How to dance the box

A Dancer's Guide to Knowing What Dance to Do to a Song » Dance With Brandee

A Dancer’s Guide to Knowing What Dance to Do

What Dance Do I Do to This Song?

Here’s how to your dance music know-how

Dancers, have you ever found yourself standing on the sidelines for the first half of each song trying to figure out what dance is supposed to be done to the music? Like my students you might be wondering: How do I know what dance to do to a song?

Many events help you out by announcing each song’s dance or posting a set list for your reference. Even then, some songs work equally well for more than one dance, so being able to match dances to songs is a skill to develop. And of course, you’ll need that skill at weddings and private parties that don’t have these dance aids.

Until there’s an app for it, I want to help you develop your dance music know-how. Of course, there are lots of variables in dancing and music, exceptions to the rules, etc. But I’m going to keep this simple, so consider this a rough guide to figuring out what to dance to a song.

No Hard and Fast Rules

First of all, unless you’re at a dance competition, know that there are no hard and fast rules for which dance must be performed to a particular song. You get to choose the dance you want to do. That said, when you fit a dance well to a song, it’s easier to keep rhythm, to express the character of the dance, and overall, it tends to just feel better.

And some dances’ music is unique enough that it will hit you clearly. For example, Tangos have a distinctive staccato rhythm and dramatic. Once you’ve heard a few Tangos, without needing to think, you’ll just know it’s a Tango.

For the rest, it’s really just a process of elimination. As you become more experienced, hearing the dance in most songs will become more automatic.

5 Easy Steps to Determine What Dance to Do

1. Get a Feel for the Song’s Speed
Ask: What’s the speed of this song?

Start by determining the song’s tempo (i.e., it’s speed.) This simply means getting a feel for whether the song is slow or fast or somewhere in between.

Sometimes the instrumentation or vocals in a song can fake you out. For example, a song may sound very upbeat but actually have a rather slow beat. Until you get good at gauging a song’s tempo, just tap your toes or fingers to the beat of the song, becoming a human metronome for its true speed.

Once you know if the song is slow or fast (or somewhere in between), you can then rule out some dances. For example, if the song is fast, then all the slower dances are out, such as Rumba, Nightclub Two Step and Slow Waltz. Or if the song is really slow, you can cross off Cha Cha, Salsa, East Coast Swing and Viennese Waltz.

Note: As a beginner, you’ll likely only be comfortable dancing in a narrow tempo range for each dance. So if you identify a song as Cha Cha but find yourself unable to keep up with the music, it doesn’t necessarily mean you made a mistake identify it as a Cha Cha—you just may not be experienced enough to dance to the full tempo range for Cha Cha.

If you’re curious, check out this list of tempo ranges for each dance (this is one person’s idea of good tempos, not an official list). In case you’re interested, here are the official tempos used at ballroom dance competitions.

2. Rule Out If It’s a Waltz
Waltzes have 3 beats in a measure (instead of 4)

As you’re tapping out the speed of a song, count the beats. If it’s easy to count 1-2-3-4 it’s not a Waltz. However, if counting in four’s feels off, try counting in three’s: 1-2-3, 1-2-3.

Most songs are in 4/4-time, meaning there are four beats in each measure. However, Waltzes are in 3/4-time, with only three beats in each measure. (There are other time signatures, but 4/4 and 3/4 are main ones you’ll encounter.)

If 1-2-3 matches the music, you’ll know it’s a Waltz. And having already gauged the song’s speed, you can immediately determine whether it’s a Slow Waltz (slower) or Viennese Waltz (about twice as fast as Slow Waltz).

3. Listen to Its Rhythm/Feel
What’s the rhythm or feel of the song?

If the song isn’t a Waltz, your next step is to pay attention to the song’s rhythm or feel. Is it happy, romantic, dramatic, bluesy, melancholic, or funky? Does it have a Latin/Afro-Cuban beat? Does it make you want to bounce, glide, twirl or march? Listening to the songs’ rhythm and character will help you sort it into one of a few broad categories: Ballroom, Latin, Swing, or other (Hustle, Country Western, Nightclub Two Step, etc.).

For example, say the song has a Latin rhythm. The most common Latin dances in ballroom/social dancing are Rumba, Cha Cha, Samba and Salsa. Rumba is the only one of these with a slower, romantic feel. So if the song is like that, you’re ready to Rumba!

And if the song’s rhythm is upbeat, you can eliminate Rumba and then parse out which of the remaining three dances it might be. Samba has a very distinctive “boom-a-boom” percussive beat (think Brazilian Carnaval music). If you’re hearing that, it’s probably a Samba. If you’re not, congratulations, you’ve narrowed it down to a Cha Cha or Salsa.

