Ballroom Dance > Classic ballroom dance songs

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by ms.m, Jul 30, 2012.

  1. ms.m

    ms.m New Member

    So, I'm not a dancer. At all. I'm a classical musician. My string orchestra is going to play for a ballroom dance in a few months, and I get to find the music. I want to make sure the dancers have a great time, but I don't know the first thing about dance!

    We're supposed to have:


    So, I was hoping I could pick the collective brains of this dancing community and ask a couple of questions.

    1. What are some of the most classic, must-have pieces that fit into the categories above? If you were going to a dance, what would you want to dance to?

    2. What are some things we should know, as an orchestra—like what might we inadvertently do that might drive the dancers crazy? The guy booking us mentioned keeping a steady tempo. Is there anything else we should pay attention to?

    It is hard enough finding dance music for a string orchestra, but I think it will be easier if I have some specific titles to look for. I just want to make sure that we can do our part to make sure people have an enjoyable dance.

    In any case, thanks in advance for any titles and advice you may be able to give!
  2. DerekWeb

    DerekWeb Well-Known Member

    I suggest that you look at the music lists on ballroomdancers dot com

    also, look at their "learn the dance" section for "beats per minute" for each dance. This is what is most important to the dancers.
  3. mindputtee

    mindputtee Well-Known Member

    And no accelerandos, ritardandos, or fermatas please.
  4. mjnemeth

    mjnemeth Member

    good list of songs
  5. GGinrhinestones

    GGinrhinestones Well-Known Member

    Touched on here already, but beyond the songs...steady rhythm AND the right speed for each of the dances. The actual song really doesn't matter - the rhythm does.
  6. bia

    bia Well-Known Member

    Not too long for each piece. Pop song length rather than classical piece length, since dancers are going to want to take a break or switch partners after a few minutes. And alternate between faster and slower pieces/dances.

    Satie's Gymnopédie #1 is a pretty waltz that I bet you can find an arrangement for, if you can avoid the temptation of rubato. I've danced to an orchestra playing Leroy Anderson's Blue Tango before. For foxtrot, think of things sung by Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, etc.
  7. Terpsichorean Clod

    Terpsichorean Clod Well-Known Member

    I think it's great when musicians use rubato (preferably while staying generally within a range of danceable tempi). I feel that something really gets lost when dancing to recorded music. :)
  8. old dog

    old dog Member

    Hello ms.m and welcome to Dance-Forums!

    Here are a few of our favorites often performed by (mostly) string orchestras. Most can be sampled at the iTunes Store or Amazon dot com or similar.

    WALTZ -- Romance (a.k.a. Giochi Proibiti or Jeux Interdits) -- Alfred Hause version is great, but features a guitar with orchestra; Andre Rieu's rendition is wonderful but most dancers would prefer it played a bit faster.

    WALTZ -- Jean (from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) -- The Andy Ross Orch has it on his "Come Dancing" album. [hear it here: ]

    WALTZ -- Ashokan Farewell (by Jay Unger) -- There are many good instrumental/orchestral versions, most featuring fiddle and guitar, on iTunes.

    WALTZ -- Greensleeves -- A traditional favorite often done by string groups like Montovani and 101 Strings.

    WALTZ -- Recuerdos de la Alhambra -- Written for guitar, but lots of orchestral versions (often featuring a guitar). We like Sam Reid's version (too long) and Tol & Tol.

    WALTZ -- Nocturne (by Rolf Lovland of Secret Garden) -- Original on Songs from a Secret Garden.

    RUMBA or CHA CHA -- Bali Ha'i (from South Pacific) -- A very nice piece for orchestra. Many covers out there.

    CHA CHA -- Happy Hobo (by Mancini) -- Listen to 101 Strings on The Sound of Henry Mancini at iTunes.

    RUMBA or CHA CHA -- Misirlou -- 101 Strings has a good Rumba version on their The World By Strings album (iTunes). Arthur Murray Orch has a Cha Cha version (Amazon).

    RUMBA or CHA CHA -- Over the Rainbow -- Unusual with a Latin rhythm, but listen to it on Let's Dance, Vol. 1 on iTunes. [I think the Columbia Ballroom Orchestra in the Let's Dance series is actually all synthesized music.]

    RUMBA or CHA CHA -- The Sound of Silence -- Hear it on Let's Dance, Vol. 2 on iTunes.

    TANGO -- Pearlfisher Tango (From Bizet's opera The Pearl Fishers.) Hear The Malando Orchestra version on iTunes.

    TANGO -- Jalousie -- A "classic" featured in over 100 movies since Gade published it in 1925. [No faster than 128 bpm please.]
  9. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member

    2 important Q that need to be known...
    Are you in the U.S. or Europe ?.. and.. what type of clientele will you be playing for ?

