essential to the correct functioning of this web site.
3: Why “Ken’s Classic
“Ken’s” should be obvious, and by now I’m sure you’ve
spotted my deliberate visual pun – “tracks” describing both pieces of
music and the traces left on the ground by something moving over it...
as per the diagrams in a ballroom dancing manual (I apologise for the
hip abbreviation “Trax”, but it gives my logo a better proportion – and
I note there is a record store called “Classic Trax”).
I’m not so arrogant as to imagine my idea of what makes a good track
for any particular dance is everybody’s idea. Different
people have differing taste, and in any case dancers may be at
different stages of their development and need a bit of extra help from
the music. Also, they might not have the same expectation of
dancing, and their expectations may change with time and
development. It is rare that all the dancers at any one event
have the same aims and abilities, so they have to learn to compromise
Let me explain where my views come from, and then if you find you don’t
enjoy the music I play you might at least understand why I am playing
it. Let’s disregard, for the moment, the “standard”
explanations of how ballroom dancing started, and look at it from a
Dancing is what young people did when they got together to enjoy the
music of the day, out as singles on a Saturday night after the working
week. Dancing was courtship, and then dancing was an
entertainment for couples. Dancing is movement to the music,
as an expression of the music, in the spirit and in keeping with the
shared experience of the occasion.
What we now call “Ballroom Dancing” – Waltz, Quickstep, Cha Cha Cha,
etc – are (essentially) dance styles frozen in time. There
were dance styles before (eg Polka, Gavotte, Charleston... and the
original quick Foxtrot as opposed to the Slow Foxtrot), and dance
styles since (Lindy, Disco, Salsa, Mo-Jive, Street, Jazz, Pogo...),
which come and go as the music they are associated with comes in and
out of fashion. Nobody decides to invent these dances
deliberately, they come about naturally according to the music and the
What happened with Ballroom Dancing was it became formalised because of
people writing books about it, and by dance professionals coming
together to agree a common system of technique and succession of
qualifications. This is not a bad thing, because only a few
have the gift to move naturally to music without instruction and
training. Those who move best on the dance floor are
desirable in courtship, and there is a demand to become like them
through lessons. As couples, those who move best are admired,
and rivalries turn into organised competitions.
Competition forces evolution. Although I said Ballroom
Dancing is frozen in time, actually it has its own evolution separate
from whatever style of music may be currently fashionable.
Top class ballroom dancers now look miles apart from top
class dancers a generation ago. Ballroom Dancing is a
specific performing art, and its prime exponents are continually
developing that art to create greater visual appeal in the eye of the
beholder and those who control their success – ie the judges at
Nonetheless, the music is the inspiration for the dance. For
a waltz to flow naturally from the music, the music has to inspire a
waltz... and so on for every dance in the Ballroom canon. The
music created the dance, the dance became a “standard” taught to the
masses, and by freezing the dance in time the music also becomes frozen
in time – not necessarily the fashion of the day (and unlikely to be).
Unless the music is inspiring for the dance, the dance is
being forced to fit the music (or danced in spite of the music).
It’s not a pleasure, for example, trying to tango (ballroom, rather
than Argentine) to a track that is correctly 4/4 time signature – but
is not staccato, or emphasises beats other than 1 and 3 (Argentine
Tango requires a more sinuous feel). All too often, sometimes
in an attempt to be “on trend”, tracks are played that are only vaguely
suitable for their intended dance, and dancers might consider
themselves clever if they are able to bend their dancing to fit.
Inexperienced dancers may not notice – so much concentrating
on doing what they’ve been taught that the music is mere background –
or be so put off they think their dancing is at fault when actually
it’s the poor selection of music.
Indeed, there is a danger that the dances lose their individual
characters when dancers are exposed to poor music. Get used
dancing tango (for example) to less-than-staccato tango-ish music, and
there’s a fair chance the dancing will become smoothed out in
sympathy... which then sticks. Each dance has its own “feel”,
and if they all start to feel the same – what’s the point?
The right music has the correct rhythm structure for the dance,
compatible syncopations, and a suitable tempo for the grade of dancer.
The right music doesn’t throw dancers off their steps by
wandering out of time, even if that does provide a more interesting
“listening experience”. The right music has a “feeling”
compatible with the dance – eg smooth for a gliding dance, sharp for a
staccato dance. The right music doesn’t hinder or confuse –
it aids, encourages, inspires... and is a joy to dance to.
The right music is what I call “Classic”.
So, Where Does
Taste Come Into All This?
Just because a particular track is a “classic”, doesn’t mean everyone
will like it, and (frankly) unless you enjoy the music you probably
won’t enjoy the dance. That is why, I believe, ballroom
dancing has fallen out of favour – it isn’t the kind of music the later
generations grew up with, and isn’t the kind of music they have an
attachment to or affinity for, so, if they ballroom-dance at all, it is
because of the challenge and despite the music.
Nonetheless, even appropriate-era accomplished dancers have individual
tastes. Some won’t like any
vocals because they find them distracting – despite some
vocalists adding an extra layer of sophistication to the music (and
therefore the dance) without the underlying beat and accompaniment
going off time. Some just don’t like organists, despite
tracks recorded by organists being constructed to suit the specific
requirements of a sequence dance (when so few non-organist tracks do).
All I can say is that taste is individual, and impossible to legislate
for. You can’t please everyone all
the time, but by playing a full variety of music it should be possible
to please most, at least some of the time. And, if I
like it and feel inspired to dance, at least
I know there’s somebody
in the room who is (me!).