4. When in Doubt, Step It Out
Dance in place to see what matches the music

Continuing with the same example, say you’ve figured out the song is either a Cha Cha or a Salsa. Cha Chas usually have a “cha-cha-cha” in their beat, although you may not be able to hear this until you have more experience.

At this point, it’s time to experiment with the basic steps in each dance. Do this on your own in place, so small and casual people might not even notice. Try a few Cha Cha basics and see how well your feet match the music. Then try the Salsa basic. Usually one will feel like the right fit and voila, you’ve successfully determined what dance to do to this song!

See what dance others are doing

5. Or “Cheat” and Steal a Peek

If you’re still stumped after you’ve “stepped it out,” have a look and see what others are dancing. As a beginner, it’s often best to look at intermediate-level dancers. Fellow novices are likely as lost as you are, and advanced dancers may be dancing fancy figures with so much styling and technique you won’t even recognize what they’re dancing as the same dance you know! Intermediate dancers, however, will know which dance to do to a song yet will still be dancing figures you can recognize.

Have Fun: Make into a Game!

I encourage you to make a game out of matching dances to songs when you’re not out dancing. Play the “What Could I Dance to This Song” game when you’re listening to music at home, in the car or when you hear a tune playing at a store or on the street.

Make a game out of matching dances to music

Of course, all music isn’t made for partner dancing (e.g., classical, electronica, hip hop and even many pop tunes). So to make it easier on yourself you may want to listen to songs pre-selected for a dancing, such as those off a ballroom dance practice CD or from a recommended playlist like this.

Remember, ultimately which dance to do is your choice, so have fun and feel free to be creative. That said, be respectful of other dancers on the floor. For example, make sure you use proper floor etiquette, especially if you decide to do a dance that’s different from what the majority on the floor is doing. If doing a traveling dance, stay on the outside track, moving in the line of dance; if doing a spot (non-traveling) dance, dance in the center of the floor.

Over time the process of matching songs to dances will become faster and simpler. You may even find yourself mentoring new dancers on the subject!

Learn Basic Steps For Waltz

Waltz is an elegant, nearly universal dance, perfect for weddings, or almost any social occasion. It's not as hard to learn as most people think.

  • Basic steps
  • Instructions & Diagrams
  • Video
  • Recommended Video Lessons »

Quick intro

Waltz dates back to the late 17th century Europe, but has never really been out of fashion and clearly stood the test of time. It should probably be one of the first ballroom dances you learn.

It is a smooth and graceful dance with long, flowing movements, characterized by rise & fall motion. It has a unique 3/4 timing and a simple rhythmic pattern which blends with the music. You can start waltzing very quickly by just learning the simple box step.

Basic steps

The basic step for waltz is a box step. It's named after a pattern it creates on the floor (box or square) and forms the foundation of the dance.

A box step can be divided into two parts - a forward half box and a backward half box. Each half box has three steps - a step forward or backward, a step to the side, and a step to close the feet together.

The leader starts with the left foot and executes a forward half box, followed by a backward half box. The follower performs the opposite – she starts with the right foot and executes a backward half box, followed by a forward half box.

The basic box step pattern uses three counts - slow, quick, quick, which is repeated twice to create the box step. Timing is 1,2,3,1,2,3 or 1,2,3,4,5,6.

Instructions & Diagrams:

When dancing waltz someone has to lead and someone has to follow. Usually the man will lead and the woman will follow.

Men's Steps:

  1. Step forward with the left foot
  2. Right foot step sideways to the right
  3. Bring your left foot next to your right foot
  4. Step back with the right foot
  5. Step back sideways with the left foot
  6. Bring your right foot next to your left foot

Lady's Steps:

  1. Step back with the right foot
  2. Left foot step sideways to the left
  3. Bring your right foot next to your left foot
  4. Step forward with the left foot
  5. Step forward sideways with the right foot
  6. Bring your left foot next to your right foot


In this video Leon and Kim will show you the basic box step. You will also get important tips on rise & fall movement which characterizes this dance:

more videos »

Once you've mastered the basic box step, it's time to start rotating that box. It will usually be rotated to the left (counterclockwise), so it's called the Left Box Turn. It's quite simple: with each half box, you turn 1/4 of the turn to the left. After two boxes (or four half boxes) you will complete the turn and end up where you began. Then start all over again.

Ok, so now that you know the basic box and how to rotate it, lets continue with basic progressive. Here, as the name implies, the leader will always be moving forwards and the follower backwards. This will enable you to move around the dance floor instead of just dancing on the spot. Here is a clip from Learn & Master Ballroom Dance course that will show you in detail how it's done:

Where to go next?

Now that you know the basics, what's your next step (pun intended ;)? To go to the next level, we recommend one of the video training programs. Here are our recommendations »

Boxing Dance Lessons

PHOTO: This is my brother, Brian Nguyen, tango champion.

