5 Easy Tricks to Learn Dance Timing

dance timing

In the past, I’ve tried to explain how to improve dance timing in a variety of ways. In return, I’ve frequently met with frustration. I recall one reader brusquely replying, ‘I’m not a music major.’

I needed something simpler, some ideas that worked for anyone. And so, after hours of research, I’m finally ready with five new exercises. I recently used these in a group class, and they worked great! I hope they work for you too.

dance timing

1. Dance to your pulse.

We have a natural rhythm that goes on inside us all the time. In fact, some say this is why we like music in the first place! Even if the simplest music leaves you frustrated, your pulse will never let you down.

  1. Find a quiet space.
  2. Find your pulse. If you’re not sure how, watch the video below.
  3. Now, try snapping your fingers, tapping your foot, nodding your head, etc. to your pulse. Try to find something that still allows you to feel your pulse.

2. Use music with a clear beat.

Once you can move to your pulse, it’s time to find music with a clear beat you can switch over to. I’ve included a few of my favourites below:

 

Continue to tap, nod, or march to the timing you hear, whichever is easiest. Not sure what the beat is? I explain it here.

3. Count the beat.

Here’s a crazy statistic: Counting aloud gets dance timing into our bones three times faster than just stepping to the beat. Why? First, because we focus on saying the beat, and then we hear ourselves say it. How’s that for efficient learning?

Using your pulse, or one of the songs above, start counting from the first beat you hear (you might want to start the song a few times to make sure you’ve caught the first one). Count up to 8, then start over.

Next, try tapping or matching in place to your vocal count - without losing track of the beat in the music. This helps you connect what you hear to a movement in your body.

dance timing

4. Count the timing.

Most instructors don’t teach dance timing by the beat, but by the rhythm of the dance they are teaching. For instance, Rumba timing is ‘slow-quick-quick’.

We can connect the timing of the dance to the beat of the music by counting one beat as a quick, and two beats as a slow. On a chart, it would look like this:

Beat count 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Timing (Rumba) S Q Q S Q Q

Try to find the rumba timing in the music or your pulse. Remember that for a slow, there will be one beat where you do nothing, because it’s included in the slower movement. You can also use your 8-counts, pausing on count ‘2’ and ‘6’ (see the chart above).

Finally, you can actually try dancing a rumba box! If you’re not sure what that is, see below (ignore all that talk about hip action):

5. Finding the ‘1’.

After all you’ve accomplished, consider this a bonus round to prepare you for the next level.

The ‘1’ is the most important beat in dance timing, because it’s where the biggest emphasis in the music is. If you can’t find this however, the first beat of the songs above all start on the ‘1’.

Return to the 8-count as before. Now, on the ‘1’ add an extra action, like clapping your hands or stamping your feet.

When you feel inspired, try dancing the rumba box again, clapping or snapping on the ‘1’ as you go. Don’t forget to say the count loud and clear! With every step, you are tying the beat to your voice, and your voice to your dance timing. Good luck!

dance timing

About the Author
Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 16 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. He currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada. Click here to see when he's teaching.

The Anatomy of Ballroom Dance Songs

ballroom dance songs

So far in section one and section two, we’ve focused on changes in energy in ballroom dance songs, and how we can use this to determine the pace and predict where the song is going. But some styles of music can prove much more complicated then the intro-verse-chorus pattern we discussed earlier. To better understand these, we must learn about musical form.

An Introduction to Form

To understand what musical form is, think of a sandwich.

ballroom dance songs
Mmmmm...

The slices of bread on the sandwich form the basic melody and tempo of a piece of music - we’ll call it the Rye Theme. The stuff in between the slices - ham, cheese, tomato and so on - compose elements of the song that vary from one musical phrase to the next. They might include vocals, tempo, harmonies, and so on. If we change the sandwich ingredients without changing the overarching structure, it becomes a variation on the Rye Theme. An example of a song with a repeating Rye Theme would be the Animal’s ‘House of the Rising Sun’.

