Dance to the Music: Rhythm Edition

Dance to the Music: Rhythm Edition

One great thing about taking dance lessons at a studio is that your instructor will always have good music for you to dance to.  They know which songs work best for Rumba, Swing, Cha Cha, etc., so if you ask them to find a song for you to Rumba to, they will likely pick out a good one.  But, if you are away from your studio you may not know exactly what songs to practice with, especially if you are a new dancer. 

A very frequently asked question with new dance students is, “how will I know what dance to do based on the song that is playing?”  This is a very important question for beginners, because when you’re first learning to dance, it can be hard to identify the style just by listening to a song.  Over time, you will become familiar enough with the music and the rhythm of the dances to know which songs to use.  There are so many styles to go over, but for now I will briefly explain some of the musical qualities of the dances in American Rhythm. I will also provide a few examples of contemporary songs you can use for practice (or even performances)!



If you've seen or danced the Rumba, you may know that most of its music is smooth and slow.  While you can dance the Rumba to traditional Latin music, you’ll find that much of today’s pop music follows the steady and smooth feeling of the Rumba.  Basically, you can think of it this way: if the song has a fairly slow and steady beat, you can do a Rumba.  This is also why a lot of wedding couples use the Rumba in their first dances – their songs are usually slow!  Here are some good examples of modern-day Rumbas:

·         Lovesong – Adele

·         Stand by Me – Florence and the Machine

·         The Way I Am – Ingrid Michaelson

There are other songs which may seem more upbeat than a typical Rumba, but the underlying beat and tempo still allows it to fit in the Rumba category.  Some examples are:

·         Prayer in C – Lily Wood and the Prick (Robin Schultz remix)

·         Somebody that I Used to Know – Gotye


Cha Cha

Cha Cha is one of the faster Latin dances, so the music will reflect that as well.  As with Rumba, there are traditional Latin Cha Cha songs that you can dance to, but you can also find many pop songs that are Cha Chas.  The defining beats in this dance are those three “cha-cha-chas” we do in the middle of a pattern, so you should be able to hear and pick out those three beats in the music as well.  While most Cha Cha music is upbeat, not all are so fast.  If you are just starting out with this dance, here are some classic slow Cha Chas that you can dance to:

·         Smooth – Santana and Rob Thomas

·         Sway – Michael Bublé

Once you’ve gotten used to Cha Cha you can try these songs which are a bit faster:

·         Cake by the Ocean – DNCE

·         My Type – Saint Motel

·         Mr. Saxobeat – Alexandra Stan



When you think of “swing music” the first thoughts that come to mind may be big-band music from the 1930s-40s, or 1950s rock and roll.  These ideas aren’t wrong since early Swing has its roots in those types of music.  The Swing is a fairly quick and upbeat dance, and so is the music.  The East Coast Swing contains triple steps, so most of the music we use for that dance is bouncy and fun.  Here are some good songs for a triple-time Swing:

·         The Beautiful People – Christina Aguilera (from the movie, Burlesque)

·         HandClap – Fitz and the Tantrums

·         Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man

Single-Time Swing is a variation of the East Coast version which removes the triple-steps.  Because of this, our steps are able to move a little faster, and the music can be sped up as well.  Here are some of my favorites:

·         Candyman – Christina Aguilera

·         Call the Law– Outkast (from the movie, Idlewild)

·         Dear Future Husband – Meghan Trainor

Finally, West Coast Swing has a slightly slower tempo and a bit of a smoother beat.  There are a lot of newly released pop songs which work perfectly as West Coast Swings.  Here are some really nice ones:

·         Feels – Calvin Harris

·         It Ain’t Me – Selena Gomez

·         Attention – Charlie Puth


Bonus - Salsa

While Salsa is technically a Nightclub dance and not American Rhythm, I recognize its popularity and that many of you may want to practice it.  Salsa is a dance with quick footwork.  Traditional Salsa music will have syncopated backgrounds and strong brass sections.  However, if you’re looking for contemporary music, you’ll find that some music that maintains the Latin beats while incorporating a kind of “hip-hop” feel.  Some examples of the Salsa songs of today are:

·         Maria, Maria – Santana

·         Problem – Ariana Grande

·         Despacito (Salsa Version) – Luis Fonsi


Hopefully these song suggestions have given you some insight into how certain music will sound for certain dances.  If you want to find more music you can either ask your instructor or even look online for playlists.  There are tons of resources out there that will help you find some really great songs to dance to.  These were only some suggestions for a few American Rhythm dances, but in my next blog I will go over some song suggestions for American Smooth!


Happy dancing!  ^_^