Just Dance Ballroom Introduction to Dance Styles
There are two main styles of ballroom dancing -- American and International. American style is danced primarily in the USA. It's also not as standardized as International style, which is danced and known worldwide. Here in the USA, American style is practiced more for social dancing while International style is primarily seen in competitions. People will dance either American or International style socially, and competitions may include both styles.
There are two categories: In American style, the categories are called Smooth and Rhythm and in International style they are called Standard and Latin. For the most part, the Standard and Smooth categories contain the same dances and the Latin and Rhythm categories contain basically the same dances. These are listed in the order that they are danced in competitions.
There are also other social styles of dances that are not ‘strictly ballroom’ but rather "fun" although "non-traditional." They include the hustle, salsa, merengue, west coast swing, Argentine tango, lindy and Hip Hop.
The five most popular Ballroom dances in the world are Foxtrot, Waltz, Rumba, Cha Cha, and Swing. Dancers skilled in these five dances can dance with partners from any part of the world.
To distinguish between International and American styles, look for two points: the dance position used is probably the easiest way to tell apart the Standard and Smooth dances. International Standard is danced almost exclusively in closed dance positions while American Smooth allows more open work where the partners can separate from each other and dance in open positions.
The Latin and Rhythm dances tend to be a bit harder to tell apart. The dancers' leg action is probably the best clue as to which style they're dancing. In American Rhythm, the dancers will use a bent leg action allowing them to delay their change of weight on the step, so you will frequently see them with bent legs. However, in International Latin, the dancers usually have the look of two straight legs which comes from the faster change of weight on the step.
There are also many fusion dances that combine the elements
of two or more dance styles into a new dance. These new dances
are springing up primarily in metropolitan areas where the dance
populations are large, vibrant and hungry for creative opportunities
within the specific social dance communities to which they belong.
The Tango originated in Buenos Aires during the late 19th Century and began as one of many different forms of tango dances. Modern Argentine Tango styles are danced both in open (Tango Nuevo) and closed embraces (traditional) that focus on the leader and the follower moving in harmony with the passionately charged music. The dance relies on improvisation by the leader since Argentine Tango doesn’t have a formal basic structure like other dances. Fortunately for learning purposes, teachers have fashioned a basic form in order to teach beginners.
The tango is essentially walking with a partner to music keeping your feet close to the floor as you move with your ankles and knees brushing as one leg passes the other. Argentine Tango is different from ballroom tangos in its posture, embrace, improvisational techniques, movement, balance, steps and music. If your background is in American or International tango, your introduction to Argentine tango will be like learning a completely new dance.
The American tango is a descendent of the original tango from Argentina and continues to evolve. Among those influences, the technical International (English) style Tango, the dramatic Paso Doble, and even the original Argentine style continue to contribute to its evolution. But American is still best known as both the simplest and the showiest of all Tangos.
Tango uses a modified dance hold, more compact than the normal closed position ballroom hold. The man and lady stand slightly farther offset, causing the man's right arm to be positioned farther around the lady's back so that the fingers of his right hand lay across her spine. Instead of placing her left arm on top of his, she will hook her forearm underneath his elbow and upper arm. Her wrist will be positioned directly underneath his arm (possibly, but not necessarily in contact) with palm facing inward, her fingers just reaching his torso. The lady's right hand and man's left hand are joined in an upper-hand clasp at approximately the lady's eye level. The man's left and lady's right elbow may be held slightly higher than normal, with a more acute angle at the elbow.
Originally called the Cha-cha-cha, this dance evolved from the Mambo and the Rumba on Cuban dance floors in the 1950’s. It is danced to Latin music with strong African and Cuban rhythms. The Cha-cha has a 4/4 syncopation where 5 steps are danced in 4 beats of music. Its unmistakable counting “one, two, cha-cha-cha” requires that the dancers use small steps. The Cha-cha is a very flirtatious dance filled with a catch-me-if-you-can attitude between partners. Hip movements and bending and straightening of the knees give the Cha-cha the classic Cuban motion. Partners work together to synchronize their movements in perfect parallel alignment.
Bolero is a 3/4 dance smooth, sophisticated, sentimental ballroom dance that originated in Spain in the late 18th century. The emphasis is on smoothness, grace and communication between partners. Bolero has the same Afro-Cuban roots as the Rumba and is thought to have originated in Cuba. The music is frequently Spanish vocals with a subtle percussion effect. The dance is itself a slow salsa, with a taste of Tango and has easy patterns. The Bolero is a modification of the Fandango. The original dance was invented in about 1780 by Sebastian Cerezo a celebrated dancer from Cadiz, Spain. It was danced singly or in couples, the dancers exhibiting complex and intricate movements while maintaining the rattle of their castanets. The dance should tell the story of a couple falling in love. The partners change from a very close hold to solo dancing, and then come together as one.
