.  But it sticks to the spirit of the idea.  As a dancer learning a specific new dance, be it Cha Cha, Paso Doble or Waltz, where can I find music?

So how do I do that?  Dance generally co-evolves with music, so to get a very traditional song for any dance, it’s usually easy to find a source.  If you like swing dancing, Benny Goodman is a great source or if you like to waltz Strauss is always available.  However, if you’re trying to learn a number of dances at about the same time or if you’ve got taste in music that is more modern than the traditional music that the dance evolved with, this starts to get confusing.

It’s also often the case that some of the most interesting choreography to traditional ballroom dances is performed to music that is entirely different than the style that it evolved with.  A recent example of this is Jean Marc Genereux’s Paso Doble on  So You Think You Can Dance Season 11, choreographed to Rob Zombie’s Dragula.

In any case, there are of course as many ways to answer the question at hand as there are dancers.  From my perspective, one way to go about finding dances to Cha Cha to is to it to go ask the internets.

Well, I’ve done internet searches on various dance styles a number of times over the years. I’ve combined the results along with some songs from my personal catalog.  I’ve done a bunch of merging, cleaning up and matching to four of the major music service (Goove®, Amazon® , iTunes® and Spotify®) and the result is the dances page on the site.

What do you think?  Would you use the music4dance dances page now?  What features would you need to make this something you would use? What would make this into a site that you couldn’t live without?

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.

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

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

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