My brother tried to get me into dancing for many years. At first I refused, thinking “what the hell does dancing have to do with fighting?”. He was the ladies' man and I was the fighter. It would seem that dancing and fighting have absolutely nothing in common. It turned out I was wrong. There is so much that fighters can learn from dance lessons besides balance and footwork.

Dancing taught me how to be a man

When I first started learning to dance, I did everything my instructors told me to do. “Put your hands here, step here, turn your torso to this side,” and so on and so forth. And although I brilliantly followed all their instructions, I was still missing some magic ingredient. My dancing felt overly analytical and clumsy. I was more scared than I was in anticipation of dancing with a beautiful girl.

Finally, my brother came up to me and said:

"Johnny, how can you expect yourself to do the male part of the dance when you're not even a man?"

I was dumbfounded. His words hit me harder than any punch I've ever missed.

He explained, "You have to learn to stand and walk like a man before you can dance like a man."

I thought I'd spent my whole life living like a man: sports, weight lifting, fighting, computers, car repairs. My friends asked me for men's advice, some of them joked: "Johnny is a god among men." And yet here I am... hearing from my own brother that I'm not a man.

…. and he was right.

I may have been man enough to beat everyone in the ring, but obviously I wasn't not man enough to dance with a girl. I felt sorry. 2 hours a day, for a whole week, Brian taught me how to stand and walk like a man. My brother made dozens of adjustments to my posture and the way I moved, even the way I looked at people. I have to admit it looked silly at first. It wasn't just lessons on how to stand up straight or look confident. He tried to change the way I saw the world. Little by little, my world changed, and it was for the better.

I started noticing how fighters stand in the ring and how they train. The difference was crystal clear, I could tell "man" from "boy" even before he entered the ring. The way they approached training, the way they walked and talked. Boys trained to show off, men trained for championships. And indeed, when it came time for sparring, the boys fought like boys.

The boys fought with their pride and ego, no respect for intelligence or their opponents. When their superior physicality and stubbornness endured, they won fantastically. But when they lost, they failed miserably. Not just defeat, but complete humiliation and shame. Every time a boy loses, he is nullified. When a man loses, he feels pain, but in time he forgives himself, gets up and works on himself.

I remember the old saying, "Never send a boy to do a man's job." Can you imagine if the village sent a boy, with his ego and pride, to hunt a lion? The kid would have been eaten alive. Other boys might even have praised his efforts, talking about how brave it was to die fighting a lion.

I'm still wondering to this day, boxing teaches you to be a man, or you have to be a man before you can box. The day you find out is the day you can finally start learning boxing. In my quest to become a man through dance, I have absorbed 3 important principles: balance, perfection and self-expression.

3 Dance Lessons


The most obvious thing anyone can learn from dancing is balance. My dance experience has been no exception. I learned so many principles about balance that I could fill a book. In fact, I intend to share with you a few workouts and programs that are used by the top dancers in the world, because the balance exercises in combat are vastly inferior to what dancers do.

Why is balance so important in dancing? Balance is the interaction of your body with the ground, and it controls the ability of your body to move on the ground. Balance enables you to move your body with speed, power, and precision. You need all these things in dancing because you are not only moving yourself, but also your partner. Every time a boxer asks me how to improve my speed and power, I hear "How can I improve my balance?". Now imagine how much better a boxer can fight with superior balance.

A few principles about balance to get you started:

  • balance is an action, not a position
  • for balance, you use your balance muscles
  • in order to improve your balance, you must improve your sense of balance, then develop your balance muscles, then learn proper balance techniques


I never understood the meaning of perfection until I started dancing. When I first started learning how to fight, "perfection" meant just being good enough. In other words, the perfect jab was one that was just good enough for me to move on to a right hand. The perfect right hand was just good enough for me to move on to the left hook. The ideal slip is one that takes me away from my opponent's punch. Anything that was just at least good enough, I called "perfect."

I have never mastered my jab. I was only proud of my jab because it was better than everyone else's jabs, not because it was mine. I never treated him like it was MY JAB! You see, the moment you realize that something is yours, you will find ways to hone it to perfection. You will always want the best for yourself. Everyone wants a bigger house, a faster car, and a better body. This is the meaning of perfection, always trying to have the best. The dancer practices the same move thousands of times and still tries to make it better because it's HIS (or her) move. I see that all boxers could learn a good lesson by applying the same approach to their technique.

The next time you throw a left hook, remind yourself that this left hook is not Joe Frazier. It's YOUR LEFT HOOK! So make this left hook as good as possible. Work it out forever.


I always knew that dancing was a form of self-expression. Dancing is an art through which you can express yourself to the world. It took me a while to realize that boxing was the same. Boxing is also an art, a form of self-expression, but expressed through attacking/defensive actions. Instead of expressing ourselves to music and sounds, we react to the movements and rhythm of our rivals. Each fight is a unique dance that will never be performed in the same way.

