Posts Tagged ‘ballroom music’

How to Find The First Beat in Ballroom Dancing

Monday, December 14th, 2009

As one of the mistakes that I used to make regularly in my ballroom dancing was dancing off the beat, I have spent a lot of time learning how to find the beat and in particular recognizing the first beat of a song.

The ability to find the first beat of a song is important when learning how to keep time to music in ballroom dancing. It is a fundamental skill when we learn how to dance. This is because we begin our dance at the beginning beat of the music. As a couple we need to start together in time with the music. And it is the man’s responsibility to begin with the first step of the dance.

What are the differences between beat, rhythm and tempo?

  • a beat is the basic time unit of a piece of music.
  • the rhythm of a song is made up of a sequence of beats.
  • the tempo is the speed at which the beats occur.

How to find the first beat?

I have learned three ways for picking out the first beat:

  1. Listen for when the singer begins to sing. Singers tend to sing on the first beat of any new sequence of music.
  2. Listen for the beat that has a greater intensity or volume than the others. This is often the first beat.
  3. Listen for the bass line in the drums or bass guitar. The first beat of a bar has slightly more emphasis and can be clearly heard in the bass.

How to master finding the beat?

In the same way as knowing what dance to do to the music, I have found that finding the first beat takes practice. It requires listening to a variety of music regularly and listening for the different intensity of the beats. The first beat may or may not be louder than others, but it does have a presence. I have come to know it when I hear it.

For me it is not easy; it is challenging. But as soon as I am able to consistently pick out the beat of a particular song, I find that my ability to keep time to music improves measurably. Over time and with practice, I have found that I can feel where the first beat is in a favourite piece of ballroom music.

There even comes a point where I don’t have to rely on hearing that first beat to find the beat of a favourite song. I can just feel it as I am dancing the dance steps.

I find that it helps me to learn to dance by using all of my senses in the dance classes and practice sessions.

Finding the beat exercise

Now it is time to put into practice what you have just learned.

1) Watch and listen to this Finding the Salsa Beat video:

2) Now listen for the beat in the youtube video of Norah Jones singing Come Away With Me (listen for ‘1-2-3′ and ‘quick-quick – slow’.

3) Now find the beat in the following video of Sex Bomb by Tom Jones (listen for ‘1-2-3-cha-cha’ and ‘slow – quick-quick – slow':

How to Hear The Music and Know What Dance to Do

Monday, December 14th, 2009

As ballroom dancing comes from music, it is all about recognizing the fundamental elements of timing and rhythm. Each dance, such as the Foxtrot, Waltz and Rumba, expresses the rhythm and timing of the music that the dance was created for.

We dance to the rhythm of the song, not its melody nor the words. This is a skill that can be learned. Being able to recognize the rhythm of a song is the way to hear the music and know what dance to do. The ability to recognize the same musical elements in your favourite dance music (e.g. cha cha cha) is an important learning for beginners to ballroom dancing.

ballroomdancing4

How do we start to recognize these elements?

We listen for the bass line to discern the timing of the music. Play one of your favourites songs to dance to and listen for the consistent beat of the drum, percussion or bass guitar.  Turn up the bass on your stereo and turn down the treble in order to hear the bass line more clearly and aid your ability to clearly hear the rhythm of the music.

The first thing to realize is that it is possible to hear the differences between songs for the different dances. We can hear the difference between a jive, a tango and a rumba. Each dance was developed to match its own music. The more songs we listen to, the more we will be able to identify the music type and what dance to do to it. By listening and dancing to many different songs, we will unconsciously learn the differences between music types.

When beginning, it is helpful to listen and dance to songs that have a strict tempo e.g. the music of Glen Miller. Strict tempo is a consistent and dependable beat – the number of beats and bars remain the same throughout the song. I find that dancing to songs with a dependable beat makes dancing more enjoyable. It is therefore vital that we learn how to find the beat in a song.

For some suggested songs to practice dancing to, read my article on ballroom dancing music.

Ballroom Dance Shoes

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

I knew when I tried the first pair of ballroom dancing shoes on that they were the ones for me. The saleswoman had correctly identified the shoes that would best fit the size and shape of my feet. I tried other pairs on, but none felt as comfortable or as right as that first pair.

I bought a standard pair within two weeks of starting the introductory ballroom dancing class. I knew I would continue with the dancing lessons and I wanted the proper footwear. I decided they were worth buying as they would help me to feel more like a dancer. I have found that to be the case with other sports and physical activities, such as rock climbing and golf. I learn more quickly with the right equipment.

Dance shoes make it easier to dance due to their weight and flexibility. Ballroom shoes are generally lighter than street shoes because they are made of lighter weight leather. I noticed this when I tried a pair for the first time. I  don’t expect them to last as long as street shoes even though I intend to only ever use them for dancing.

Ballroom dance shoes are flexible, have more padding in the insole and have more room to move and don’t squash your toes. This latter feature I like especially for the tango where I have the tendency of tensing my toes.

Shoe Styles

For men there are two main types of shoes: Latin (rhythm) and standard (smooth). Apparently, latin shoes are more fexible than the standard shoes. I chose a pair of standard black shoes because I want to dance both styles. Men’s standard shoes have the same heel as dress shoes, while latin shoes have a one or two inch heel.

I have heard that ladies shoe styles are as varied as dance styles. The basic designs are open toe or closed toe with either slim or flared heels which range in height from one to three inches. Slim heels make turns easier. Flared heels provide more stability, especially for the Latin dances. Basically, a standard ladies dance shoe – closed toe with a two to two-and-a-half inch flared heel and an ankle strap – will work for a number of dances.

copyright: fernashes' (flickr)

copyright: fernashes' (flickr)

Both ladies and men’s ballroom dance shoes have non-slip soles. The sole is made of thin suede which means we keep in better contact with the floor and have a greater range of motion. This split leather sole works better because of the napped (fuzzy) surface.

Men's dance shoes

Men's dance shoes

Work Less, Dance More

Is it worth buying dance shoes when you are a ballroom dancing beginner?

I believe so. I think it is true that my feet are more comfortable with dance shoes which means I can dance longer in dance classes and practice sessions. There is less strain on my feet, legs and knees and there is more ease of motion with improved control. This makes it easier for me to learn to ballroom dance and make the most of the ballroom dancing lessons.

I am glad that I bought better quality shoes as better suede means less risk of slipping. What we want are shoes that let us pivot or spin halfway around on one foot, but do not let us slip and fall.

Where to Buy?

Ask your dance studio where to buy locally. I bought mine in person from a local store recommended by the dance studio. The experienced salesperson helped me to find the proper fit and style.

I would expect to spend a minimum of $100 for a good pair of ballroom shoes. I paid $140 CAD for mine. I love the craftmanship of these shoes.

Buying Tips

  • Try on many different shoes. Give yourself plenty of time to find comfortable shoes as you can’t take them back if they are worn.
  • Do some dance steps to simulate what you expect your feet to go through. It’s ok to look and feel silly. If possible, play some ballroom music.
  • Choose a good fit, avoid toe-crushing. Find shoes that are both comfortable and functional.
  • Make sure the salesperson identifies whether you require a narrow or wide fit, and whether you need shoes for Swing or Latin or standard Ballroom.

Shoe Care Tips

  • Don’t get them wet
  • Don’t wear them outside
  • Carry them in a bag and put them on when you get to class or to the ballroom
  • Use a metal brush frequently on the suede sole

If you have any helpful advice for beginners based on your experience of buying dance shoes, please leave a comment below.