A Short Guide to Ballroom Dance Music

By Richard S. Mason
January 1, 2001

Note that since this Guide was written, times have changed—for both music and technology… As of March 2007, Telemark has a Blog! Richard S. Mason and other contributors review new and old CDs, write about the evolution of Ballroom dance music, and comment on dance music trends and other topics of interest to dancers.

For the past 40 years or so, the best recorded Ballroom dance music has come from dance bands in England and Germany and, more recently, from Japan and Italy. In the 1960s and earlier, it was the orchestras of Victor Silvester and Joe Loss in England, and of Hugo Strasser and Max Greger in Germany. Virtually all of these recordings were instrumental and also strict tempo, meaning that the band played at the proper tempo for the particular dance and kept it steady for the duration of the recording.

In the United States, many Big Bands played for dancing, but only the Jack Hansen Orchestra in New York played strict tempo and was the only one suitable for dance competitions. These musicians played for both Standard and Latin events at the annual U.S. Ballroom Championships at the Waldorf-Astoria. Also they played for the Standard events when the World Professional Dance Championships were held for the first time in the United States, in New York City, in 1973. The Machito Orchestra, also a U.S. product, played for the Latin, although some of its tempos seemed strange to the dancers from overseas. For the other competitions in the United States, recorded music was played by DJs such as George Chopourian in the East and Joe and Bobbie Rodgers in the West.

In 1962 the newly formed Telemark Dance Records began importing vinyl 45s and LPs from England (Victor Silvester and Joe Loss) and somewhat later from Germany (Hugo Strasser and Max Greger), and they began to replace popular 45s and a few U.S. studio orchestras such as Hoctor Records in dance schools and competitions. Soon Telemark Records began to produce, under license from British and German firms, 45s and LPs of British and German bands. At about the same time, Jack Hansen’s orchestra began to record, and these recordings also became popular.

Alas, in the mid-1970s, Jack Hansen committed suicide, and his band, America’s only strict-tempo orchestra, was dissolved. After that, only recorded music was played at U.S. Championships, by DJs Jack and Judy Hughes starting in about 1980 and continuing to the present. The most popular of the dance orchestras in U.S. studios during this period was that of Gunter Noris of Germany, which was called “The Big Band of the Bundeswehr.”

In the early 80s, British Professional dancers began using recordings of famous popular singers, American and British, for their shows. Telemark Dance Records picked up on this trend and, over the next few years, produced ten singles, under license from record companies, in a Sing and Dance Series. The artists were mostly British—the Mike Sammes Singers, Vince Hill, and others. At about the same time, DJs Jack and Judy Hughes began using vocals for dance competitions, including those of Frank Sinatra.

Beginning with the 1990s, the European record companies that had sprung up to produce dance records began to issue an increasing number of vocal recordings. These found their expression in collections of artists, among them many Americans, by the German firms of Condor Musik and of Casa Musica. Whereas, in the past, dancers would have to buy a whole album to get one or two danceable tracks from a vocal artist, they could now buy single albums with a full complement of danceable tracks. For some reason, it was easier for these German record companies to produce collections of Nat King Cole, Doris Day, Connie Francis, and others than it was for American dance record companies!

During the 90s, the popular dance band leaders of the previous 30 years, such as Victor Silvester, Joe Loss, Billy Ternent, Charles Barlow, and Ken Turner died, and the bands either broke up or continued in the hands of others—but in general they did not record. Electronic music, which was cheaper by far to produce than that of full-size orchestras, found its way into dance music. In the United States, Thomas Bevans, using a synthesizer and the occasional traditional musical instrument, pioneered this trend with his Musica Caliente series, which got a good reception outside the States—in England, Germany, Italy, and Japan. Shortly thereafter, Andy Fortuna, using a sound studio and musicians in Philadelphia, launched his Latin Jam series, which instantly became very popular worldwide. Dance Vision in Las Vegas, owned by dance entrepreneur Wayne Eng, also has entered this field recently. In Europe, one of the more notable practitioners of this art is Face the Music Ltd., whose Starlight CD became a top seller in 1997.

Canada, too, has been actively producing dance recordings in the past 20 years. Two of the three most popular recording groups have disappeared, leaving Claude Blouin, a studio orchestra that has issued 11 CDs. These are very popular in dance schools for their moderate tempo, appealing tunes, and a clear, steady beat, and they are especially good for teaching beginners and at dance parties.

In the new millennium, it is the new dance media that are the most popular, forging ahead of the German orchestras (Max Greger, who is still recording, and the no-longer-recording Werner Tauber and Hugo Strasser), the British bands of Tony Evans and Ross Mitchell (the latter, with a full orchestra and four singers, plays for the top British competitions and continues to record regularly), and Hiroko Sudou and the New Downbeats Orchestra of Japan, which has not issued a new recording in years but whose older recordings, all instrumentals, still generate a modest demand.

Many of the better CDs by most of the musical groups discussed above are included in our catalog. We have listened to and evaluated all of them and have left out those with no redeeming features. If you have any questions about any of this music, especially about their suitability for particular ability levels, please send e-mail to us at telemark@telemarkmusic.biz, leave a voice mail message at Phone: (503) 265-8884 (Oregon) OR Phone: (858) 487-8316 (California) or, if you still write letters, contact us at

Telemark Dance Records
9002 SW 35th Ave
Portland, OR 97219

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Published in: on January 1, 2001 at 7:38 pm  Leave a Comment