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Measures per minute (mpm), what is that?

Which dance suits what song and how do I know by mpm what to dance?

How does one know which dance to dance to a certain song?

It depends not only on the style of the music but also on the time of the song and the number of “measures per minute” or the “beats per minute”.
However, beats per minute are not as meaningful in social and ballroom dancing as measures per minute. The second one helps determining pretty well which dance one can dance to which song.

First of all you have to define whether the song has a three or a four count (¾ time or 4/4 time)?

How does one know which dance to dance to a certain song?

What’s the best way to do it?
In 90% of all cases, especially with songs that occasionally run on the radio, songs have have three quarter notes or four quarter notes in one bar – short three count or four count.
All other can be disregarded for now, as they are rare or to be handled similar as a three or four count.

How to differentiate a those two?
Roughly speaking, you can always count up to three at a ¾ time and always up to four at a 4/4 time. The first beat in the song is always emphasized. In a 4/4 time also the third beat can be more significant than beat two and four, albeit often less stronger than the first beat.
So if you tap the rhythm/ every beat in the bar with your foot on the floor, and notice which of the beats is duller or more pronounced than the others, you have already won half the battle.

¾ time or three count:

      beat         –   beat    –       beat     –        beat        –     beat     –      beat      –          beat       –   beat ….

accentuated –  weak    –     weak    – accentuated –     weak     –     weak      – accentuated –  weak….

         1                  2                  3                      1                    2                   3                      1                  2      ….

4/4 time or four count:

          beat       –   beat      –         beat        –   beat  –       beat          –    beat   –        beat        –  beat ….

  accentuated –   weak    – accentuated  –   weak – accentuated  –   weak   – accentuated – weak. ..

           1                  2                   3                      4                 1                     2                3                    4    …

These are the absolute basic versions of the bars. Of course you can add more instruments and drums here, but these are always the most obvious. So the accentuated beat always dictates whether you can count to three or (two or) four.

Secondly, determine the measures per minute (mpm)

As soon as you have defined the time, it’s about knowing how many measures per minute the piece of music has.

This is best done with a stopwatch or a watch with a second hand. You listen to the song whose mpm you want to determine, and then start when a bar begins to count the measures for 60 seconds.

Having a ¾ time you count 1-2-3 – 2-2-3 – 3-2-3 – 4-2-3 – 5-2-3 – 6-2-3 – …

Accordingly, at a four count 1-2-3-4 – 2-2-3-4 – 3-2-3-4 – 4-2-3-4 – 5-2-3-4 – 6-2- 3-4 – …

The easiest way is to pick up pen and paper. For each finished counted bar you make a line. After 60 seconds count the bars/lines and you know how many measures per minute you have.

Say, for example, that I counted 30 times “1-2-3” at three count, or made 30 lines, the song has 30 measures per minute.

Alternatively, you could count bars for only 15 seconds and then multiply them by 4. This is definitely less to count but not necessarily as accurate as counting the bars for 60 seconds.

Now I have determined the mpm in a song and all I have to do is to know what to dance to the corresponding pieces of music…

Here is a list for orientation, accordingly to the world dance program of the ADTV * . The mpm in brackets are added from experience, as given mpms are not always the same in the Salsa, Swing or whatever dance scene.

Time signature Measures per minute Fitting dance examples
¾ time/ three count 29-31 slow waltz Can You feel the love tonight , I wonder why

Viennese waltz, Pendula waltz

Pendula waltz especually if from 55 mpm or if song is even faster than 60 mpm

Viennese waltz (slow) with 45 TpM: Nothing else Matters  , typical Viennese waltz: Second Waltz , love on the brain , Pendula waltz: Can’t help falling in love
4/4 time/ four count 20-26 Blues Thinking out loud
(20-)24-30 Rumba Can’t stop loving you
44-48 (-52) Foxtrott (if fast then Quickstep is also possible) In the mood  (typical example for two dances, Foxtrot and Swing), Snow
48-52 Quickstep (if slow, also Foxtrot possible) Sing, Sing, Sing
28-30 Slowfox New York
28-34 Cha Cha Cha (often also Discofox possible) Car Wash , murder on the dance floor
28-36 Discofox (often also Cha Cha Cha possible) Murder on the dance floor, one kiss , celebration , Atemlos durch die Nacht , Memories
44-48 (-54) Salsa (when songs are commercial, often influence of Reggaeton, sometimes possible to dance also Foxtrot),

commercial: Gasolina  – Daddy Yankee,Shape of you,

traditional: El Nazareno , La vida es un Carnival  (54 TpM)

(25-44) Swing, accentuated usually on 2+4 (different Swing styles, therefore different paces) In the mood  (typical example for two dances, Foxtrot and Swing), better together , king size papa , 8, 9 & 10
(36-)40-52 Boogie, Rock and Roll, accentuated usually on 2+4 Jailhouse Rock ,everybody needs somebody to love  ,
32-48 Jive, accentuated usually on 2+4 Crazy little thing called love


Some of the mpm overlap, so in this case it depends on the style of the music what to dance. One would not dare to dance a Salsa to a song by Elvis Presley or the Blues Brothers, or a Rock and Roll or Foxtrot to Latino rhythms.
However, some dancers mix the Foxtrot and the Discofox – not that you have to do that! – but it shows that even without any problems you can e.g. dance the Discofox slower, without being looked at funny on the dance floor.

And if you are not so sure about the measures per minute, it sometimes helps to try and just dance the dance that you have in mind to a particular song. If you have the feeling, for example, that you could easily dance twice as fast without getting hectic, or you can barely follow the steps, then the corresponding piece of music is clearly too slow or too fast.
The dance has to feel good to the music!!