You will NEVER become a great artist boxer
until you learn to express yourself.

Authenticity, uniqueness, individuality, these are the keys to self-expression. When it comes to art, copying others is ridiculous. Can you imagine yourself singing exactly the same song as someone else? Do you write the same poem? Or drawing an exact copy of the Mona Lisa? Boxing as an art is no different.

I don't see anything wrong with taking inspiration from great champions and trying to learn from them. Aspiring boxers should always learn to copy more experienced fighters, but it's very important not to become an exact clone of someone (eg Mike Tyson). Learn from the great fighters, but always with the ultimate goal of learning to be yourself. Can you imagine how sad it would be if you died and your Wikipedia said you fought EXACTLY like another great champion?

Boxing is an art! This is your opportunity to be yourself. This is not a math test where there is only one answer and everyone is trying to find the right answer (or the right technique). There is no right technique or best technique. This is an art, you have the opportunity to show the world what an amazing personality and what unique qualities you have to contribute to the beauty of this sport. You need to show the world and yourself your greatest abilities as a human being before you die. I believe it is our exceptional artistic ability that sets us apart from all other living creatures on Earth. In order to live, to box, to fight… you have to be an artist. And in order to be an artist, you have to be true to yourself.

Becoming a Dancer, Becoming a Man

A week after I was taught to walk, I was finally taught to dance with a woman. In this beautiful moment, I finally felt like a man. Becoming a man is not something that just happens when you turn 21, or when you have your first alcoholic drink, or when you bring home a girl. Becoming a man is an attitude that changes how you think, how you move, and how you live your life. When you become a man, it changes the way you fight. If you're going to do something, do it like a man...with all seriousness, intelligence and respect.

Brian Nguyen, my brother is the man of all men.
2010 & 2011 US Tango Champion and 2011 World No. 3.

Father forced Lomachenko to dance hopak.

Thanks to this, the boxer has fantastic footwork - Puncher - Blogs



But he just hated it.

Vasily Lomachenko is deservedly one of the best boxers in the world. In addition to fighting skills, he has a unique footwork technique: if not the best in history, then definitely one of them.

Lomachenko put all this into Ukrainian folk dances. Vasily himself believed that dancing was for girls, but his father forced the young boxer to go to the section for 3 years.

The question was blunt: either Lomachenko dances or hangs gloves on a nail

The world learned about the unique method of the coach and father of Vasily, Anatoly Lomachenko, back in those days when the boxer competed as an amateur - on the eve of the Olympics in London in the documentary film "History Vasily Lomachenko.

“I hated these dances, I hate them in general. I don't like them. I don’t like it,” said Vasily.

Tatyana Mikulina, a teacher at one of the dance schools in Belgorod-Dnestrovsky, where the future ring star studied, had a completely different opinion:

“He enjoyed it. Perhaps something else was more interesting to him when he was at home, but in the classroom he was the soul of the company, did everything that we demanded of him. Somewhere even soloed.

Mostly Lomachenko was engaged in Ukrainian folk dances, especially hopak - a dance that arose back in the time of the Zaporozhian Host.

“We went to dances, but we didn't like them. We danced. Because these are legs, mobility and a sense of the ring, ”recalled Anatoly Nikolayevich.

Lomachenko tried all sorts of ways to shirk attending classes, it even came to tears, and then the father put the question point-blank: either dancing, or Vasily ties up with boxing. Lomachenko was forced to comply. The Ukrainian was tormented at the dances for three long years, but the profit from the hopak was so big that it became noticeable already at the start of his amateur career.

Even in archived videos you can see how he danced right in the ring, imitating his childhood favorite boxer - Roy Jones.

In April, Sky Sports created a portrait of the perfect fighter, Lomachenko, as expected, won in the footwork category. In professionals, he pumped this element even more, creating his own unique style. Such that rivals feel in it as if in a matrix.

The Ukrainian's favorite trick is stepping and moving away from the opponent. At first glance, it seems that this is not such a complicated element, but in battle Lomachenko does it so quickly and skillfully that no one can yet find an algorithm for such an action. To this he adds creativity from himself: for example, Vasily very often shifts at the same time as he strikes. It can be any punch, from a jab to a hook, that obviously doesn't provide for the ability to be on the move. This masks his further actions as much as possible, because the opponent is defending at this moment. The perfect tactic.

Many coaches have analyzed this technique, but no one can repeat it in the ring like a Ukrainian does. The secret of the success of such an element lies also in the fact that Lomachenko adds other tricks to this, so it is simply impossible to predict what Vasily will do at one time or another.

No one worked so skillfully on his feet: neither Roy Jones, nor Sugar Ray Leonard, nor even Mohammed Ali. Therefore, one should not be surprised if Ukrainian folk dances are included in the training program for American boxers in the future.

Learn more