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.
Now that the pandemic is mostly over, people are starting to venture out from their hobbit holes and caves to once again connect with others in social settings. 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. Many 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, but anything at 29 bars per minute or faster works great for Smooth Foxtrot.
Recently I came across Wayne Newton’s “Let it Snow!” which is beautifully suited to International Slow Foxtrot at 27 bpm. Another new discovery at the same tempo is “Still Can’t Sleep on Christmas Eve” by We The Kingdom.
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. Other great Smooth Foxtrot tunes are Dean Martin’s “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” at 33 bpm, and “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives, slightly faster at 35 bpm.
I recently found “Candy Cane Kisses” by Lyn Lapid. At 34 bpm, and a delightful style, it makes a great Smooth Foxtrot.
Another tune that I just discovered is “Mr. Christmas” by Brett Eldredge, which also has the right character for a Smooth Foxtrot and a tempo of 34 bpm.
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.
And who can ignore the classic “Cool Yule” by Louis Armstrong (featuring the Commanders), with a great Swing beat and a tempo of 38 bpm.
Then you’ve got the lively “The Merriest” by June Christy and “(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With the Bag” by Kay Starr. Both are superb modern classics well suited for Swing. Also check out Carrie Underwood’s “Favorite Time of Year“, with a tempo of 35 bpm.
Another good Swing tune due to its character, but too slow at 33 bpm, is “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. You could use one of those magic apps to speed it up.
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.
I recently discovered “What Christmas Means to Me” by Joss Stone, which makes a good Jive, with a tempo of 40 bpm.
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.
I recently discovered “Christmas Dance” by Darren Criss. Has perfect Quickstep energy and a tempo of 48 bpm.
A delightful 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.
I recently discovered Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me” which can kind of work as a Rumba though the style misses that Rumba character. Tempo is 24 bpm. Olivia O’Brien’s “It’s Christmas Time” with the same tempo can work well as a Rumba.
Another recent discovery is “Fa La La” by Justin Bieber (featuring Boyz II Men). It has a good Rumba rhythm with a tempo of 23 bpm. Also check out “A Christmas to Remember” by Ryland James & Ralph, with a tempo of 25 bpm and a decent Rumba beat.
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 just slightly on the slow side 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 that are 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. Slow Waltz really doesn’t work at anything faster than 30 bpm, and is best at 29, so you will need to use software to slow down any of these selections.
I found a very nice version of “Silent Night” by CMH reasonbly timed for Slow Waltz at 30 bpm. Another decent version is by Wynnona, with a tempo of 27 bpm.
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.
I recently discovered “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-DMC which can work as a Samba at 47 bpm. The beat is strong and a bit on the flat side, really a hip-hop beat, but you can certainly dance Samba to it.
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.”
I recently discovered “Run Rudolph Run” by Norah Jones, which makes a delightful Cha Cha for the holiday at 30 bpm.
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. Teddy Swim’s “Please Come Home for Christmas” is a good 55 bpm Viennese Waltz. John & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is a great VW, but very slow 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!
Join the discussion 5 Comments
What a lot of time and thought has gone into this fun evening, George, thank you. Look forward to it! Love your comment under Tango! Too funny!
Happy Holidays George and Wendy! This is an excellent reminder that one can dance to all kinds of music. You have shown us the way…..and now provided the wonderful lists to enjoy the holidays on the dance floor. Thank you! Dave and Jenny
Thank you for this list! I am a ballroom dance teacher for a children’s studio in Tempe, AZ – I was missing a cha cha and was glad to find your recommendation of the Christmas Kisses Song 🙂 Have a great holiday!!
Try Leona Lewis One More Sleep for a Cha Cha. It has a break section for about 4 bars but it stays in time. A good waltz is “Sending you a little Christmas” by Jim Brickman. It has a female vocalist and is a fantastic song for this dance.
Also, the cast of glee recorded a version of deck the halls titled ‘Deck the rooftops’ that is a fantastic Samba that just makes you want to bounce along with it!
Thank you for those additional selections! I’ll check them out.