Music and dancing

I muck around with music a bit (I tend to sing for better keyboard players, although I did bash out tunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber for Dummies at the last singing party we had), and I also dance. I thought it’d be fun to try to get these two things together in my head, by working out how the music for ballroom dancing works. After a bit of Googling for pages written by people who know more than I do, here it is. Seeing as there are better musicians and better dancers than me reading this, they can correct me if I get it wrong.


Foxtrot is in 4/4 time, between 112 and 120 beats per minute (according to these people). It’s typically danced to Big Band music. The music emphasises beats 1 and 3. I think I can see that in A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, where the accompaniment either hits more notes on the treble clef, or uses the bass line to keep that emphasis. In Bobby Darin’s version, the brass is hitting those beats in the intro.

The steps are typically 1 beat or 2 beats long, and we call them “quick” and “slow”, respectively (if I’m writing it down, I’ll abbreviate to Q and S). The basic rhythm of the dance is slow-quick-quick, which means the first two steps hit the emphasised beats. Some figures in the dance vary the rhythm, but the “slow” step, if there is one, starts either on beat 1 or beat 3. Here are the Hiltons giving us something to aspire to, with music and the slows and quicks, starting about 1:25.

<lj-cut text=”Waltz, Quickstep, Tango, over”> Waltz

Waltz is in 3/4 time, as any fule kno . The tempo for slow waltz is about 84 to 90 beats per minute. The music strongly emphasises beat 1.

The steps are typically one step per beat, one-two-three, leading off strongly on beat 1. Sometimes, to get more steps into a bar, one of the beats is split into two half beats, with the second half of the split beat being counted “and”. For example, in the whisk/chassé combination we count the chassé “one, two and three”. Once again, the Hiltons show us how it’s done, starting about 1:20.

The Viennese Waltz is a lot faster, about 180 beats per minute. It’s typically done to classical stuff from Johann Strauss, although other possibilities exist, and of course, a fast waltz gives you the opportunity to dance to silly songs. It’s danced at 1 step per beat, and the steps are mostly turns in each direction as you progress around the floor, and the fleckrl, where the couple rotate about each other rapidly in the centre of the room to show off. There are no split beats in it, it’s fast enough already. Here are some good people doing it.


Quickstep and foxtrot have common roots. Musically, quickstep is in 4/4 again with the emphasis on beats 1 and 3, but faster, at around 200 beats per minute. Again, it’s typically danced to fast Big Band or jazz music, usually about a drum kit that’s getting lonely waiting for its owner to come back from World War II, or some such.

The steps are timed as 2 beat slows and 1 beat quicks like in foxtrot, and the rhythm is typically slow-quick-quick. But the figures we dance in quickstep have more in common with waltz than foxtrot. It’s also more common for figures to roll over the end of the bar, so that you lead off on beat 3 sometimes (the chassé and quarter turn that everyone learns as a beginner does this: it’s phrased as SQQS SQQS). Despite it being fast, we still get split beats in quickstep, too, usually called “quick-a-quick” (there’s obviously not enough time to even say the word “and”).


La Cumparsita is the quintessential tango. We’re still in 4/4, at about 130 beats per minute. The music is staccato (although I’m not sure how well the dots over the notes have come out in the image on the right). There’s a sudden “ba-dump” into beat 1: the piano has a half beat on the bass line of the previous bar in the example on the right, which came from We usually feel like there’s an 8 beat phrase over the 4 beat bars.

Ballroom tango comes from Argentina via a bit of cleaning up in Paris. Again, there are 2 beat slows and 1 beat quicks, and the odd split beat too. Typically figures are danced quick-quick-slow. It looks nothing like foxtrot or quickstep, though: the style of it matches the staccato style of the music. The dancers stalk around on the slow steps and hit the quicks as quick as they can, and then stop as still as they can, so that the quicks end up being shortened. Here are Marco Cavallaro and Joanne Clifton having some fun with it. I saw them at a ball some years ago: they were great.

Next time, I’ll try and work out what the Latin dances are about.

Danceblog: PaulW-o-rama

T’other Paul W stepped into the breach for both Clive and Bruce this week, and jolly good he was too.

<lj-cut text=”Doing our bit for heteronormativity”>
The foxtrot from last time now has an ending, so go look at that if you care.

