Start by determining the song’s tempo (i.e., it’s speed.) This simply means getting a feel for whether
the song is slow or fast or somewhere in between. Sometimes the instrumentation or vocals in a song can fake you out. For example, a song may sound very upbeat but has rather slow beat. Until you get good at gauging a song’s tempo, just tap your toes or fingers to the beat of the song, becoming a human metronome for its true speed.
2. Count the beats
As you are tapping out the speed of a song, count the beats per measures. If it’s easy to count 1-2-3-4, it is not a Waltz, Viennese Walt, Paso Doble or Samba. If 1-2-3 matches the music, you’ll know it is Waltz, and once you determined the tempo, you can tell it is Waltz (slow) or Viennese Waltz (faster).
3. Listen to the Rhythm (feel)
If the song is not a Waltz, your next step is to pay attention to the song’s rhythm or feel. Is it happy, romantic, dramatic, bluesy, melancholic, or funky? Does it have a Latin/Afro-Cuban beat? Does it make you want to bounce, glide, twirl or march? Listening to the songs’ rhythm and character will help you sort it into one of a few broad categories: Ballroom, Latin, Swing, or other (Hustle, Country Western, Nightclub Two Step, etc.).
For example, say the song has a Latin rhythm. The most common Latin dances in ballroom/social dancing are Rumba, Cha Cha, Samba and Salsa. Rumba is the only one of these with a slower, romantic feel. So if the song is like that, you’re ready to Rumba
And if the song’s rhythm is upbeat, you can eliminate Rumba and then parse out which of the remaining three dances it might be. Samba has a very distinctive “boom-a-boom” percussive beat (think Brazilian Carnival music). If you’re hearing that, it’s probably a Samba. If you’re not, congratulations, you’ve narrowed it down to a Cha Cha or Salsa.
4. When in doubt, step it out
Continuing with the same example, say you’ve figured out the song is either a Cha Cha or a Salsa. Cha Chas usually have a “cha-cha-cha” in their beat, although you may not be able to hear this until you have more experience.
At this point, it is time to experiment with the basic steps in each dance. Do this on your own in place, so small and casual people might not even notice. Try a few Cha Cha basics and see how well your feet match the music. Then try the Salsa basic. Usually, one will feel like the right fit and voila, you have successfully determined what dance to do to this song!
number of beats of music for each step (weight change or action). For example,
in Waltz, the count for the Whisk is 123, with a beat value of 1-1-1. The
Chassé from Promenade Position that may follow the Whisk has a count of
12&3 with a beat value of 1-1/2-1/2-1. In Foxtrot the count for the
Feather Step is SQQ with a beat value of 2- 1-1. See also the Musical
Also called timing. Each dance
has its own specific count(s) which help define its feel and character. For
example, in Waltz the basic count is 123, while in Tango counts vary (i.e.
SQQS, QQS QQS, SQQS QQ) among others. See also: Musical Information Chart.
method of keeping track of how many measures (bars) of music are used in a
particular figure or amalgamation. Both the beats and bars are counted at the
same time. Examples of counting in beats and bars are:
4/4-time (used in Foxtrot, Quickstep and Tango): 1234, 2234, 3234, 4234, etc.
3/4-time (used in Waltz and Viennese Waltz): 123, 223, 323, 423, etc.
In music terminology, the downbeat is every beat in
a measure (bar). If a measure is counted 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &...
the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 are considered to be the downbeats, and the
&’s are the upbeats.
In dancing, the term downbeat generally refers to
the first beat of every measure. It is important to identify the downbeat in
order to start correctly and stay on time with the music.
(used in Foxtrot and Tango): the 1 is the downbeat. However, downbeat can
also be used to mean both the 1 and 3, with the 1 being dominant. In this
case, the 2 and 4 are considered upbeats.
(used in Waltz and Viennese Waltz): the 1 is the downbeat and the 2 and 3 are
specific number of measures that make up a complete “thought” of music. It is
similar to a sentence, having a clear beginning and end. Phrases can be as
small as 2 measures or as large as 32 measures.
Dancing or choreographing a
figure or group of figures (amalgamation) to fit the phrases in a piece of
music. For example, starting a new figure on the first beat of a new phrase
and ending the final figure on the last beat of the phrase.
the regular recurrence of accented beats that give character to music. In
dancing, when someone has “good rhythm,” they are typically relaxed, well
coordinated, precisely on time with the music and physically expressing the
subtleties in the music.
In music terminology, upsetting or changing the
meter or pulse of a piece of music by shifting the accent to a weaker beat.
In dancing, to deviate from the basic timing of a
dance such as dividing a beat of music into two or more parts. For example,
the basic timing of most Waltz figures is 123, whereas the count for the
Chassé from Promenade Position has a syncopation of 12&3.
speed of the music is determined by the number of measures in one minute of
music. A higher number means the music is faster, and a lower number means
the music is slower. To determine the tempo of a song, count in beats and
bars for one minute. Tempo (plural: tempi) may also be expressed in beats per
Indicates the number of beats
in each measure of music. The upper number is the number of beats in a
measure, and the lower number indicates the type of musical note that
represents one beat. For example, in 4/4-time music, there are 4 beats in a
measure, and a quarter note represents one beat. See also the Musical
For the International Style
Ballroom dances, the time signatures are:
(used in Foxtrot, Quickstep, and Tango*): 4 beats in a measure.
(used in Waltz and Viennese Waltz): 3 beats in a measure.
(used in Tango*): 2 beats in a measure.
*Tango music is written in
both 4/4 and 2/4 “time”, with 4/4 being the more common.
terminology, the upbeat is the second half of each beat and is referred to as
&.For example, if a measure is counted 1&2&3&4&, the
&s are considered to be the upbeats, and the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 are
considered the downbeats.
the upbeats are the whole beats that follow the downbeat(s). This is most
easily understood through the following examples:
(used in most dances): the 2 and 4 are the upbeats and the 1 and 3 are the
(used in Waltz and Viennese Waltz): the 2 and 3 are the upbeats and the 1 is