    Both are important, as to musical content .
  10. Joe

    Joe Well-Known Member

    Yes! Strauss is lovely for Viennese Waltz, but the tempo changes drive dancers nuts!
  11. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    1) As a dancer I would appreciate if you always would play 2 pieces or even more of either rhythm/dance in a row.

    2) I don't know what you mean by march. There isn´t anything like that in this list. Historically seen the pasodoble as well as parts of the argentine tango stem from military marches.

    3) Waltz isn´t by far homogeneous. It reaches from slow english up to quick Viennese waltz, which actually are quite different dances.

    4) All the same with foxtrot. There is slowfox, quickstep and also a lot of fine stuff in between.

    5) Something like bolero is missing

    This would only count for beginners but we don't know how sophisticated the dancers actually are.
  12. bia

    bia Well-Known Member

    Interesting. I've seen this for practices, but never for a social dance (unless it was a salsa or a swing dance). As I mentioned before, I prefer the opposite.

    For more lists of music sorted by dance, check out places that sell dance CDs -- dancevision dot com and casa-musica dot de.
  13. bia

    bia Well-Known Member

    I agree personally, but that doesn't do me any good if my leader is thrown off by it. And like Joe, I've tried dancing Strauss VWs to an orchestra that didn't adjust to the dance context rather than the concert context, and it was tough.
  14. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member

    then you would not have liked the traditional UK style of..

    3... W

    3... Q/S

    3... F/T.. and ,3 tangos all nite , if we were lucky ( no one ever figured that out ) . Some bands did a " ladies choice " .

    And , the occasional rumba/ samba, depending upon the Orch.
  15. musicbrain

    musicbrain Member

    I've actually just compiled a document for this very purpose for an organization I'm involved in... I agree with whoever said it will depend where you're located (and what style of dance they're doing). The dances I describe are the ten International-style dances that are used in competition; since you're playing for a social setting, there are some dances you'll probably leave out entirely (like Paso Doble) or play only a few of, depending on your particular audience.

    For 'Swing' dance, you can use swing music with a tempo anywhere between Jive and Quickstep music as I describe them, possibly even faster than Quickstep if your crowd knows a lot of different Swing dances. And as long as you keep most of the music in a fairly regular tempo, there's no reason to be completely strict about following the guidelines in the chart (Sorry, it's no longer a chart but a list.)

    Excerpts from my document:

    The chart below includes the strict tempo for each type of International-style ballroom dance according to the IDSF (International Dance Sport Federation), as well as the corresponding Metronome Marking for the musicians.
    (To avoid confusion, please be aware that two styles of ballroom dance exist: International style, and American style. Some of the dances are different, and even the same dances often have different tempi. I am describing the International style, whose tempi are outlined in the chart.)

    Note that for social purposes, some leeway is perfectly acceptable, especially if music is played slower than the IDSF regulations.
    · Avoid speeding up music for the quicker dances – Viennese Waltz, Quickstep, Samba, Cha Cha, and Jive in particular.
    · Avoid extreme slowing down of slow dances – Waltz or Foxtrot.
    · For waltzes, try to stick closer to either regular Waltz or Viennese Waltz – a tempo halfway in between the two will confuse most dancers.
    · For the three dances that use swing music (Foxtrot, Jive, and Quickstep), the same types of music can often be sped up or slowed down to be used for one of the other dances. Also, people may know other dances that can fit swing music with a tempo in between, so you’ve got quite a bit of leeway with swing music.

    Keep underlying meter as regular as possible – avoid tempo variations or rubato in the middle of a dance. (Playing with the melody is fine, but keep the underlying beat in tempo so the dancers don’t get lost.) Also avoid extremely long intro passages before the beat actually starts.

    Don’t play a lot of Paso Dobles – if you want, you can leave them out entirely. Paso Doble songs all follow a very specific pattern of phrase lengths, and there are very few pieces that actually work. Also, in some areas people are uncomfortable dancing it socially, though they do enjoy watching the few who can.

    Try to alternate between quicker and slower dances to keep more people on the floor.

    When finding example recordings, remember that unless it comes from a “strict tempo” ballroom CD, it’s likely not the right tempo for the dances we do. There are lots of songs available to use for each dance if you adapt them closer to the metronome markings in the chart on the next page. (When discussing ballroom music with dancers, don’t forget that for whatever reason, ballroom dancers count tempi in measures per minute, not beats per minute.)

