At this time of year, the air is filled with seasonal music. It’s light, bright and rich with the spirit of the Christmas season. But it can be hard to know which tunes are danceable. Here’s a convenient guide.
So you’re organizing that holiday party and want your guests to do some ballroom dancing. The problem is that you have no idea what seasonal tunes you can dance to. Most Christmas tunes are not very danceable, but there are a few gems. This article will help you identify what dances might be appropriate.
Probably the most common musical character in Christmas music is that of Foxtrot. Social (or American) Foxtrot is very forgiving when it comes to music pacing, so you can dance to a great many tunes that might not work well for other dances. International-style Slow Foxtrot is significantly more limited because it only works within a strict range of timing values due to the technical precision required for this dance. So the selections below focus on the International Style.
Recently I came across Wayne Newton’s “Let it Snow!” which is beautifully suited to International Slow Foxtrot at 27 bpm.
A lovely new song from the Zac Brown Band is Mango Tree (featuring Sara Bareilles), while too fast and bouncy for Slow Foxtrot, makes a wonderful American Smooth Foxtrot.
Amy Grant’s version of “Winter Wonderland” (from the album “Home for Christmas”) is a perfect 29 bars per minute, and it’s got the right character to suit that dance. Two more terrific Slow Foxtrot tunes by Johnny Mathis are “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “A Marshmallow World.” I also love Ella Fitzgerald’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” perfectly paced at 29 bpm and with a smooth jazzy feeling that suits this dance so well, and her “Christmas Island” which is also 29 bpm.
Frank Sinatra’s “Mistletoe and Holly” is a beautiful Slow Foxtrot tune paced at 27 bpm.
Peggy Lee’s excellent version of “I Like a Sleigh Ride” makes a delightful Foxtrot at 30 bpm but starts to get a wee bit on the fast side for Slow Foxtrot (better suited to American Smooth or Social Foxtrot). Slightly faster, and ideal for American Foxtrot, are Harry Connick Jr.’s “Christmas Dreaming” and Bette Midler’s duet with James Caan on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from the motion picture soundtrack from “For the Boys.” It’s the best version of that tune in my opinion. Also for American Smooth, Louis Armstrong’s “‘Zat You, Santa Claus?” has great character.
I recently came across this totally awesome album from 2016 called A Swingin’ Little Christmas by Jane Lynch featuring Kate Flannery, Tim Davis and Tony Guerrero Quintet. It has a lovely selection suitable for Slow Foxtrot called Winter’s Never Cold (When You’re Around) and another called Christmas is My Favorite Time of Year. Both songs need to have the speed adjusted slightly for International-style Slow Foxtrot but only slightly.
A number of seasonal tunes are paced nicely for Swing. These include “Happy Holiday / The Holiday Season” by Andy Williams at 36 bpm. The Beach Boys’ “The Man With All the Toys” is paced at 35 bpm, also suitable for Swing. And Dean Martin’s versions of “Jingle Bells” and “Let it Snow! Let is Snow! Let it Snow!” also makes good Swing dance numbers, though a little slower, at 35 and 34 bpm respectively. Jo Stafford’s version of “Let it Snow!” is also terrific.
Another good Swing tune, but getting a little slow at 33 bpm, is “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Jive seems to be a common dance option when it comes to Christmas music. There are a few great Jive tunes available, though they are somewhat slow.
I really like “Getting’ in the Mood (For Christmas)” by The Brian Setzer Orchestra. It’s a perfect 43 bpm. Kelly Clarkson’s “Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song)” from her Wrapped in Red album is timed well for Jive, but it lacks the bounciness that makes this dance work. Elvis Presley’s “Here Comes Santa Claus” is a good Jive tune, especially the recent duet with LeAnn Rimes. Slightly slower but still well suited for Jive are “Frosty the Snow Man” by Ella Fitzgerald and “All I want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey (both 38 bpm).
A great Jive tune is Boogie Woogie Santa Claus by Colin James, from his album Little Big Band Christmas.
The album mentioned earlier by Jane Lynch called A Swingin’ Little Christmas also features a great Jive tune and it happens to be the title number.
Though many Christmas tunes are either too fast or too slow for Quickstep, there are a few good songs that have the right character for Quickstep.
A delightful new release by Tara Macri is perfect for Quickstep. The song, called “Christmas for Two,” is from her single of the same title. It’s a wee bit slow at just 46 bars per minute, but it’s easy to speed it up to 49 or 50 with an app like Amazing Slow Downer without altering the character of the song.