The basic melody is provided by the twanging guitar that starts in at the intro, and all the variations are just layered on top of it.

What if the underlying theme changes? That would be like replacing the rye bread on the sandwich with say, pumpernickel. Both Rye and Pumpernickel can have their own variations, but they are now clearly distinct from each other. Listen to the Beatles ‘Yesterday’ to get the idea.

The musical structure is Rye, Rye, Pumpernickel, Rye, Pumpernickel, Rye, with each section roughly 16 seconds long (ignoring the intro and conclusion). Some ballroom dance songs have even more themes and variations, as we will see below.

Samba, Salsa

Two of the more predictable Latin music styles, both types of ballroom dance songs usually stick with a single theme, with variations layered inside. For example, Sum Svistu ‘Lo-Lo Dzama’.

The structure here is almost entirely Rye, with pumpernickel providing a short musical solo around 1:43. Otherwise however, the song follows a completely different pattern from what we’re used to - for instance, where is the chorus?

ballroom dancing songsListen for musical breaks and solos in between sections, as they don’t always follow an 8-count.

Merengue and Tango

These ballroom dance songs use a lot more themes, but also have very pronounced downbeats, so it’s easier to count time with them then many other styles. Sticking with the sandwich metaphor, let’s add two more themes: Ancient Grain (AG), and Whole Wheat (WW).

Tango tends to change themes constantly, although the original theme is sometimes repeated later. Here is Stanley Black and Orchestra’s ‘Rosita’.

Here’s the structure: Rye x2, pumpernickel, AG, WW x2, WW x2 (w/ higher octave variation), instrumental fade out.

Finally, merengue with it’s fast tempo and subtle energy changes can be one of the hardest of the ballroom dance songs to follow. Listen to ‘Abraza la Flaca’ by Danzas Del Mundo.

The full structure is as follows (each section is 16 beats long): Rye x2, pumpernickel, rye x2, pumpernickel, rye x2, AG x2, AG (w/ variations) x3, rye x2, AG x2, AG (w/ variations) x3, rye x2, WW (w/ variations) x3, quick fade. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, several of the rye and AG sections actually begin midway through the previous section. Practice counting out loud until you catch the pattern.

Ballroom Dance SongsIf some of you are pulling your hair out over this, give me a head’s up! I’ll be happy to break it down further if necessary.

Sources:
Study.com
Tango Musicology
Wikipedia

Ballroom Dance Music Structure: Variations

We’ve looked at how to understand and anticipate how most ballroom dance music is structured, so we can improve timing and musicality. But most songs won’t follow those rules perfectly. Today, we look at some of the little variations made within ballroom dance music structure.

The Early Phrase

In a perfect world, the downbeat, vocals, or ‘emphasis’ in the music all coincide with the ‘1’ of the music, making it easy to spot and step to. Musicians aren’t interested in making your life easy however, and often start playing an instrument, or singing, just before the ‘1’, that is, at the end of the previous phrase. A great example is the vocals in Harry McCormick Jr.’s ‘One Fine Thing’ (starting at 0:23).

[youtube width="606" height="454"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdaGMxrtYfM[/youtube]

To keep from getting confused, focus on another instrument that stays consistent; in this case, the drum and high-hat (making a ‘boom, tic’ sound in the background). If you count carefully, you’ll notice the instrumental phrase repeats every 4 ‘booms’ (listen to the piano). The first boom in the phrase (just after he starts singing a verse) is the ‘1’.

Ad Libbing the Sections

Frequently, ballroom dance music will make use of ad libbing, meaning part of the vocals or instruments deviate from an established melody to add intensity and variation. In some cases, the pattern can vary so much, it might trick you into thinking you are in the bridge, or an alternative chorus. Listen to the first build in Nelly Furtado’s ‘I’m Like a Bird’ (0:44), followed by the last ad libbed one (2:33).

[youtube width="606" height="454"]https://youtu.be/roPQ_M3yJTA[/youtube]

As with early phrasing, the secret lies in finding something in the music that stays relatively consistent (again, listen for the drum set) to stay on time. In this case, the lyrics stay the same, so we can still recognize the build-up to the chorus.

