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So, What is this Ballroom Stuff Anyway? – Part 2

In part 1 of ‘What IS This Dance Anyway??’, we covered how to distinguish 5 major dance music styles from each other . Today we’ll look at 5 more common Latin and ballroom dances: Foxtrot, samba, merengue, Viennese waltz, and east coast swing. Let’s get cracking.

Foxtrot was at it’s height in the 1950s, so most of the music you’ll hear will be big-band music from that era. It can sometimes be confused (or interchanged) with east coast swing, having much the same sound. Foxtrot however, is a bit more downtempo on average (although you may still want to snap your fingers to it.) Expect the bass, drums, woodwind instruments, and horns used in American orchestras. Here’s a sample that uses a combination of them.

Samba (American)
Somewhat slower than it’s Brazilian cousin, but no less exciting, samba has more energy than a dog waiting to go outside.
Keep your ears open for a powerful, fast-paced drumbeat, supported by trombones, trumpets, flutes, and clarinets. Samba music has a strong bounce quality to it, slower than east coast swing, that mirrors the rocking hip motion the dance requires. If you listen closely to samba music, you will hear a repetition of the melody every two of the stronger beats, unlike the four downbeats for most other Latin ballroom music. Try and catch it in the following sample.

To the untrained ear, it might sound like a salsa or mambo has been adapted to a marching band. The beat comes from a two-sided drum called a tambora, supported by an accordion and a güira (a cylinder of metal with bumps on it, and played with a stiff brush, sounding similar to a maraca.) More modern bands usually add the bass guitar and saxophone. The beat is generally stronger than salsa/mambo, and gives the impression of greater speed, due to the syncopation of beats between the drum and the güira. Definitely one of the easiest dance genres to follow.

Viennese Waltz
Viennese waltz is one of the oldest partner dances out there – it was traditionally danced to classical music, adapted by 18th-century composers like Johann Strauss.
Much of what you hear today will be modern love songs however, like Brian Adams ‘Have You Every Really Loved a Woman?’ or John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’. Listen for a stronger downbeat followed by two lighter beats that repeat throughout the song and create an ‘oom, sa, sa, oom, sa, sa’ sound. The is the 3/4 timing you hear in the slow waltz, although the Viennese waltz tempo is roughly twice as fast. Click below to hear a classic example.

East Coast Swing
Get ready to play some old time rock and roll! Faster than the west coast swing, which tends to be more bluesy or slinky, but slightly more chilled than the high-speed Jive, expect a bouncy sound to double bass and drums, anchoring for trombones, clarinets, saxophones, woodwinds, and horns. Be careful when searching for ‘swing music’ as the phrase encompasses many swing-styled dances of the 1900s. According to dance champion Robert Royston: ‘If you’re looking for east coast swing, listen to some of the bop music you would have heard in the 1950s’. Listen to the following track to get the idea.

Ultimately, the more you go out dancing, the more your brain will be trained to recognize the ‘feel’ of the different genres of music, until you can spot it instantly. So get out there, and have fun.

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