I am the organiser for a big band,and we have recently been booked for a charity dance ball. We will play for about 3 hours with breaks of course.
Since we are inexperienced at playing for dancers I need some advice on how a typical repetoire for a dance ball might look.
I imagine in 3 hours we will be playing around 40 pieces. I would like to know how many walzes, how many Rumba, Foxtrot, Slow Fox, etc etc.
The audience is likely to be fairly mixed in terms of both age and dance ability. There will also be an experienced dance pair attending so I imagine that they will be at least a small number of the more difficult dances.
Hi, as organizer of dance parties for ballroom and latin students I would suggest: Tango and Cha-Cha-cha are 1st place , Waltz and Rumba - 2nd, Jive/Swing and Salsa/Mambo- 3rd, Foxtrot , V. Waltz, Samba, Quickstep , according to experienced dancers request. So I would suggest : 8 Tangos , 8 Chachas, 6 Waltzes , 6 Rumbas , 4 Swing/Jive/Rock'n'rolls, 4 Salsa/Mambos, 3-5 melodies of other dances by request. Hope that this would be helpful.
I would modify LetsGoDance's recommendations to be a little heavier in Foxtrot (of course the distribution varies with the audience). And I also recommend this document:
It is a little book written by a bandleader who is also a dancer. He talks about the correct tempo for dancing, and why it matters. Music that is too fast or too slow for a given dance is simply harder (or impossible) to dance to than music in the correct tempo. This author's discussion of this topic is clear and to the point. Since the original poster says his band is "inexperienced at playing for dancers," this book could be helpful.
Most BR songs are around 2mins 30 secs long. Even at 3 mins you will need 20 selections per hr.
If this is just a regular non/ mixed BR type crowd, who just like to shuffle around the floor, then your program may be limited to dances they are comfortable with.
You might open with a " swing " type song to get a feel for the crowd .Not to fast, this will accommodate both the swing dancers and those who like social foxtrot.
IF its a BR crowd then, go to a med pace Rumba. Follow with a waltz and then a Cha Cha.
This selection, will give you a handle on how you might structure the rest of the nite . You then need to play the dances in 2 of each ,rotating the W/ Ft and Qsteps with the Rumbas Chas and swings. Tango is the odd ball .. you may get less people for that, but try one and see how it "flies ".
By the way, you didnt say which country you reside.. this can affect the selection .
In my opinion, the mixture of music greatly depends on the age category of the dancers. An older crowd would favor more foxtrot, waltz, rumba, etc. A younger crowd would favor more swing (East Coast), cha cha, salsa, etc. Beyond this, my recommendation would be to have your base player and drummer emphasize the beat a little more than they are probably use to, don't drive it too hard, but provide emphasis. Dancers at all levels appreciate clearly hearing, or sensing, the "one" beat. There's nothing worse to me than trying to find the one beat in a song. Also, the bpm (beats per minute) is important. If you browse the "music store" section of this web site, you will find song titles listed by type of music plus the bmp for each song. This will give you an idea of the bpm for each dance. One final thought, I would suggest avoiding any music with changing tempo's or timing. Nothing worse for amateurs than trying to dance to music that starts slowly and then speeds up, or changes in the middle from 4/4 to 3/4 or 6/8.
"It is not clear to me what a swing dance is? Could you explain?
I don't believe that the swing dance is part of the european balldance repetoire. However as a big band we of course play a lot of swing tunes."
Europeans with exposure to competitive ballroom would be familiar with "jive" as a fast swing dance.
They may have also seen and adopted more original/social swing forms such as lindy hop. The movie "Swing Kids" probably doesn't exactly claim to be quite a documentary of youth dancing in Germany just before the war, but it probably has some inspiration from actual trends.
There is some debate on when what we now call "Eastern Swing Dancing" in the US really started, but basically it seems to have started in the 40's dancing to the big bands and really gained popularity with the early rock and roll in the 50's and and early 60's. And, I'm sure that Elvis, the Big Bopper and the Beatles were popular in Germany as well as the US. Just go onto YouTube and do a search for "swing dance" and you will find a lot of swing samples.
I'm very experienced in organizing dances for dancers (live bands).First thing to consider is age range and tempos. Keep music 2-31/2 min max if possible.Realistically most Balls can tend to have 80%beginner dancers with a few 20%"Ballroom" dancers meaning they are usually well rounded,take lessons or practice and know floor etiquette. Most people that attend Balls are financially secure will tend to be 55+ crowd. They use to Rock and Roll.it would be good to open with a lively swing set fast tempo then slow,Cha Cha,Rumba then move into Tango, Waltz,Fox Trot, Viennese Waltz then repeat or adjust sets. This allows for each type of dancers to take rests in between sets.Good luck and have fun.Dance bands are in demand just remember to try to keep a busy dance floor. If the dance isn't busy be flexible and change the music.
I agree with the above by dancer with one exception, start with a couple of slower songs;a slow foxtrot and/or waltz. This allows the 80% to get on the floor and just sway to a waltz or box to a foxtrot. Now if its a dinner dance the first set whether its before dinner or during dinner should be all slow; people are just meeting and greeting and talking then. During dinner your mostly providing background. I mostly attend gala dinner dances and the crowd mix is as said above maybe a bit worst say 85/15 . You DO pick up some of the 80% with the "Rock and Roll" . You have to watch the crowd and be flexible. Ive been to event where there are only two or three "ballroom" couples out of say 50 couples and this is within the last seven years when ballroom had an upswing. Oh and if you're doing this in the carolinas/No. FA . People will want to carolina shag and 80% can.
I have seem many good jazz bands play miserable ballroom programs. Once it was so bad that the good dancers waited for the canned music during the breaks to take to the floor! Or the conductor that announced, "I don't know if you can dance to this but here it goes..."
IMHO, please, please, please...
Keep the tempo constant. Dancers don't like "creative" tempo changes.
Play with exact, correct tempos, although some dances tolerate range of tempo more than others. Waltz standard is 87 bpm. Foxtrot cannot be danced SLOW -- don't think you are doing older dancers favors by slowing down their Foxtrots. Realize that in EC swing, the "real" swing, triple-step, needs slower tempos that single-step. Pepping up your swings to fast tempos will frustrate the triple-steppers. Rumba has a range of tempos, but works best in the 100-110 bmp range. And so forth.
Be a but careful, though. Full, standard-speed Quickstep's and Viennese Waltz's demand good dancers to keep the floor safe! These you can slow a bit.