The Cool Down

An easier-to-explain variation in ballroom dance music is an optional tail-end for the chorus, before the next verse begins. We’ll call it ‘the Cool-Down’, for now.

The Cool Down is a short piece of music that smooths the transition of energy from a chorus back down to the next verse. It can sometimes be a repeat of the intro, or it can be completely different from the other sections of the song. Listen to the guitar riff just after the chorus in ‘Gimme Sympathy’ by Metric (1:19) to get the idea.

[youtube width="606" height="454"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=955p21oIgYw[/youtube]

So if it feels like the chorus has completed, but the next vocals haven’t started yet, don’t panic: keep following that drum beat, and maybe pull off something slow and dramatic until the vocals start again.

Musical Breaks

When I was first learning to dance salsa and merengue, one of the most frustrating tricks the music would play on me would be to suddenly remove the baseline and continue with only the vocals, or sometimes just a few sharp accents for me to find my way. A particularly challenging version of this is in the beginning of Ismael Rivera’s ‘Las Caras Lindas’.

When this happens, you have two options. The first is try to maintain the tempo until the beat returns (like trying to walk a straight line with your eyes closed - as you practice, you’ll gradually be able to do it longer.) The second option is to fit something dramatic into your dance that you can hold for the duration of the break, like a tango corte, or a dip.

At the very least, you should now be a lot more familiar with where ballroom dance music can trip you up. In our final section, we will be discussing types of dance music that completely deviate from the intro-verse-chorus-etc. we described in part one.

ballroom dance music Did I miss anything important? Let me know!

 

 

Spotting Patterns in Ballroom Dancing Music

Ballroom Dancing Music

One of the most frustrating barriers to becoming a great ballroom dancer is a lack of feeling for ballroom dancing music. You can know the moves, the technique, all of it, but if you can’t step on the beat or recognize where the ‘1’ is, everything still feels awkward.

Previously, I gave an overview on how to train your body to move to the beat of the music. Now let’s look deeper, at the musical patterns that every ballroom song shares. Because if we can identify those patterns, we will have our first clue for when to start and stay with the music. When understanding musical patterns, follow the following maxim: A repeat or a change in the musical pattern always corresponds to count ‘1’.

When talking about how to recognize musical patterns, we often refer to the energy of a song. Energy in music is a measure of the power, volume, and/or complexity of a song.

Ballroom Dancing Music
Some music will naturally have higher energy then others.

Usually the energy starts low (the introduction), builds to a crescendo (the chorus), and then waves up and down a few times before it fades out (the conclusion). Let’s look at the different patterns we encounter in ballroom dancing music, and how to identify them.

The Introduction

The opening, usually instrumental, before the first verse begins. The energy is at it’s lowest here, and builds towards the first verse, which begins with the introduction of a regular emphasis in the music, called a downbeat (often provided by a drum).

Ballroom Dancing Music
Trust the drum set. It is your friend.

The Verses

The verses are the meat of ballroom dancing music, because they repeat several times throughout the song. If there are vocals, they begin on the first verse. Each verse has an underlying melody that repeats midway through the verse. Since the song either changes or repeats on the ‘1’, the beginning and midpoint of a verse are both good places to practice listening to.

The Build

The energy here begins to build from the verse towards the chorus, usually taking the same amount of time as a verse. Builds aren’t used in every song however.

The Chorus

The energy reaches its peak here. Remember that the energy in ballroom dancing music corresponds to changes to power, complexity and volume: This could mean extra instruments, multiple vocals in harmony (or a single vocal if there wasn’t one before), and/or a ‘swell’ in volume. It may last one or two verses, sometimes changing slightly on the second verse (for example, the chorus in Ellie Goulding’s ‘Lights).

'Lights'. Starting from the beginning of chorus.

The Bridge

Used to break up the repeating pattern of a song, a bridge is a section of music that is unique to either the verses or the chorus. The energy will be different too, often lower then a chorus, but higher then a verse, although it may dip below both for dramatic effect as with Florence and the Machine’s ‘Cosmic Love’. Since it’s meant to change the pattern, bridges appear in the second half of a song, often preceding the final chorus.

