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On this page:
General advice
Explicitly for dance
   
practice (series)
Swing
Foxtrot
Waltz
Rumba, Mambo & Cha-Cha
Salsa
Merengue



Music to Practice By
Suggestions & Recommendations


Take this page with you when shopping for music!

NOTE: One of the great things about all the music listed here is how it simply does not become obsolete. Contrariwise, one of the hallmarks of the Internet is how quickly things change. This page was written mainly in 2000-2002. The music choices are all still excellent -- but oh, how shopping for music has changed! We have not updated this page to reflect the availability of individual songs from iTunes, or even of whole albums from online retailers. (Too much work!) This page, like Ballroom Dancing itself, will remain sweetly archaic: we speak as if you intend to walk into a real store and buy a sweetly old-fashioned handmade CD. Have fun!




General advice: Shopping notes & warnings


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(i) Painful but true: to find Ballroom Dancing music in the music stores, you usually have to look in the "E-Z Listening" department; sometimes there's a "Dance Music" section. Sinatra is usually in the Vocals department. Better-known or current bands often have their own section somewhere in the music store, but you may have to ask where. Latin club music (Salsa, Merengue) is usually in the "World Music" section.

(ii) When shopping for old recordings reissued on CDs, look for the words "digitally re-mastered" on the label. This makes a tremendous and positive difference in the sound quality. Note, however, that nothing can help the sound quality of "pre-war" (WW II) recordings, because tape was not yet used as a recording medium, so there is nothing but direct-to-shellac recordings to re-master from. One of the best ways to hear pre-war Big Band songs is on Time-Life's Swing Era Collection series of reproductions, recorded in the 1970s with many of the original band members. This series is available again through the Time-Life web site, www.timelife.com, after a long disappearance from the market. (There are 13 albums, 2 CDs per album, in the series. It's enormous!) Similarly, a fairly good, quick way to buy a lot of Rock 'N' Roll hits from the mid- and late-50s is on the Time-Life Rock And Roll Era collection -- but the sound quality, despite alleged digital remastering, is pretty mediocre. (The sound is much better on the various artists' own digitally remastered song collections.)

(iii) There is a series of "Ballroom Dancing" CDs featured prominently in stores that you should definitely avoid. The CD packaging is red, with a silhouette of a dancing couple on it; the alleged orchestra is the Francisco Montaro Ensemble. These are terrible. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

 






Explicitly for DANCE PRACTICE (series)


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The following two series are good places to start for everything Ballroom except Swing. (For much better Swing and Salsa stuff, see below.)

The LaserLight label's "Strictly Dancing" series of CDs has music that is not exactly inspired, but it is serviceable for practice, and each song is conveniently labeled as to the type and pace of dance to do to it. It is very similar to the Betty White series (next paragraph), but with better musicians--we prefer the LaserLight series. It is a bit harder to find, however. Some of the discs have been issued and then reissued with slightly different contents, so sometimes the songs listed on the label are different (or in a slightly different order) from the songs on the actual disk. No big deal. All are good except the Mambo disk, which is pretty awful. Some of the disks are dedicated to a single dance (e.g., Waltz), while others are a mixture (e.g., Latin).

The "Betty White Selects..." series (Conversaphone label) is available on both cassettes and CDs. Like the LaserLight series, the music is not exactly inspired, but it is serviceable for practice, and each song is conveniently labeled as to the type and pace of dance to do to it. Some of the cassettes/CDs are dedicated to a single dance (e.g., Betty White Selects Music for Waltz Dancing), while others are a mixture. [Avoid the similar-looking Betty White dance-instruction recordings.]






SWING


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• CD recommendations are immediately below.
We have listed 250 recommended individual Swing songs here, on a separate web page, with 25 of our favorite songs specially marked.

There are quite a few different versions of Swing being danced these days -- none of which were called "Swing" originally! The music was called Swing, but not the dancing. The dancing, in its different forms and in different decades, has been called jazz dance, lindy hop, jitterbug, rock 'n' roll, boogie woogie, Jive [in England], Le Roc or Ceroc [France], and probably a dozen other appellations. We mention this because each sub-genre of Swing dancing has its own favorite style of music. What follows are general recommendations.

Frank Sinatra. Come Dance with Me.
Wonderful Billy May arrangements. Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 11 are good for Swing. (Tracks 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13 and 16 are good Foxtrots at a spunkier-than-usual tempo. Yes, a few Sinatra tunes are suitable for either Swing or Foxtrot.)

Enoch Light and the Light Brigade. Big Band Hits of the 30's, 40's and 50's, Vol II.
Big band reproductions done fairly well. This particular disk is about the best of the series, with 21 songs of which 6 are pretty good Foxtrots (tracks 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 13), and 7 more songs are quite good Swing tunes (tracks 1, 8, 10, 12, 15, 19, 21).

