The Waltz, The Polka and all kinds of Dance Music – Tempos…

Tempos, Dance Time and Set Dance Arrangements

Bars and Tempo

Tempo for dance music is normally expressed in bars a minute which is a requirement of dance teachers who need to match the dance sequence to the bars of the written music or played tune. Some musicians may prefer to use beats, and in some sheet music, a metronome reference may be given. The main thing is to be able to compare between the systems, and it is easy to assess the tempo by counting the beats by tapping the hand or foot to the tune while following the second hand of a watch for exactly one. The first downbeat is counted as naught.  It is best to count the full minute rather than a short cut of half or a quarter of a minute, as only 2 bars a minute difference can be quite marked in dance tempo and is not as accurately gauged in less than a minute.  In 2/4 and 6/8 there are two beats to the bar, so divide the total count in a minute by two.  For waltz time there is one count to the downbeat per bar.  In 4/4 there are four taps to the bar, so divide the count for a minute by four.

Couples Dances

Tempo for many of the waltzes is ideal at 52 bars a minute and likewise for the Polka Mazurka and Varsoviana.  The old Circular Waltz requires a slower range between 48 and 50 bars a minute, the Hesitation Waltz about 45 bars a minute, and the slowest, Modern Waltz or Jazz Waltz, 30 bars a minute.  Some regional variations of Mazurka and Varsonviana in NSW and QLD need to be a at the slower Circular Waltz range of 48 to 50 bars a minute.  The 4/4 time of the Schottische and Barn Dance, group of dances lies within 28 to 32 bars a minute – dances such as the Four Sisters’ Barn Dance, Uncle Ev’s Dance, Charmaine, Tangoette and Maxina are best at the lowest limit of 28, whereas others like the old step hopping Schottische, the Highland Schottische and the Northumbrian Barn Dance require the higher brighter tempo between 30 and 32.  The 2/4 and 6/8 time of the Two Step and March group range from 56 to 60 bars a minute, 58 the optimum, but the old Galop is very fast at well over 65 bars a minute. The Polka with its essential 3 – hop style (3 quaver beat and rest in  the bar) is very ‘steady’ at 48 to 56 bars a minute, 52 – 54 the best.

Quadrille or Set Dance

Quadrille or Set Dance description of the figurework is expressed in terms of bars, usually in multiples of 8, which in 2/4 or 6/8 would equate to 16 steps or beats i.e. relating this to music there are two beats (foot taps) to a bar, whereas in waltz time the downbeat or each oom pah pah equals one bar.  4/4 or Barn Dance time is seldom used in the sets but will occur in the Gavotte section for the Hussars, the Old Bush Barn Quadrille and the opening Schottische figure of the Brisbane Quadrilles.  In this case there are four beats to the bar and suitable tempo about 28 – 30 bars a minute ( equivalent to 56 – 60 bars a minute in 2/4)

Sometimes musicians may convert a 4/4 tune such as a Barn Dance into set time (2/4) by ‘swinging it’.  Music converted from common time can be a trap in terms of bars, there being twice as many as expected relative to 2/4 time.  In other words one bar of a Barn Dance tune in 4/4 will equal 2 bars of the same section played in 2/4 .  The number of bars or the tempo in these cases can be assessed by counting the beats or foot taps to one minute, and then comparing with standard settings and doubling or halving the count if necessary to convert to bars per minute.

Normal tempo for 2/4 or 6/8 ranges from 56 to 60 bars a minute (58 is usually optimum) and in waltz time 52 to 54 bars a minute. In the case of waltz the hall some bands gradually slow the tempo over the range of about 4 bars to that of the Circular Waltz – 48 to 50 bars a minute.  This is as the dancers perform their last circle of waltz in the set and then  break out to waltz around the hall.

For specific polka figures and sets such as the Polka Quadrille, Polka Country Dance, and Polka Cotillion, tunes in 2/4 polka time with the 3–quaver beat must be played much slower than regular 2/4 and should be between 48 and 54 bars a minute.  If, however, a polka tune is used for general figurework (where polka steps are not in use) such as the grand chain in the Lancers, then the tune can have the regular beat and normal 2/4 tempo of about 58 bars a minute.  Likewise a 2/4 galop as a couples dance might be 65 to 75 bars a minute, but in a set such as the Galop Quadrille should not exceed 62.

The Waltz, The Polka and all kinds of Dance Music