'Cosmic Love', starting from the last 8 count before the bridge.

The Conclusion

The energy comes back down to rest with the conclusion or outro, sometimes in the form of an instrumental solo, or a repeat-and-fade.

All this is well-and-good, but we’re still lost until we can connect what we’ve learned to actual music. So I’ve added several songs with an explanation of their structure below.

Next week, I’ll talk a bit more about ballroom dance music theory, and where music may break from the patterns we’ve talked about. In the meantime, start training those ears!

Mira Pa' Dentro - Introduction, first verse, chorus, second verse, chorus, bridge (extended), build-up, chorus, conclusion (abrupt).

 

Moscas en la Casa - Introduction, first verse, second verse, chorus, repeat intro, 3rd verse, chorus, bridge, final verse, conclusion.

 

Por Una Cabeza - First verse, second verse, chorus, third verse, fourth verse, chorus to conclusion (instrumental solo).

 

Dark Waltz - Intro (extended), first verse, second verse, chorus, repeat intro, third verse, fourth verse, chorus, repeat intro, 1st half of chorus, bridge, 2nd half of chorus, conclusion (instrumental solo).

 

Can You Do This - Intro (short), first verse, build, chorus, second verse, build, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus, conclusion (instrumental solo).

 

If You Love Somebody Set Them Free - Intro, first verse, second verse, build, chorus, third verse, fourth verse, build, chorus, bridge, fifth verse, sixth verse, build, chorus, conclusion (repeat-and-fade).

Great Ballroom Music for Practicing

If you're reading this, odds are you like good ballroom music. Whether it’s for a performance, a social, or for practice, your favourite ballroom music energizes you, makes you want to strength further, push harder, dance fiercer.

All too often, I hear the same tired favourites when I go to dance halls and socials. So today, I’m sharing some of my top favourite ballroom dance songs in each genre, and why I like each one. I hope they inspire and delight you.

Cha Cha - Eliane Elias ‘Oye Como Va’

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVUnDpABijM[/youtube]

A refreshing and lounge-y take on an old classic, this one may not rock your socks off, but it will definitely get you grooving in your hips. Good for socials or for practicing.

East Coast Swing - Sam Sparrow ‘Black & Gold’

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHuebHTD-lY[/youtube]

The swing era may be officially over, but doesn’t mean your ballroom swing music is limited to Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin. The modern funky beat keeps the energy high without killing you with the tempo, and the lyrics are great (if you listen to those). Makes a great performance piece.

Foxtrot - Harry Connick, Jr. ‘One Fine Thing’

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdaGMxrtYfM[/youtube]

If Harry’s crooning doesn’t put a smile on your face, the beautiful piano riff certainly will. More laid back then the trumpet-themed classics, and probably a good one to ask your crush out on. Excellent for socials, but could make a classy performance feel good too.

Merengue - J Balvin ‘Eras Así’

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRx08BFsDvo[/youtube]

I confess it - I’m not much of a fan of traditional ballroom music when it comes to merengue. This one combines the merengue feel with a club beat that will get your foot tapping on or off the dance floor. Works for pretty much anything you want.

Rumba - Fausto Papetti ‘La playa’

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glFtGnkABno[/youtube]

Reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino films, Fausto puts a western spin on the traditional rumba rhythm. Downtempo and jazzy, this one is probably better for socials then performing, and - in my students’ experience - tends to be easier to follow then a traditional rumba.

Salsa - Miguel Enriquez ‘Abre Que Voy’

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gsz2Na3qyew[/youtube]

Slow enough to be danceable at a social, with a dramatic build-up that works well for performances. Especially helpful for those newer to salsa percussion, and with lyrics that are about appreciation of salsa music and it’s musicians, what’s not to like?

