When Erica Marr discovered ballroom dancing in her late teens, she instantly fell in love with the Latin beats and strong drum lines that challenged her musicality. After shifting her focus away from contemporary and jazz, she began studying with elite ballroom coaches in New York City and quickly earned a World Championship title in her division.
Ten years later, as a teacher and award-winning choreographer (she was a 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards finalist), she's carved out a niche blending jazz and ballroom. "For so long, the ballroom world was its own thing and I always wanted to mesh the two worlds together," says Marr.
Her unique style doesn't necessarily require a partner and makes ballroom accessible to all dancers. "There's this core bass beat in the music that everyone is affected by," she says. This universal appeal helps make ballroom more relatable to a room full of dancers who've only studied ballet, tap and jazz. "I'll teach a bachata or a Cuban-break step that's syncopated, which introduces quicker moving and timing." Music for contemporary is such a personal choice for each choreographer, she points out, whereas traditional ballroom styles require a set timing and beats per minute.
When setting choreography for a competition team or at a convention, Marr tends to choose music that starts slow and builds to a crescendo—an arc that she attributes to ballroom's crowd-pleasing affect. "It's flashy and exciting," she says. "I'm always looking for that 'wow' moment within a song."
Song: "Alors On Danse" (Remix) (feat. Kanye West & Gilbere Forté)
"This is a great high-energy song for a cha-cha. There is a clear tempo of about 120 bpm in this track. I love the texture of this song that allows for fun choreography, as well as all the technical aspects of the cha-cha. I tend to use this song for across-the-floor routines involving cha-cha exercises."
Artist: Sak Noel and Salvi (feat. Sean Paul)
"I love everything about this track. I love the energy behind this music, which complements my choreography style. This song has a samba tempo to accentuate this fun and exciting style of Latin. There is an element of reggaeton, too, which lends itself to be able to blend elements of jazz with samba."
Album: Wata Rhythm (Latin dance rhythms)
"This entire album is amazing. Samba and Afro-Brazilian is my absolute favorite. I use this track specifically for practicing technical steps in the samba, such as Botafogos, batucadas and crusade walks. The use of the samba drums and shakers brings out the natural samba bounce. There are many other tracks on this album to use for these same exercises, as well."
"This track lends itself to a cha-cha tempo, but also has so much texture in the song to play with. I love creating to music that isn't necessarily boxed in to a specific genre, but can be blended together in a combo. I love the impact the song builds to, which allows me to really create high-energy choreography."
Artist: J Balvin & Willy William
Song: "Mi Gente"
"This song is recognized by most people and provides an amazing samba tempo. I love finding music that is easily relatable, but also has a great Latin foundation. I have taught samba choreography to this track, but there is so much texture that you can blend other elements."