How to Source the Perfect Jazz Songs for Dance Class

If you are anything like me, you are constantly searching for new music. I perk up when I hear a good track in a film, while I’m shopping, and I find myself scribbling down artist names when my friends DJ for me in the car.

While I love discovering new artists and fun new jams, I am mostly trying to keep my playlist both current and appropriate for my students.

The hardest part about building a playlist is finding music that has variety and is catchy without being vulgar, suggestive, or laden with curse words.  Get the clean version you say?  In my experience sometimes the clean version simply swaps out one expletive for another that is somehow considered less offensive.

Having been a full time teacher for several years, I have found a formula in finding jazz songs for dance class and creating some killer playlists.

Here are some of my best tips and tricks to find jazz songs, and create a great playlist.


Choosing jazz music for dance class

When I am searching for music (and I am ALWAYS searching) I look for three things:

  • Tempo
  • Dynamics
  • Emotional quality


Some songs start out fast and remain that way for three solid minutes. Great. I can use that for something like abs or degages.

Other songs vary in tempo from start to finish.  These songs are great for combos because there is variety built in that will help my choreography not to remain stagnant.

At the end of this post, I have given an example of one of my playlists.  Listed under battements I have two very different songs, Black Cat by Janet Jackson and Wake Me Up (Acoustic) by Aloe Blacc.  I have chosen these songs for their tempo variance.

Black Cat is pop with sharp downbeats and a quick tempo.  I use this for staccato kicks.

Alternatively, I use the acoustic Wake Me Up for slower, controlled battements. Here I like to use all of the music by adding in extensions to reinforce lengthening.


Dynamics is all about what purpose the song will serve for you. I like loud club jams for push ups, cardio, and leaps. For instance, I love Work Work by Britney Spears.  It’s big and loud and makes my students fly fiercely through leaping combinations.

In contrast, I prefer softer acoustic covers for stretching and/or cool down.

Dynamics can also inform your choreography.  You have the option to let the song lead your movement as they grow and fall together, or you can oppose the song and create an interesting feeling of tension and dissonance.

It’s all about how you use the music and what you want the audience to experience.

Emotional Quality

After a long weekend of competition when my students are completely exhausted, I like to play a chilled out warm up mix.  Likewise the week before competition, I am likely to use a pump up mix.

Music has the ability to fill us with every emotion under the sun.  While it might just be battements for you, a song might be resonating with your student and inspiring them to brush harder and kick higher.

The first song in my playlist is Lay It All On Me (feat. Ed Sheeran) by Rudimental.  This tune has a happy, feel good vibe.  It fills me with positivity and gets me straight into the mindset for teaching a great class.

Organize and build a great jazz playlist

Create an arc:

Nothing is worse than having ten songs in a row that are exactly the same.

I have about three different warms ups that I rotate throughout the year. Each warm up has its own playlist.

If I’m feeling really on top of my game, I time out the exercises to the songs and make sure that everything fits together seamlessly.

While it does take a lot of time to make sure the exercises and music align both in tempo and in length, it saves me a lot of valuable class time when I would otherwise be running back and forth to the stereo to pause, fast forward, and search for that one perfect song I love but can’t remember the name of while my students are staring at me just waiting to dance.


If you are going to take the time to make a playlist, then you may as well find at least three songs for each exercise and put them into alternate lists.

While I am content to listen to the same song 100 times while doing tendus, a lot of students are not.

They want to be able to focus on the song and distract themselves from the 32 count extension series that you have them perform every week because it’s good for them, even though they hate it.


If you are happy to improvise the tempo of your exercises and/or the order of your warm up, then go ahead and toss together about fifty great songs and hit shuffle.

Your students will love the constant variety, and it allows you as a teacher to exercise your skills in improvisation while always keeping a clean, fresh feel to warm ups and progressions.

Quick edits:

Love a song, but hate that it uses one expletive?  Take five minutes and use your editing skills to cut that word or verse out.

Use a tool like Audacity (free to download) to do this. That way you never have to worry about getting to your device in time to pause the song and you still get to listen to a great jam.


How to source the perfect jazz music for dance

Now, you might be wondering how to find jazz songs for dance class.  There are four primary ways in which I go about finding music.

1. Ask your friends

This might seem obvious, but it really works.  Every six months or so, I put up a status on Facebook that reads something like, “HELP! I need new music!!  Leave me your favorites here.”  I get a huge response from a large variety of people, not just dancers, and I end up with some really cool and eclectic stuff.

2. iTunes

I search the top downloaded songs.  I also love the ‘listeners also bought’ section — helpful if you are looking for a sound, but want a new or different voice.  With apple music you can also get recommendations based on what you like.  I am constantly being exposed to a vast variety of music this way.

3. Shazam

If you hear a song you like, Shazam it, you’ll have the artist, title, lyrics, and access to download it via iTunes. Shazam is great when you are out and about in stores, restaurants, the movies, and in the car. You can download the app for free to your smartphone.


4. Spotify

Spotify also allows you to make and share playlists with other users. Personally I like the top charts playlists.  I can search the top 50 songs in a variety of countries.

It’s free to download and try, though some of the best features are for premium members only, which comes with a small fee.


My playlist of Jazz songs for dance class

Here’s a sample playlist from my personal collection!  Feel free to mimic it, share your own with me, or send me artists that you love too!

Warm up (undulations, tendus, isolations, etc):

Lay It All On Me (feat. Ed Sheeran) by Rudimental

Pony (It’s Ok) by Erin McCarley

I Need A Dollar by Aloe Blacc

Someone New by Hozier


Let It Go by James Bay

River Lea by Adele

Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay by Sarah Bareilles

Work Out (Abs, Pushups, Cardio):

Can’t Stop the Feeling! by Justin Timberlake

Work from Home (feat. Ty Dolla $ign) by Fifth Harmony

Woman’s World by Cher


  1. Battements
    1. Black Cat by Janet Jackson
    2. Wake Me Up (Acoustic) by Aloe Blacc
  2. Turns
    1. Right Here by Jess Glynne
    2. We Found Love (feat. Calvin Harris) by Rihanna
    3. The Man Who Never Lied by Maroon 5
  3. Leaps
    1. You’ve Got The Love by Florence + The Machine
    2. The Sound by The 1975
    3. Every Teardrop is a Waterfall by Coldplay
    4. Break Free (feat. Zedd) by Ariana Grande
    5. Work Work by Britney Spears

Start building your playlist and pack it full of jazz songs for dance class

While building a playlist takes thought, the payout of having an exciting, organized, and energized class is beyond worth it!

Above are some tips and tricks I’ve been using to streamline my process to build dance class playlists more quickly. You will find yourself making playlists with excitement and sharing them with your friends and colleagues.

I invite you to try out these methods and send me your feedback!  Like I said, I am ALWAYS searching for new music and would love to hear some great suggestions from you too!

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