Tag Archives: Swing

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.

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.

What if I just want to search for songs on music4dance like I do on Google?

One of the things that I’ve had a lot of fun with is building a sophisticated search engine where I (and you) can do things like find songs that someone has tagged as Waltz and someone else has tagged as Foxtrot.  Or find all swing songs that are in a particular tempo range.  There are lots of neat things that you can do with the Advanced Search system if you’ve got some knowledge of dance and music and want to dig deep into these corners of the music4dance catalog.

But what if you just want to search through the catalog the same way you would on Google or Bing?   For instance, what if you’re looking for a song that has been tagged as Wedding and has the words “Love” and “Time” in it?  With simple search you can just type Wedding Love Time into the search box and you’ll get some useful results.  You can further refine the search by using some of the standard search modifiers like + and – and putting quotes (“) around phrases to be more precise about your searches (for instance try “First Dance” +Foxtrot +Rock).  But if you’re the type that doesn’t bother with that on Google you should be fine not worrying about it here as well.

More information is available on the help page but you should be able to go to Simple Search from the “Music” menu on the music4dance home page and dive right in.

This is a BETA feature because I haven’t fully integrated this search with the basic and advanced search features, so let me know what you’re missing the most in this simple search method and I’ll get those pulled back in first.  As always, please send me feedback or just respond to this post with any issues or ideas.

Quality over Quantity?

One of the things that I’m struggling with in the music4dance project is the pull between finding lots of recommendations for songs to dance to against the desire that those recommendations being in some sense ‘good.’  As I noted in my last post, more manual curating will certainly help.

Another way to attack this problem is to tune down the mechanical methods I’m using to find recommendations.  So for now I’ve changed the default for most dance recommendations to only pull up songs that someone has explicitly noted are good to dance to that particular style. So, for instance, the Carolina Shag catalog doesn’t get polluted by songs that someone has tagged generically as ‘Swing‘ that happen to be a reasonable tempo to dance Carolina Shag to.  And the top 10 lists for individual dance style pages are filtered the same way.

Hopefully this will give you a better start at ‘core’ songs that work for each dance style.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

P.S.  What if you’re interested in getting the broader range of recommendations?  Say you’re looks for songs that might work to dance a style to that might not be quite the musical style that is normally danced to.  There are a couple of things you can do.  First, you can go to advanced search page and check the “Include Inferred” check-box.  This will give you the old results where we pull in songs that are marked with a related dance style and are of an appropriate tempo.  Or you can just do a tempo filter on the advanced search page and see what comes up…

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.

Wedding Music Part I: Can we dance the Foxtrot to our song?

When did you first learn to dance?

For many people it was so that they could dance at their wedding.  Most especially so that they could enjoy the first dance but also perhaps for the Father/Daughter or Mother/Son dance.  If you’re just starting to learn to partner dance it can be pretty intimidating to both learn to dance and try to figure out what the possible dances are for your favorite song(s) and to dig through lists of suggested wedding songs to find the ‘right’ one for the dance style that you’re learning.

How can music4dance.net help?

Let’s assume for a moment that your special song is “Fever” by Ray Charles.  Here’s what you do:
song-menu-annotated

  1. Go to the music4dance web site (https://www.music4dance.net).
  2. Choose Music->Songs from the menu at the top of the site by first clicking on Music (A) then on Songs (B).
  3. Type “Fever” (without the quotes) into the search box (C).
  4. Click on the search button (D).
  5. The Ray Charles and Natalie Cole version of “Fever” should show up near the top of the list (E), if not try sorting by Artist by clicking on the Artist column header (F).
  6. The row already shows you some suggested dance styles in the dance column (G) including Foxtrot and Swing.  And you can see that others have tagged (H) this as a good Wedding and First Dance song.
  7. The play button (I)  will give you a list of music streaming and purchase options, which at minimum will let you listen to 30 seconds for free to make sure this is the song you were thinking of at if you’re subscribed to one of the services like Spotify or Groove, you can listen to the entire song.
  8. You can click on the title link (J) to get even more details including albums that contain this song.

fever-annotated
Hope that helps.  If you can’t find your song in our catalog, let me know what it is by commenting on this thread and I’ll see if I can add it.

Next time I’ll walk you through the other direction – starting with a dance that you know and finding music that others have identified as good First Dance songs for that style of dance.

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?