Samba - Leonard Cohen ‘Woke Up This Morning’

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfi9s2b2E6A[/youtube]

Not your parent's ballroom music, and definitely not your classic samba beat. Nevertheless, this one has great tempo and slinky as a cold hard mafioso. Dramatic and easy to follow, it's perfect for a performance.

Tango (Classic) - The Tango Project ‘Por Una Cabeza’

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1oUeWzaLEE[/youtube]

Well yes, this IS a classic, but this particular variation does it great justice. The strength of the chorus contrasts sharply with the softness of the verses in between, so you can create different emotions more easily. Practicing, social dance, performances - it works for all of them.

Tango (Nuevo) - Bajofondo ‘Montserrat’

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0z3wKMrsTEk[/youtube]

This is, hands down, my all-time favourite tango song on the planet. Dark and brooding, a brilliant combination of modern and classic instruments makes this tune as delicious and complex as a 30-year old wine. Definitely best for a performance.

Waltz (Slow) - Dickon Hinchliffe ‘Waltz’

This one is hard to find (hence no YouTube video), but you can spot it on the Married Life Soundtrack on iTunes. The beautiful piano melody starts minimal, and gradually swells to fill even the largest dance halls. Not too challenging to follow, and well-suited for just about anything.

Waltz (Viennese) - Fredrika Stahl ‘Pourquoi Pas Moi?’

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ltIwL_1O4Y[/youtube]

I picked up this gem recently, and, like with the slow waltz song above, immediately fell in love with the piano tune. Soft and playful as a group of good friends out for a drink. A bit fast for most dancers, I usually slow it down a bit for socials, or leave it as it is for a lovely performance.

West Coast Swing - Olly Murs ‘Heart Skips a Beat (feat. Rizzle Kicks)’

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5dFe-WKuPs[/youtube]

X-Factor finalist of 2009, Olly Murs gives a pop groove to this catchy tune. With plenty of breaks and pauses for musical interpretation, this could be an easier performance number, or just a good social/practice piece.

An Intro to Ballroom Arm Styling (P2)

An Intro to Ballroom Arm Styling

In our last article, we covered some of the basic ballroom arm styling we use to accentuate our body movements. Today, we take a look at how to modify our arm styling to better express different styles of movement.

An Intro to Ballroom Arm StylingYour arm movement should travel out as a result of body movement. If your body swings to the left, your arm styling should travel in the same direction, after the body has begun to move.

Matching the Music

Obviously, an important part of expressing the music is matching it’s tempo. If the music is fast, your body will move faster and your arms will follow. Regardless of when your arm movement starts, it should aways fully extend or complete at the same instant as your weight change.

An Intro to Ballroom Arm Styling
It takes good timing...

 

Sharp VS Soft

The music may be punctuated by sharp staccato beats (like a tango), or a softer, continuous sound, (most waltzes). Your ballroom arm styling can reflect these changes by completing their movement with a sharper flick of the wrist, or a more slowly, as if dancing in water. In this case, it is the final punctuation that gives the sharp or soft finish - even if you started slowly, you can still add a powerful exclamation at the end with a snap of the wrist, and vice versa.

An Intro to Ballroom Arm StylingAs the music changes, so should your styling. Otherwise, it’s like eating the same meal every day for a year - even if it was great to start, it WILL get boring eventually.

An Intro to Ballroom Arm Styling
Despite what your dog says.

The Role of Tension

What if the music is strong and aggressive, but lacks staccato? (For example, listen to ‘The Assassin's Tango’ here.) We can increase tension in our arms and reduce the bend in our elbow and wrist, creating strong lines of power. Or, if the music has become more fun and playful, we can relax our arms and curve them more to create a more sensual or sexy look, as with rumbas and salsa dances.

An Intro to Ballroom Arm StylingMore tone and straighter arms is considered more ‘masculine’, and softer, curved arms more ‘feminine’. It’s usually wise to err on the side of your respective sex.

An Intro to Ballroom Arm Styling
It's bad enough they make you wear THIS.

Play with these variations in movement with songs you are comfortable with. Find out what matches the music, and as always, be patient. Sensing how to best express what we hear may well take a lifetime. The reward is a better expression of the grace and beauty you hear, both within you, and to those watching.