Bill Haley and His Comets--From the Original Master Tapes (MCA label).
20 songs, 19 of which are good rock 'n' roll style Swing, all with a thumpingly clear beat and most with a medium or medium-fast tempo, which is excellent for Swing practice. (The exception is track 8: too mambo-like for our Swing purposes). If you are going to buy a second disk for Swing practice, this may be your best choice.

City Rhythm. City Rhythm Strikes Again (Limehouse Records).
A new band from Philadelphia, playing classic Swing songs with a strong, room-filling sound. This album has a terrific variety of songs, and almost all 17 of them are danceable. Tempos range from a slow 121 BPM (beats per minute) to an ultra-fast 265. (Okay, maybe the fast songs aren't really danceable, not by mortals anyway . . . ) If you are going to buy only one disk for Swing practice, this may be your best value -- and it has some songs slow enough for Lindy Hop practice, too.

Billboard (1957, 1958, 1959, 1961).
Rock 'n' Roll top hits for each year. 10 songs (for $10) on each disc, of which several are good rock 'n' roll style Swing. Note that quite a few of these songs have serious 'breaks,' where the music nearly stops for a few beats -- this takes some getting used to.
• Billboard 1957: Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 are good. Includes such classics as All Shook Up and Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley), Wake Up Little Susie (Everly Brothers), Party Doll (Buddy Knox), That'll Be The Day (The Crickets, with Buddy Holly), Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly), and A Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On (Jerry Lee Lewis). Lots of different tempos here, from slow to medium-fast. Many of the tunes are less energetic than you might remember, but are nevertheless good for dance practice.
• Billboard 1958: Tracks 1, 5, 7, 8, 10 are good.
• Billboard 1959: Tracks 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 are good.
• Billboard 1960: eh. Don't bother.
• Billboard 1961: Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 are good.

Benny Goodman (Verve's "Compact Jazz" series, 820-543-2).
(Label name and number are specified here to help you identify which of the hundreds of Benny Goodman disks it is--there's no other identifying name or subtitle on the recording.) A great collection of live recordings from 1970, 1972 and 1978. Because of the 1970s recording dates, the sound quality is excellent. Tracks 1, 6, 7, 8, 12, 14 and 15 are excellent for Swing. Tracks 3, 4 and 9 are extremely fast Swing--good luck! (Tracks 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 13 are also very good for medium to medium-fast Foxtrot.) NOTE: When buying other Benny Goodman disks, remember that anything pre-World War II will have very poor sound quality, and that most of the post-war releases have simply been converted to CD from mushy Nth-generation vinyl with all of the badly-degraded sound unchanged. There seem to be more poor-quality Benny Goodman records out there than for anyone else, so we mention it specifically here.

Jan & Dean. Surf City (Dominion label).
Good collection of medium-slow Swing, good for practicing your 2ble- and 3ple-step basics. The Beach Boys also did almost all of these songs and their voices are better, but Jan & Dean's versions are more danceable.

Swing Kids (movie soundtrack).
Track 1 (Sing, Sing, Sing) and Track 3 (Shout and Feel It) are superb albeit very fast Swing tunes. Hard to say if this is enough to make the album worth buying.

NEO-SWING:
- For faster, edgier Swing music, check out the following neo-Swing bands. Note that these bands play almost exclusively at fast tempos (tempi?), so almost all of their songs will be too fast for Beginners to be comfortable with.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
The best musicians of the neo-Swing groups by a noticeable margin, these folks make a wonderful noise. But, like most of the neo-Swing groups, almost all their songs are extremely fast.

Squirrel Nut Zippers.
Sounding like a wonderfully loopy cross between an early Betty Boop cartoon soundtrack and a New Orleans Swing band, these were the first of the new Swing bands to hit the national big time.
FYI: They named themselves after an old-fashioned hard-caramel-with-nuts candy (walnuts originally, but peanuts in recent years) that was made by Squirrel Brand Candies right here in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until August, 1999. And, since you asked, we'll tell you that Squirrel Brand, in retroactive turn, named their Nut Zippers candy after a bar drink mentioned by a man sitting in a tree.

Indigo Swing.
Excellent. Their three CDs are unusually solid for dancing. Most people we've talked to prefer the first album ("Indigo Swing") to the second ("All Aboard"); and apparently the third album is somewhere in between. (After the three CDs, the lead singer -- the best part of the group -- retired and the band renamed itself "Indigo".)

Love Dogs.
Excellent, and local. Their albums aren't nearly as interesting as their live playing, however, and there are very few songs on their CDs that are good for practice. They play a high-energy "jump blues" sort of music, and some of their songs are hard to dance Swing to. But they are amazingly fun, and whenever they play locally you should go!

Ray Gelato.
An unlikely name, playing excellent Swing with a good 40s night club feel. The lead singer's voice will remind you of Louis Armstrong or Louis Prima. A good album to start with is "Men From Uncle."

