It is not the speed, but the feel of the music that counts. Still, most dances feel most comfortable in a certain tempo range. This is counted in Measures Per Minute (mpm) or in Beats Per Minute (bpm). A measure contains two beats for Samba, Polka and (in most cases) Paso Doble, three for Waltz (both slow and Viennese), and four for the rest of the dances.
Mpm tables for ballroom dances
Bpm tables for country dances
Bpm counting; theory.
Bpm counting software
Some people count the beats in 15 seconds, and multiply that by 4. This method is quite inaccurate, because you're likely to start and end somewhere in the middle of a beat. In the worst case, your count can be almost 8 beats per minute off. Therefore it is better to count for a whole minute. The only problem with this is that some songs have breaks that may not be in the rhythm. Another technique is to take a metronome and synchronise that with the music. This gives problems with some older music that was recorded without a click-track, making the tempo uneven.
With a stopwatch and a calculator you can do the following. Start the stopwatch on the first beat of a measure and count to 40 beats (that is, stop timing on the start of the 41st beat). Take that total and divide 2400 by it (including the decimal point) and the answer is the bpm down to the tenths.
40 beats=18.91 secs. 2400 divided by 18.91=126.9 bpm
If counting to forty is too much for you, count eleven beats (that is, a ten-beat gap), and divide this time into 600, i.e., 4.61 seconds gives 600/4.61=130 bpm.
Instead of using a calculator, you can also precalculate a table. For instance, you compute the times for 29.5 and 30.5 measures per minute, and every time that falls in between will count as 30mpm. This can also be done for bpm, of course.
The problem with the calculator methods is that they depend on how precise you can click the stopwatch on the beat. A better solution would be to record a number of clicks, and draw a least-square fit through them, but this is not feasible by hand.
This file is part of the FAQ list for the newsgroup rec.arts.dance. The FAQ list is being maintained by Victor Eijkhout (victor at eijkhout dot net, talk about vanity), who appreciates being sent additions or corrections on the material in this collection. Copyright 1994/5/6/7/8/9/2000 lies with the maintainer and the contributors of various parts.
Listen up: Victor did not write most of this stuff; he just collected it. So don't send him any dance questions.
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Last modified on: Saturday, October 9, 1999.