Another great recent release is the previously-mentioned A Swingin’ Little Christmas album by Jane Lynch, which includes two nice songs suitable for Quickstep. My favorite is Up On the Housetop. Has to be speeded up a tiny bit but it’s got all the right qualities for a great Quickstep.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Jingle Bells” by the Ray Conniff singers (from Christmas Caroling) are all good choices. I really like “The White World of Winter” by Bing Crosby. It’s a delightful tune. Another great Quickstep is “Sleigh Ride” by Johnny Mathis, perfectly paced at 51 bpm. A little slow at 48 bpm but still suiting the SSQQ character of Quickstep is a very jazzy version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Billy Paul Williams & Nicole Henry.
The biggest challenge with Rumba tunes in seasonal music is not the pace of the music, but the character. Most Christmas songs are just not well suited to the character of Rumba. I like “Last Christmas” by Wham! (please ignore the other horrible knock-offs!). Wham’s original piece is paced at 26 bpm. I also like “Winter Wonderland” by Aretha Franklin who brings a sultry quality to the song, making it well suited to Rumba. If you want a funkier Rumba tune, consider “Santa Baby” by Billy Paul Williams & Brooke from the “Reindeer Room” album.
You might also want to look up “Santa Baby” by Pink Martini, a version that has a Rumba-like character. Jo Stafford’s “By the Fireside” is a nice sensual Christmas tune, but too slow at 22 bpm. If you can find a copy, use one of those music conversion apps to speed it up a couple bars.
Waltz is surprisingly challenging when it comes to Christmas tunes. There are many songs in 3/4 time but they all seem to be either too fast for Slow Waltz or too slow for Viennese Waltz. You can always buy a special holiday dance album like that produced by Ross Mitchell and his singers, but if you’re trying to find a popular seasonal tune that you can waltz to, it’s pretty tough. Amy Grant’s “Heirlooms” makes a great waltz, but it has a strong religious context that can make it uncomfortable for many social dance settings. “Silver Bells” is a great waltz but is too fast. I found that Kenny Rogers and Perry Como had versions which were almost the right speed but still uncomfortably fast at 31 bpm. Don’t be fooled by the title of “The Christmas Waltz.” Yes, it’s technically a waltz but most versions are too fast for Slow Waltz. Frank Sinatra’s “Christmas Waltz” is the most comfortable that I could find at 31 bpm. Just as important, only the most advanced dancers would actually be able to dance to it since it’s a challenging a piece of music.
I found a very nice version of “Silent Night” by CMH perfectly timed for Slow Waltz at 30 bpm. Another decent version, though a bit slow at 27 bpm, is by Wynnona Ryder.
You were going to ask, so I figured I’d go there. Samba is tough to relate to Christmas. I like the character of Debi Nova’s “Drummer Boy” single, which is paced at 48 bpm and has a strong Samba-style beat.
If you enjoy acappella music there’s a great Christmas tune by a group actually named Acappella called “Christmas Medley” that has the right speed for a 50 bpm Samba, though like most holiday tunes it lacks the right feeling for Samba. Christmas music doesn’t really fit the character of Samba very well. I couldn’t find anything else that didn’t come from a dedicated ballroom dance Christmas album.
There aren’t a lot of Christmas tunes that work well for Cha Cha, which is interesting because this is one of the easier dances to adapt to popular music. I like the character of “Christmas Kisses” by Ray Anthony. Frankie Marcos & Clouds does a great Cha Cha version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Feliz Navidad)” paced at 28 bpm, as well as a 30 pbm version of “Winter Wonderland.”
No. Just no.
Actually, I’m kidding, kind of. There are a few good Tangos around that work well for a Christmas party. One that I like is Christmas Tango from the album Christmas Straight Up by the Bob Curtis Trio. Another decent Christmas Tango is It’s Gonna Be a Cold Cold Christmas by the Ray Hamilton Orchestra. You might also want to check out Tango Around the Christmas Tree by Orange Mighty Trio.
You’re in better luck when it comes to the Viennese Waltz, as long as you don’t mind the music being little on the slow side. “Skater’s Waltz” is a nice tune, more winter-focused than Christmas, but very danceable at 55 bpm. John & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is a great VW at 50 bpm. Another one is “Carol of the Bells” by CMH, at 60 bpm. The previously mentioned group Acappella has a nice VW tune titled “No Other Day” paced at 54 bpm. Again, it has a strong religious overtone because it’s a traditional-style carol so it won’t be suitable for everyone. Elvis Presley’s “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” is a nice 6/8 tune but paced a little on the fast side at 61 bpm.
So there you have it. While there’s not a vast range of danceable Christmas music, there’s enough to make it work. If you’re organizing a Christmas social dance event, I would definitely recommend looking up one of several available Christmas albums especially made for ballroom dancing like “Christmas Music” by Dance House. These may not be the highest quality musical achievements, but when you’re on the dance floor you’re not all that focused on how many awards the singer has won. Merry Christmas!