Backing Tracks For Ballroom Dancing
Now and again as an
entertainer you may be called upon to perform music for dancing
- in particular strict tempo ballroom dancing.
So, which songs suit which dances?
It's not an easy answer. Some dances will require specially created
backing tracks, but many of the more popular and flexible dances
can use off-the-shelf backing tracks. So here's a guide to ballroom
dancing and how you should approach a gig where you are expected
to sing and provide music for a ballroom dancing crowd...
Ballroom dancing can be separated in to two categories as far
as we entertainers who are going to be singing for the dancers
need to be concerned:
1. Dances which are flexible, where just about any song will suit
as long as it's close to the correct bpm (beats per minute) and
feel of that dance.
2. Dances which are not flexible, where the dance has a very strict
tempo and requires a very definite drum beat, tempo, arrangement
or the dance just won't work.
Here are some examples.
The Tango is a dance that has a very particular tempo and feel
to it so it's NOT the sort of dance where you could just use any
song that's a similar speed/tempo and it would sound ok.
Unfortunately dances like Tangos, Cha Chas, Rhumbas etc have such
a specific tempo and feel to them which have been specially designed
for those particular dances. Even if you pick a song that has
a vaguely similar type of beat, it just won't work.
On the other hand, dances like the Foxtrot, Waltz, Jive, Quickstep
etc are more flexible so you can use just about any song for them
as long as it's the right speed and the right time signature.
For example, the Quickstep is pretty flexible. You can usually
use any song you want for a quickstep as long as it has a 2 in
the bar type time signature and is around the 175 - 200 bpm range
(I often used the old Carpenters song "Top
of the world" for a quickstep and it works just fine).
One good thing is that we now live in a new era of ballroom dancing.
TV shows like "Strictly
Come Dancing" and "Dancing
With The Stars" have made ballroom dancing fashionable
again. They often adapt modern pop songs to suit old dances and
it works fine....but only for certain dances.
If you find yourself getting a lot of gig work where ballroom
dancing is something you are regularly going to be expected to
provide, then it would be best to get some backing
tracks specially arranged and adapted for these particular
For example, the old Al Martino song "Spanish eyes"
(also covered by Englebert Humperdinck) is just a regular pop
ballad, but it would probably lend itself quite well to a Tango
I'm sure you could find many other modern pop songs which would
"convert" well to ballroom dances too (the Drifters
"Save the last dance for me" as a Rhumba maybe)?
Old Spanish songs are typically often good for Latin-American
dances. A song like Besame Mucho would make a good Bossa Nova.
Amor, Amor, Amor and Quando Quando Quando would make good Salsa's.
However, the essential thing to note here is that if you want
to use pop songs for ballroom dances which have a very strict
tempo and beat, then they will usually need to be re-arranged
to have those particular dance beats put to them or they won't
For example you couldn't just buy a Julio Iglesias backing track
they begin the beguine" and use that for a Beguine dance.
That backing track version is actually a Disco beat so couldn't
be further from a Beguine if it tried so beware!
Despite the word "strictly" in the title of "Strictly
Come Dancing", the music they use for the dances is anything
I've heard dance shows on TV use Queens "Crazy
little thing called love" for a quickstep and Amy Winehouse's
for a Jive!
So nowadays ballroom dancing has become less regimented, less
strict, and more fun (remember all those serious looking dead-pan
faces of the contestants on TV's "Come
Dancing" with Terry Wogan all those years ago as they
danced round the room with numbers pinned on the back of their
chiffon dresses and long-tail suits)!
Thankfully today there isn't so much pressure to use exact songs
and exact beats for the more flexible dances like the quickstep,
Jive, Foxtrot etc. A quickstep should really be around 196 bpm
but depending on the age and agility of your dancers(!) anything
down to 175 bpm may suit them fine.
But the more rigid dances like the Tango are not quite as flexible
as dances like quicksteps and foxtrots so you would be better
advised to have backing tracks created with these exact beats.
You could still use modern pop songs - but you would definitely
need the proper beat put on them. For example you could (arguably!)
take the Stevie Wonder song "I just called to say I love
you" and put a Rhumba beat to it or a Beguine beat to it.
Younger dancers would be quite happy with that - older dancers
though may find using modern pop songs for strict tempo ballroom
dances a little bit of an abomination, so it all depends on your
The new TV dance shows get
away with using modern pop songs for their dances because the
dancers on the show are of a younger era. But I did a gig recently
where the audience were rather old and they asked me to play music
so they could dance a "Chicago Swing". Now, any old
jazz standard song like "I've
got you under my skin" or "Fly me to the moon"
suits this particular dance, but no way Jose....my old audience
members were having none of this! I had to play the song "Chicago,
Chicago, that toddling town" or they just refused to get
on the floor and dance the Chicago Swing!
This is quite typical of what an entertainer today is up against
if he or she dares to venture in to the weird and wonderful world
of ballroom dancing with an audience.
You will always get one dancer saying you played a dance
too slow while another dancer will tell you you played it too
Not everyone has the same idea of what a particular dance should
be or how fast or slow it should be played.
For example, did you know
that an Empress Tango isn't a Tango at all? It's actually a dance
that is danced to a shuffle type beat at around 120/130 bpm (a
song like "Little old wine drinker me" would suit this
Just one other thing to bear
in mind if you ever are singing for an older ballroom dancing
audience - it's usually good practice to perform TWO rounds of
every dance for the dancers (i.e. you would play two songs, one
after the other).
Don't be surprised if when you
look down at the dancers on the dance floor at the end of your
song to see them standing motionless, arm in arm, staring at you
on stage in anticipation - waiting for you to sing another song
for the "second round" of their dance!
Article Written by Kenny Campbell
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