Natural turn SQQ
Pivot turn: back L, pivot to to point RF to diag centre, forward R on heel SS, stay low and rise into lock
Forward lock, L, R, L QQS
Quick open reverse forward R, forward L, side R starting to turn L, LF back under body in CBMP, back R, S SQQS
Sway thingy: back L to point to wall with L knee bent, stay there and rotate slightly to R leading her to ponce around a bit. SS
Barrel roll: QQS to R, swaying R, turn R and QQS to wall swaying L, turn R and QQS up LoD facing centre swaying R, turn R and QQS to centre swaying L finishing diag centre pointing to opposite corner (not the one between the current long side and short side, the one after that)
Locks into corner, SQQS
Natural turn SQQ
Scoop: back L, side R to face diag centre of new line, lowering into knee with sway to L, SS wait there for SS
Sway to R and lockstep out on L, R, L, QQS
Side R with sway to L, forward L outside partner with sway to R, SS

Alternate easier ending, from quick open reverse:
Chasse to left,
Natural turn,
Chasse to right aiming to far corner of short side with sway to R (small steps to allow lady to move ahead),
Rotate to left shoulder lead and forward lock into corner,
Natural turn
Spin turn etc. etc.

Spin turn
Back locks R, LR, L 1 2& 3 maintaining right shoulder back to end of bar
Back R turning L, pivot, side L, forward R continuing to turn to face centre, side L under body in CBMP, leading lady to step through 1 2 3&
Back L, chasse to left RLR 1 2&3, take your time over first step
Curving walks L, R, L 1 2 3
Outside spin: back L with toe slightly in, take heel of RF past lady’s right side and step around her, side L to end backing diag centre
Pivots (2), 1&2 3 1&2 3 (I can’t seem to make the feet work for these when I’m dancing them around the kitchen, since a 180 degree pivot on each beat leaves me on the wrong foot)
Natural turn

Hip twist to fan
Hockey stick ending
Forward, replace, back lock back
Back, replace (leading lady to alamana), forward lock forward (she locks forward towards you to end on your RHS)
Forward, replace, small cha-cha-cha to left as leading lady open out, replace, spiral, (she has 4 1, not 4&1 to give a foot change), ending in loose shadow hold
Cuban breaks with RF
Cuban breaks with LF
Forward R, spot turn, forward lock
Forward lock,
Forward lock (she turns on this one to get her foot change)

Paul’s Latin top top for the evening was about stepping forward or back in cha or rumba, where the passing foot should have the toe pointing down and the knee as high as possible without lifting the toe off the floor by the time it passes the stationary foot and then take the weight as late as possible starting with the ball of the foot. He was also keen for side steps to arrive with the body over the step rather than going foot-knee-hip, but allowing enough give to settle into the hip afterward. If I do all this, I forget how to do anything with my arms, but presumably practice makes it second nature.

Danceblog: paint the line

<lj-cut text=”Contains explicit steps”>
Bruce’s B waltz

Starts across a short side:
Natural turn,
Spin turn, (if you weren’t on a short side, you could over turn this)
Turning lock ending diag to centre on new LoD (sway to R on both natural and turning lock, but straight for spin turn)
Running weave: forward R, across lady L, back R, back L, 1 2 & 3, finishing with lady outside on man’s RHS, man backing diag centre. I’ve forgotten the sway 🙁
Tumble turn: back R (woman back in line) pivoting to diag wall, tightly curve steps to left, L, R, L for 1 2 & 3, to finish backing LoD. Sway starts to right and switches to left to assist the final step of the turn.
Oversway: back R, side L to point foot to wall, rotate foot and lower into left knee, right leg straight out to side, 1, 2, 3. Stretch up left hand side of body, allow right arm to give her some more space (one bar). Close R to L maintaining sway, rise and straighten into promenade position, take left foot to side in PP and we’re off again, 1, 2, 3

Clive’s C quickstep

Natural turn,
Open impetus to end in PP diag to centre.
Chasse to left,
Wing (SQQ for woman, only two steps for man obviously)
Chasse to right,
Back L, back R, lock L, SQQ
Two runs back R, L, QQ,
Back R, lock L, back R, QQS,
Back L, tipple to right with sway to right, SQ&Q
Swivel to left shoulder lead, LF forward into lock diag to wall on new LoD, QQS.

Clive also had a waltz which had the overturned spin turn/turning lock ending closed rather than PP and talking a toe pivot on the final step (L) to end backing LoD, but I’ve forgotten what happened after that, so traumatised was I about not ending in PP. Anyone?