Sharing The Joy Of Dancing


I get questions all of the time about how to choose good ballroom dance music. Where do I get the music?, How do I know if the song is danceable?, What makes it danceable?, etc. Standardized ballroom dance patterns (International or American Style) that are taught, are designed for music of a specific tempo (speed) range and a specific character of the music.

Ballroom dance music should be "strict tempo". This means that the music should not change tempo (speed). The tempo is measured in mpm (Measures Per Minute). This is very important for social dancing and "Group Competitions". The dancers will probably not be familiar with the music so it should be reliable in speed to make it work easily in a social and group environment. In solo competitions, non-strict tempo music can be used because the dancers chose the songs, are very familiar with the music and can adjust their dance routine to the tempo changes.

The "character" of the song defines the dance. Everyone can recognize the character of the song for a Slow Waltz. However, a fast Slow Waltz song does not make it a Viennese Waltz. The Viennese Waltz has it's own unique character. The same is true for Tango. The International and American Style Tango has a hard, strong pulsing beat (character). Argentine Tango on the other hand has a smooth lyrical kind of character to it's music. Each genre' of dance has it's own unique music.

The length of the song is also important. The more athletic dances like Quickstep, Viennese Waltz, Samba, etc. should be kept to 2 minutes or less. Even the basic dances like Slow Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, Tango, Rumba, Cha Cha, etc. should be kept to 3 minutes or less. In a social environment, this allows more songs to be played (more opportunities for your favorite dances) fewer patterns are needed for in-experienced dancers, and everyone is not exhausted or wringing wet after every dance.

I would recommend that you get the music from CDs. Most of the music that was originally recorded on "vinyl records" have been re-mastered to CDs. The re-mastering retains the original sound but cleans up all the recording defects associated with vinyl records. Another option is downloading individual songs or an album online.

The draw back on buying popular CD's is that there may be only one or two songs on the CD that are danceable from a ballroom perspective. Some of the popular songs have long intros or exits (sometimes a minute long) that you have to wait for before beginning to dance. There is software that can be used to fade in and fade out to fix these problems but that is another story.

You can go to Ballroom dance sites online and order "Strict Tempo Ballroom Dance CDs. The CDs are strict tempo, have the correct tempo and length and are available by "genre'", "Standard/Smooth" or "Latin/Rhythm" or a mixture. The back of the CD documents the genre', mpm, song title and the length. There are usually 20 to 22 songs on a ballroom CD. The CDs are more expensive but most of the songs are danceable. Don't assume, however, that because it is a "Ballroom CD", that all of the songs are danceable. I have some CDs where some of the songs are garbage. I think that sometimes songs are added just as filler, not because they are good danceable songs.

In Ballroom Dancing there are fundamentally three music time signatures: 2 / 4 time for Samba, 3 / 4 time for the Waltzes, and 4 / 4 time for all the other dances. A Samba at 50 mpm in 2 / 4 time would be 100 bpm (Beats Per Minute). A Waltz at 30 mpm in 3 / 4 time would be 90 bpm. A Foxtrot at 30 mpm in 4 / 4 time would be 120 bpm. The following are good tempos for social dancing:

Ballroom Two Step 37-40 mpm
Bolero 21-24 mpm
Cha Cha 28-31 mpm
East Coast Swing 30-40 mpm
Slow Foxtrot 28-30 mpm
Quickstep 48-50 mpm
Rumba 28-30 mpm
Samba 50-53 mpm
Tango 28-33 mpm
Viennese Waltz 50-60 mpm
Slow Waltz 28-30 mpm
West Coast Swingt 24-30 mpm

The following is a simple way to determine the tempo (mpm) of a song. Example: Foxtrot 4 / 4 time:

Set a timer for 60 seconds.
Start the timer on the 1 beat.
Make a mark on a piece of paper for every 4th beat.
When the timer sounds, count the marks.
This will be the mpm for this song.

Waltz would be the same process except mark every 3rd beat. Samba mark every 2nd beat.

Accomplished dancers usually prefer the slow side of the tempo range for their music. This gives the dancer more time to create the feeling of the dance between the steps. Beginning dancers and "pattern dancers" (dancers that only know foot patterns) usually prefer the higher side of the tempo range because they don't have the skill to create feeling between the steps.

Even when the song meets all of the criteria, sometimes it just doesn't dance well. The ultimate test is to actually dance to it and see how it feels. When the song starts, it should make you want to get up and dance a particular genre', not cause you to wonder: "What can I dance to this?". There is a lot of very good ballroom dance music out there. It takes time to create a collection of music that really reflects your personal dancing.