    (Measures Per Minute listed according to IDSF tempo regulations)

    28-30 measures per minute
    Quarter note = 84-90
    Usually flowing, sustained melodies. Downbeats should be audible but not heavily accented.
    Nat King Cole – Fascination
    Andy Williams – Moon River
    Henry Mancini – Romeo and Juliet love theme

    31-33 measures per minute
    Quarter note = 62-66
    Often very melodic over staccato accompaniment patterns. Piano, strings, and accordion-like instruments are common.
    All beats are heavily accented, especially the downbeat.
    El Tango de Roxanne from Moulin Rouge
    Alfred Hause Tango Orchestra – La Cumparsita; El Choclo; Hernando’s Hideaway; Jalousie

    Viennese Waltz
    58-60 measures per minute
    Dotted quarter = 58-60
    Very light and fluid – feels more like 6/8 time. Strauss has a lot of well-known VWs.
    Johann Strauss – Blue Danube; Emperor’s Waltz
    Chim Chim Cheree from Mary Poppins
    Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter

    28-30 measures per minute
    Quarter note = 112-120
    Slow, lazy swing (eighth notes). Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, & Nat King Cole all have a lot of good foxtrots.
    Harry Connick Jr. – A Wink and a Smile
    Theme from The Pink Panther
    Other: Fever; Fly Me To the Moon; Beyond the Sea

    50-52 measures per minute
    Quarter note = 200-208
    Quick, energetic, upbeat swing (eighth notes). Often has lots of drums and brass – think Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing.
    It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
    Cherry Poppin’ Daddies – Zoot Suit Riot
    Judy Garland – Puttin’ On the Ritz

    50-52 measures per minute
    Quarter note = 100-104
    Brazilian carnival dance. Heavy downbeats; uses lots of syncopated and dotted rhythmic patterns.
    Sergio Mendes/Black Eyed Peas – Más que Nada
    Frank Sinatra - Brazil
    Cuban Pete from The Mask

    Cha Cha
    30-32 measures per minute
    Quarter note = 120-128
    Upbeat, rhythmic Latin American music with lots of crisp percussion. Piano, brass and cowbell are common sounds.
    "Cha-Cha-Cha” occurs on beat 4-&-1. Offbeats tend to be louder than downbeats. Don’t let beats get too heavy.
    Marc Anthony – I Need To Know / Dímelo
    Andres Ballinas – Besame
    Santana – Oye Como Va; Smooth; Corazon Espinado

    25-27 measures per minute
    Quarter note = 100-108
    Slower, more sultry with lots of conga/bongo drums. May use bolero rhythms.
    Beat 4 is often the loudest and highest in register (conga/bongo drums); beat 1 is usually very soft and in a lower register.
    Diana Krall – Besame Mucho; Temptation
    Andrea Bocelli – Les Feuilles Mortes (remove intro)
    Mantovani – Harlem Nocturne (not other versions)

    Paso Doble
    60-62 measures per minute
    Quarter note = 120-124
    Dance of the matador/bull fight. Combination of Spanish flamenco and military influences; very percussive.
    España Cañí / Spanish Gypsy Dance

    42-44 measures per minute
    Quarter note = 168-176
    Upbeat, bouncy swing (eighth notes). Faster than Foxtrot, slower than Quickstep.
    Glenn Miller – In The Mood
    Andrews Sisters – Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
    DJ Bobo - Chihuahua

    I hope that helps you - PM me if you want more details. Again, please remember that the above is for International-style ballroom dance - other styles (and tempi) do exist. I also suggest listening to lots of examples so you can get a feel for what each type of dance sounds like. Pretty much any song can be adapted to a dance by changing the accompaniment patterns, so if this is something your orchestra intends to do on a regular basis you can have a lot of fun with arrangements.
  16. ajiboyet

    ajiboyet Well-Known Member

    @musicbrain Aren't you just a blessing...
  17. musicbrain

    musicbrain Member

    :D No, just a musician!
  18. Larinda McRaven

    Larinda McRaven Site Moderator Staff Member

    nice, that is a great breakdown!
  19. bia

    bia Well-Known Member

    If you're dealing with a primarily American style group of dancers (a good assumption if you're in the US anywhere except major metro areas on the coasts), just a couple of adjustments will add that detail to musicbrain's great descriptions. The characters of the same-name dances are basically the same between styles. American style waltz, foxtrot, and rumba tend to be slightly faster than their International style counterparts. American style Viennese waltz and East Coast swing (parallel to Int'l jive) tend to be slightly slower than their International style counterparts. I'd say that if you choose tempi at the appropriate edge of the Int'l style tempo range, they'd be danceable for dancers of either style.
  20. mummsie

    mummsie Member

    Probably one of the nicest instrumental marches is "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines". Please make sure you do a 4 bar intro for the sequence dancers and make sure the music is phrased into 8 or 16 bars. mummsie

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