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Ken's Classic Trax logo

3: Why “Ken’s Classic Trax ”? 

“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 and coexist.

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 different perspective.

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 situation.

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 competitions.

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 to 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!).