Strictly Ballroom Mixtape

Michael Zwiebach on April 25, 2013

As prom season begins, we bring you a playlist of old school ballroom dances from all over. Dance animates the majority of music, and it’s no different in the classical corner. Composers use dance for its storytelling possibilities, its characteristic rhythms, its sheer physicality. As you make the last adjustments to your prom formal wear, it’s the perfect moment to dive into these formal dances.

  1. Waltz from Evgeny Onegin (Tchaikovsky), Act 2, Dresden Staatskapelle
    It’s a classic prom night storyline (with a few twists): a young girl with a crush on a hot guy, gets rejected. But then, she blossoms, they meet again, and this time she rejects him. This country waltz symbolizes Tatiana in her unpolished phase.
  2. Polonaise from Evgeny Onegin, Act 3, Dresden Staatskapelle
    The polonaise is a very grand dance, and the trumpet flourish at the opening is characteristic of it. It symbolizes nobility, pomposity, the old European aristocracy. And here we find Tatiana, now married, in the midst of a very grand festival. Onegin is there, too, but he soon discovers that he has lost his chance. Great, great tune, however.
  3. Gavotte, Holberg Suite (Grieg) Bergen Philharmonic, Ole Kristian Ruud, conductor
    A gavotte is a French dance from the 18th century with a very characteristic rhythm. Edvard Grieg famously revived it in a delightful suite of dances.
  4. Sarabande, French Suite No. 1 (J.S. Bach), Glenn Gould
    There were tons of French dances that were made famous in the 17th-century court of King Louis XIV of France. They are one of the backbones of Baroque and late 18th-century music. The sarabande is a slow dance that is sensuous and often dramatic.
  5. Fair Dancer Reel from Appalachia Waltz, Mark O’Connor, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer
    Getting away from court ballrooms, this traditional Scottish-Irish dance is a staple of folk-dancing in the United States.
  6. Estampie, from String Quartet Set (Lou Harrison)
    The American composer Lou Harrison was interested in practically everything, and in this string quartet he used a courtly medieval dance called the estampie. This is his 20th-century take on it.
  7. Libertango (Astor Piazzolla)
    Here’s one of the classic tunes from the 20th century’s most famous tango composer.
  8. Waltz from Jazz Suite No. 2 (Dmitri Shostakovich)
    This angular, slightly edgy waltz found a perfect home on the soundtrack for the thriller Eyes Wide Shut.

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