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.
I, like many, am mourning and listening to Prince‘s music. Over and over again.
Since I’ve been thinking a lot about music and partner dancing recently, this lead me to think about what I would dance to each song. Especially when Leader of the Band popped up in my playlist and screamed Cha-Cha at me. Of course a lot of his seminal work has more of a blues feel that I would associate with West Coast Swing (or possibly even more directly blues dancing). But there are certainly some things in his catalog that one might Quickstep to (Let’s Go Crazy) or dance a Slow Foxtrot (Strollin‘) to.
Here’s a link to the list of Price songs currently in the music4dance catalog. If you’ve got other favorites (along with what you would dance to them) let me know by responding to this post or sending feedback and I’d be happy to add them. Or sign in and vote on what style you would dance to the songs already in the catalog.
The Prince Feature
One of the things that I noticed as I was looking for Prince music in the music4dance catalog was that I hadn’t implemented an artist page of any kind. You could search for Prince but you would both get everything I had catalog by Prince and everything by Prince Royce songs with Prince in the title. So I did a quick fix – if you click an artist’s name you’ll be taken to a page with a list of the first 100 songs I’ve catalog by that artist. Since I’m only tracking artist by the full name this has a couple of implications, one of which is that Leader of the Band won’t show up under Prince since the artist is actually “Sheila E. featuring Prince and The E Family.”
You can, of course, still search for Prince and manually go through the songs to find the ones that actually involve Prince, but that’s obviously not the perfect solution. How much does this matter to you? Is it important to have a more specific idea of artist when you’re sorting through songs to dance to?
As always, please send me feedback or just respond to this post with any issues or ideas.
About of a third of the songs were already in the music4dance catalog and had been matched to dance styles. Most of the others were songs that I could imagine partner dancing to, although some were a stretch. I made a lot of use of the “Unconventional” tag to try to show that many of these songs don’t exhibit all of the traditional attributes of the music that these dances grew up with. But that’s part of the fun of this project, and dancing in general – testing the limits of how music and dance fit together.
And of course, not all music is particularly suited to dancing of any kind. So my version of Spotify’s top 100 list ended up being only 87 songs because those were the songs that I could match any kind of partner dance, even stretching the traditional definitions.
Here’s a link to that list. You can build this link yourself (and try some variations) by going to the Advanced Search Form, clicking on the brown pencil (other) tag button in the “include tags” row of the form. Then choose tags to include – in this case I chose “2015” and “Top 100“. Clicking the search button will show the first page of the top 100 (errrr 87) songs and what dances I and others have matched with those songs. Check out the documentation for more details.
One fun variation on this search is to add the tag DWTS (for Dancing With The Stars) to this search. You end up with 21 songs that were both used in the last couple of seasons of DWTS and are on the Spotify Top 100 list for 2015. Another fun thing to do is to add your favorite style of dance to the search, if I added West Coast Swing to the Top 100 list, I’d end up with these 25 songs. (at least today – if other’s vote up songs as West Coast Swing, that number may change),
Do you disagree with my choice of dances for any of these songs? I would love to see what you have to say. Please feel free to comment on this post, or sign up or sign in to start tagging and voting on songs yourself.
Next year I expect that we’ll have enough activity to generate a top 100 list directly from the songs that you’ve chosen.
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.
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.
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?