Everyone has that song (or ten) that comes on and you think, “That’s my jam.” And, just a guess, there’s a good chance that song isn’t Sting’s Ocean Waltz. Fortunately, in a practice space, you have the power of choice; you are your own D.J. As they say, with great power comes great responsibility. The music that you choose for practice affects how you dance or there would be no point in dancing to music. Following are a few suggestions on how to use music to enhance your practice.
- Practice to music that gets you pumped! Music that inspires you and makes you want to dance, generally gives you the energy to dance longer. It makes practice more pleasurable. For example, I’d much rather Viennese waltz over and over to The Weekend’s Earned It or Anna Nalick’s Breathe (2 AM) than The Blue Danube. I begin to feel fatigue earlier if I’m not invested in the music. Plus, it makes me look forward to the next day, if I have the promise of my favorite playlist.
- Use music to get into the character of a dance. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a classy cha. However, if you put on Duffy’s Mercy or James Newton Howard’s The Hanging Tree Rebel Remix, the sassy, fierce flirt comes out and I connect tonally to the dance character. I prefer to practice to music that helps me identify with the dance’s character. This could be anything from the latest pop hit to a more orchestral tune. This character practice becomes associated through repetition with the steps and comes more easily on the competition floor.
- Play with music genre. One great exercise to focus on the lead-follow is to play a different dance’s music. For example, while practicing a rumba, you might play a Viennese waltz. This takes away the urge to stay with the music and allows you to focus more on your partner connection.
- Use slower tempos. Slow music is a wonderful practice tool. The slower tempos allow you to focus on all of the minute technical details that might get lost in the excitement of faster movement. For example, I love running through cha at a samba tempo. It lets me concentrate on my leg and hip action. Instead of having to rush through intricate hip movement, I have the opportunity to fully explore the motion. The slower tempo makes it easier to break down every movement in extreme detail and to build muscle memory for the faster music.
However, it is important to remember that while slow music is a great practice tool, competitions abide by particular tempo ranges (see Identifying Ballroom Music: Tempo). At a competition, it is unlikely that one will dance to something much slower than the average tempo for a dance. DanceSport judge and coach Dan Calloway recommends opening and concluding practices with rounds at a competitive tempo, while using slower music in between to further examine technical elements. This allows the dancer to not only reap the benefits of using slower music but to also begin applying those lessons at a more competitive speed and perhaps even to feel a change from rounds at the beginning of a practice to those at the end.
Remember that at the end of the day, the music that you use for practice must work for you and, ideally, your partner. Take some musical chances and throw on something your normally wouldn’t dance to in practice. You just might find that you like it.
Share your thoughts on the role of music in your practice below!