Identifying Ballroom Music: Characteristics

The characteristics of ballroom music are closely tied to the characteristics of the ballroom dance. It wouldn’t fit to dance a romantic rumba to a heavy metal song or a classy foxtrot to a country tune. Following are some general musical characteristics that go with particular competitive dances.

Smooth and Ballroom

  • Waltz: instrumental, often a slow ballad if there are vocals. “Let it Go” from Frozen is an example of a slow ballad.
    • ex. Ocean Waltz Sting
  • Foxtrot: jazzy or classical. Think show tunes and Sinatra.
    • Georgia on my Mind Artie Shaw & his Orchestra
  • Tango: often orchestra, dramatic, and fierce with an occasional march feel
    • Grand Guignol Bajofondo
  • VW: fast waltz with an emphasis on the 1
    • Breakaway Kelly Clarkson
  • Quickstep: Like foxtrot, quickstep has a jazzy feel
    • Umbrella Catch This Beat

Rhythm and Latin

  • Cha cha: music is emphasized on the 1 and frequently has a percussive element on 4+, generally latin music though encompasses pop too
    • Pao Pao Cha Cha Cha Elli Kokkinou
  • Rumba (rhythm): slow and sustained latin music, though like cha cha it is now encompassing pop, generally the first beat is accented
    • Sway Michael Bublé
  • Rumba (latin): Like American rumba, latin is slow and sustained. However, latin rumba places an accent on the 4 in the movement. A musical emphasis on the 2 is helpful for beginning latin timing.
    • Je t’aime encore Lara Fabian
    • Bolero: Slow and sustained, more similar in tempo to latin rumba. However, like American, the emphasis is on the first beat.
      • Something Your Heart has been Telling You Bette Midler
  • East Coast Swing: upbeat and can vary from jazzy swing to pop swing
    • Miss Kiss Kiss Bang Alex Swings Oscar Sings!
  • Jive: upbeat, frequently with an accent on the even beats (ex. 2, 4, etc)
    • L’Amore E Femmina (Out of Love) DJ Maksy vs Nina Zilli
  • Mambo: uptempo, ideally with an emphasis on the 2
    • Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) Beyoncé
  • Samba: strong downbeat, generally Bahia samba music
    • ex. Buum Chika Cha Antoine Delvig
  • Paso Doblé: dramatic march
    • ex. Espana Cani

Keep in mind that this serves as a general guide for competitive music. When practicing on my own or choreographing a piece, I love to break the rules and tango to a folk song or cha to a variation on Beethoven’s 5th.

For more on practice ballroom music, check out the upcoming post “Identifying Ballroom Music: Practice.”

Share your thoughts in the comments below on characteristics of ballroom music!


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