Not all music is dance music

by James Joseph

Not all music is dance music, although most popular music is danceable. Dance music varies in difficulty so some music is better for dancing than other music, which is, in part, a personal preference. But some music is just not danceable. The jazz music of Count Basie, known as swing, is usually good dance music but the jazz of Miles Davis, known as bee bop, is not dance music at all.

I don’t typically dance every song in an evening of dance so, strategically, I sit out the music that’s not dance music or is music that’ll be difficult for me. This makes me appear to be a better dancer. If you struggle with dance, choose your music wisely.

For me, if I can count sets of 8 and if it makes me feel like dancing and if I can visualize myself doing some steps (that’s when I evaluate if the tempo is too fast), then it’s dance music. If I can’t count sets of 8 I try counting sets of 6 to see if it’s a waltz, although my guess is that less than 2% of popular music is a waltz. If that doesn’t work it probably isn’t dance music or, at least, it’s not good dance music for me.

If I can’t count sets of 8 and it still feels danceable—it’s usually something with a slow tempo–I might try an improvisational slow dance. If that doesn’t work and the song isn’t over, I sometimes let it evolve into a Steve-Martin-esque parody of a slow dance. There’s a classic parody of a “slow fox trot”—not sure what you call it—by Steve Martin and Gilda Ratner from Saturday Night Live. I was going to give the youtube link but the video “is no longer available.” If I ever find it, I’ll post the link.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

D. H. Stefanson November 4, 2016 at 11:16 pm

James Joseph saved me. I was taking dance lessons, but had trouble starting properly. Intellectually, I knew 4/4 or 3/4 time, but in hearing a song, I couldn’t tell which and Latin music simply confused me. I relied on the teacher to get me started, which as you can imagined, meant I could only successfully dance with the teachers. I bought a CD promoted as a teaching aid to counting music. Like many other such aids, the voice loudly counted, so loud, I couldn’t hear the beat. In searching the web, Joseph’s site came up. He told the story of sitting at a bar and the guy sitting next to him explained the count of eight. Then he did his video of counting beats of eight, but he used his hand and arm, not his voice, to indicate the down beat. It still took me several months to be able ‘feel’ the beat, but now rather than just listening to the melody and the lyrics, I feel the beat, so even not dancing, music is much more pleasurable. I bought his book, of course, and it is fun to read even after learning the content. D. H. Stefanson

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James Joseph November 7, 2016 at 10:58 am

DHS, I know your frustration…and I know your joy in finally unlocking the door to music. It takes time to develop an intuitive sense for the structure of music and it’s hard to gauge your progress. Glad you stuck with it.

You also hit on the biggest payoff: you’ll enjoy all music more. Part of that is because you’re now better at predicting where the music is going. When you predict correctly, it delights the pleasure center in your brain.

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