Royal Crown Revue.
"Datin' With No Dough" is a good dancing tune, as are some others on the disc.

Jet Set Six.
Another good neo-Swing band.

Brian Setzer Orchestra.
If they sound a lot like the Stray Cats, it's because Setzer was a dominant member of 'em. Personally, we think their sound is too limited and much less satisfying than the other new Swing bands.






FOXTROT


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In addition to the LaserLight and Betty White disks mentioned in Explicitly for Dance Practice (series), above:

Frank Sinatra. Songs for Swinging Lovers.
Virtually every song on here is a nice Foxtrot, despite the Swing-oriented name of the disk. If you are going to buy just one album for Foxtrot practice, this is probably your best bet.

Frank Sinatra. Come Dance with Me.
Wonderful Billy May arrangements. Tracks 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13 and 16 are good Foxtrots at a spunkier-than-usual tempo. (Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 11 are also good for Swing.) Note: the "strict tempo" for Foxtrot in competitions is 30 measures-per-minute (mpm). But for many years in America, especially in the 1950s, a slightly faster pace of 35 to 40 mpm was popular. This is reflected on this disk in an especially nice way.

Frank Sinatra. A Swingin' Affair.
Another of the great 1950s Sinatra recordings, with arrangements by Nelson Riddle, whom we like almost as much as Billy May. But Sinatra's voice is not in top form, especially on the first song. Nevertheless, a good disk for practicing to. Again, virtually every song is a good Foxtrot, except for a few very slow ballads.

Enoch Light and the Light Brigade. Big Band Hits of the 30's, 40's and 50's, Vol II.
Big band reproductions done fairly well. This particular disk is about the best of the series, with 21 songs of which 6 are pretty good Foxtrots (tracks 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 13), and 7 more songs are quite good Swing tunes (tracks 1, 8, 10, 12, 15, 19, 21).






WALTZ


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Besides LaserLight and Betty White -- see Explicitly for Dance Practice (series), above -- there isn't much that's good for practice purposes. Just keep in mind that "Viennese Waltz" is a different dance, so avoid anything with the word "Viennese" on the label. (Viennese Waltzes are extremely fast and require a substantially different technique.)






RUMBA, MAMBO & CHA-CHA


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In addition to the LaserLight and Betty White disks mentioned in Explicitly for Dance Practice (series), above:

The Mambo Kings, movie soundtrack.
Most songs here are Mambos (surprise!), but tracks 8, 14 and 16 are very nice Rumbas, and tracks 3, 11 & 12 are good Cha-Cha's. Track 10 (Perfidia) is a nice, slow Cha-Cha once you get past the 45-second introduction.

  ¡Cuba Si! (various artists).
An excellent compilation of music out of Cuba -- primarily (fast) Salsa, but also with a few tracks that you can use for Cha-Cha practice. Track 5 is a lovely Cha-Cha, and tracks 8 and 9 can be used for Cha-Cha practice as well if you can stay on the beat among the embellishments.






SALSA


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Marc Anthony. Contra La Corriente.
Betcha didn't know that Marc Anthony did most of his wooing of Cleopatra by crooning Salsa tunes at her. Here are some of the actual early-Roman-Egyptian Salsa tunes that won the heart of Egypt's queen. Okay, okay. Truth: On this disc from one of Salsa's biggest pop stars, tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 are very good Salsa tunes, in a slightly mushy 'romantic' style -- after you wait about 30 seconds for the ultra-mushy introductions to die off. They are almost all at 44 measures per minute (medium-slow for Salsa), and are very good for practice. If you are going to buy just one album for Salsa practice, this is probably your best bet. Note: the next Marc Anthony release (about March 2000) had NO Salsa tunes on it.

Salsa en la Calle Ocho ('96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, etc.)
This series of salsa discs, one each year, features compilations of some of the best Salsa music coming out of Miami. A good way to get started. On almost all the discs, the songs are quite fast -- but on Salsa en la Calle Ocho '97, the first two songs are slow (relatively), so we recommend it, if you can find it anywhere.

  ¡Cuba Si! (various artists).
An excellent compilation of Salsa music out of Cuba. The Salsa tunes are on the fast side, but it's a great selection of great music. (The a cappella track we've listened to in class a lot is track #13.) 






MERENGUE


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Rikarena. Both the name of the group and the name of their first album. A great, fun Merengue sound. Many of the songs have a 15 to 40 second intro imitating some random musical genre . . . and then, boom, they flip back to conventional Merengue for the real part of the song. If you are going to buy just one album for Merengue practice, this is probably your best bet.

Juan Luis Guerra. Ojata Que Llueva Cafe. There are several Merengue tunes on this disk -- and they are all classics, from one of the greatest of contemporary Merengue artists.



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First edition 6-1-2002
Link to 250 Individual Swing Songs page added 12-1-2005
Minor editing 3-16-2005
- Copyright 2002-2006 Kreshtool -
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