Tag Archives: Waltz

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.

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 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.

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.

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?