An Intro to Ballroom Arm Styling
What’s YOUR biggest challenge with your ballroom arm styling?

What Ballroom Dance IS This Anyway?? Part Two

What Ballroom Dance IS This Anyway?? Part 2In 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

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.

What Ballroom Dance IS This Anyway?? Part 2
C'mon, open it faster!!!

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.

 

Merengue

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.

What Ballroom Dance IS This Anyway?? Part 2
Can you believe this dance was originally considered scandalous? True story.

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.

What Ballroom Dance IS This Anyway?? Part 2
This is either a tango, or it's gonna be a good night...

 

 

What Ballroom Dance IS This Anyway??

You know what’s frustrating? Learning some great moves in a dance you love, then going out to a social dance and realizing you can’t tell what songs you can use them to.

What ballroom dance IS this
So, uh... This is a foxtrot, right?

Yet, despite how confusing it can be at the beginning, there ARE certain instruments or sound styles that traditional music of a dance genre use. Let’s look at a few of the most popular: salsa, cha cha, rumba, waltz, and tango.

Salsa

Salsa music takes many forms, but is generally upbeat, joyful music with a jazzy feel. Some of the common instruments you will hear are the clave, the conga drum, the cow bell, piano, bass and horns. In Toronto, I generally find the music tends to separate into three categories; a ‘traditional’ sound with lots of horns and the cowbell in the chorus, an afro-cuban jazz with more piano and a relatively downtempo sound, and a more tribal salsa with an emphasis on percussions (usually including at least one percussion instrumental). There’s plenty of overlap between the types, but don’t worry, the same steps work for all of them. I’ve included an classic sample piece below.

Cha cha

The Cha cha is a slower, more purposeful sound, but every bit as high energy as the salsa. Characterized by the syncopated rhythm of the guiro (also called a scrapper), the congo drum, or both, the cha can resemble a very upbeat rumba. Unlike the complicated rumba beats however, the cha cha drum beat tends to stay fairly consistent, except for the ‘cha-cha’ syncopation. As the cha cha is danced to a variety of modern music nowadays, the tempo might be the most reliable way of identifying it. Give the following classic cha cha a listen.

Rumba

Slow and sensual enough to give you romantic thoughts, the rumba most of us in North America dance to consists of the Spanish guitar backed by African percussion instruments. The tempo is the same as the cha cha, but listen for a more low-key and romantic sound. As with cha cha, modern instruments have replaced most of the traditional ones, making some cha cha and rumba songs interchangeable. The following sample however, is undeniably rumba.

What ballroom dance IS this
The slower tempo gives you a chance to strike all kinds of awesome poses.

Waltz (Slow)

Half the speed of its speedy cousin, the Viennese waltz, slow waltz is relaxed and graceful, often incorporating flowing strings with piano and a drum for the beat. A word of caution however: the drum beat ranges from clear and obvious, to so soft you have to strain to hear it. Both slow and Viennese waltzes use 3/4 timing instead of 4/4 timing, so if you know the difference, that can be the easiest way to spot a waltz. Here’s a slow waltz one with a stronger beat.

Tango (American)

The American tango is both dramatic and playful, angry and strong and deadly soft, making it a perfect soundtrack for dramatic dance shape and dips, or just making love on a bearskin rug.

What ballroom dance IS this
Or both at once, if you're flexible enough.

Actually, the sudden and powerful changes and emphasis in tango makes it one of the easiest of the dance to spot. Keep your ears open for marching drums, bandoneons (a kind of accordion), strong and sharp piano notes, as well as violins, a double bass, and flute. Present-day tango also includes the tango nuevo, which tends to mix traditional instruments with a dance club beat. The following is a more traditional American tango.

Hopefully this gives you a better idea of how to spot these five types of music, so you can ask a partner - or be asked - to dance with confidence. And for those of you interested in identifying some of the other dance styles, post it in the comments, and stay tuned for part 2.
what ballroom dance is this