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Understanding Ballroom Music

If you can count to three, you can learn to dance. For dancing purposes, we’re going to assume that all types of music are built in multiples of two beats except for the Waltz which is built in multiples of three. If you need to review our glossary page before beginning, click here.

Remember that for dancing purposes, all dances are built in multiples of two beats except for the Waltz which is built in multiples of three beats. This means that for all dances other than the Waltz, we will be predominantly using eighth notes for triple steps, quarter notes for quick steps, and half notes for slow steps. For the Waltz, we will be relying on quarter notes with 3 beats per measure.

Getting in Rhythm

In music, “time signatures” tell us how many “beats” are in a “measure.” A time signature looks like this:

In sheet music, the time signature appears at the beginning of the very first measure. Music is broken into measures which are separated from other measures by a line. Think of a measure as a ruler that will only allow a certain amount of “beats.” Music in 3/4 will only allow “3” beats in each measure. The bottom number in the 3/4 time signature tells you that a quarter note gets “1” count. For the novice, the most important number in the time signature as far as dancing is concerned is the top number. For example, in the time signature “3/4,” the most important thing for the dancer to look at is the top number “3.” This tells you that there are “3” beats to a measure. This is the time signature for the Waltz. In the time signature “4/4,” the top number “4” tells you that there are four beats in each measure (four is a multiple of two). This is the time signature for the Fox Trot and the Swing.

In the Ballroom for Beginners Dance Kit, we will be focusing on three main dances: the Waltz (which is built in multiples of three), the Fox Trot and the Swing (both built in multiples of two). Two things that are very important when you get out on the dance floor are 1) determining what kind of music is being played and 2) which type of dance will work for that music. Basically there are two main rhythms that are played, so if you can distinguish between these two, you’re set!

Is This a Waltz?

The Waltz is one of the easiest dances to distinguish because of its unique “3/4” time signature. If you listen long enough to the music, you will notice a distinct “one, two, three...one, two, three...one, two, three...” to the music. Try saying “cantaloupe” over and over in your head “can-ta-loupe can-ta-loupe can-ta-loupe.” If it fits to the music, it’s a Waltz. To hear some Waltz music you can click here to download one of our Waltz MP3s. Music for the Waltz looks like this:

Fox Trot & Swing

The Fox Trot and Swing can both be danced to the same music because they are built in multiples of two. When you are listening to the music, you will be able to count out “one, two...one, two...one, two...one, two...” to the music. Try saying “watermelon” over and over to yourself, “wa-ter-me-lon wa-ter-me-lon.” If it fits into the music, then you have a Fox Trot or a Swing. So which one should you use? Often times you will see some dancers on the dance floor doing the Swing and some doing the Fox Trot. However, the Swing is designed with the potential to move very fast, whereas the Fox Trot is typically danced at a slow to medium tempo. When choosing between the Fox Trot and the Swing, you will generally be safe if you choose the Swing for the “fast” songs and the Fox Trot for the “slower” or more “medium” tempo songs. The exception to this is the West Coast Swing which is designed for a slower tempo. In the Ballroom for Beginners Dance Kit, when we refer to the Swing, we are referring to the East Coast styles of Swing. Click here to download a Fox Trot MP3 or click here to download a Swing MP3. Music for the Fox Trot and Swing looks like this:

Click here to continue on to the next section of Ballroom Basics.

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