The American Style Bolero is a unique dance style combining the patterns of Rumba with the rise and fall technique and character of Waltz and Foxtrot. The music is 4/4 time, and is danced to the slowest rhythms of the Latin ballroom dances (the spectrum runs Bolero, Rumba, Cha Cha, Mambo). The basic rhythm of steps in patterns, like Rumba, is Slow-Quick-Quick.
The Foxtrot is truly an American dance, credited to Harry Fox and dating back to 1914 when he was reportedly doing rapid trotting steps with his partner to Ragtime music (the original form of Jazz), and it was originally referred to as “Fox’s Trot”. Since those early vaudeville days both the music and the dance have changed into the more smooth and sauntering dance that we see today. Foxtrot is the classic social Ballroom dance- In most old movies when you see a large crowd dancing close with their partners to a big band, they are doing Foxtrot.
Foxtrot is danced to jazz or Big Band music, the same style of music that you would dance swing to. Speed is usually the deciding factor that makes a song better for Foxtrot (danced with a 4/4 rhythm and 110-150 beats/minute tempo) or for Swing (danced to 120-250 beats per minute), but you can usually dance a slow swing to any Foxtrot tune. In fact it is fun and not too difficult to go back and forth between Swing and Foxtrot in the same dance.
Foxtrot is danced in a closed position (facing your partner and holding them close). The walking steps are taken as “slows” (2 beats per step) or “quicks”(1 beat per step), with the most common Foxtrot rhythms being SQQ, SQQ or SSQQ, but ultimately the dancers may use whatever rhythm that they choose, which allows them to change their dance to fit the music.
Many people mistakenly think that Foxtrot is a difficult dance to learn , but this is usually because they are thinking of more complicated styles of Foxtrot such as International Style and American Silver and Gold Styles, that are used mainly in performances and competitions. Basic social Foxtrot (sometimes referred to as American Bronze Style) is fun and simple to learn, an excellent dance for beginners.
Foxtantino is a new fusion dance that connects the Ballroom American and International styles of Foxtrot to Argentine Tango. This dance was designed specifically for the Ballroom community. It uses the teaching methods, technique and language of the ballroom dances so Foxtantino is easy for Ballroom dancers to learn and dance with each other. Ballroom dancers are intrigued and fascinated with Argentine Tango, but, many do not want to give up their dance frame, their Ballroom culture and/or acquire new music appreciation skills and fully enter into the Argentine Tango community. Foxtantino provides Ballroom dancers the fun and excitement of Argentine Tango while keeping to the style of dancing with which they are familiar. For more information about Foxtantino, click here
Funk Hop is a combination of Hip Hop and Funk which blends quick moves with smooth foot work. Funk is fast, powerful and passionate. People like James Brown, Hammer and Michael Jackson have this style. It is what you would see if you were to attend a house party in Oakland. Funk is what you do at parties. Hip Hop is slower with a lot of posing. It mixes modern dance and jazz moves. This makes it more assessable and commercial. This is what you see in today’s music videos. Many dances, such as Funk, Hip Hop, Boogaloo and Krunk originated in the Black Urban World. Many of the best dancers are not on television and would not be selected for a music video, but their moves are used all the time. For a comprehensive description of Hip Hop, click here.
The Hustle (Disco) was born in the Latin Clubs and Discos of the 1970’s. It has lots of open traveling movements, spins and syncopations and is danced to, disco and house music with a pulsing beat.. The Hustle is often peppered with showy moves that competitive dancers weaved into their repertoire throughout the late 1970’s and 1980’s; as it continued to evolve, Hustle began to borrow from other dance styles. These included Smooth Ballroom, from which it took traveling movements and pivots, as well as other partner dance forms such as Swing, the Latin Rhythm dances, Martial arts, Gymnastics, Ballet training, and good old fashioned attitude making for crowd pleasing performance. Hustle combined dance patterns and movements that influenced the way that most partner dances are performed today.
Even today the dance continues to evolve, yet it has never lost its basic count since the mid-1970’s of “&1-2-3”. The Hustle is the last authentic American partner dance born and cultivated here in the United States.
Jive is a dance style that originated among African Americans in the early 1940s. It is a lively and uninhibited variation of the Jitterbug that belongs to the Swing dance group. Modern Jive, sometimes called French Jive is a dance style that originated in the 1980s. It derives from Swing, Lindy Hop and may include Rock 'n' Roll and others, the main innovation being simplification of footwork. Moves from many forms of ballroom dance including Salsa and Tango may also be included.
Modern Jive is generally danced to music with 4 beats to the bar from latest chart hits to Big Band music. Some styles may concentrate on particular musical styles, such as swing. Modern Jive is a male led dance but women are encouraged to ask men to dance.
The Night Club Two Step is an easy dance with a characteristic rock step followed by a side step, which is actually a 5th position break. The dance has 8 beats and rarely changes from the 1 & 2 count. The tempo is 30-34 bars per minute and is often done to medium tempo music.
Not to be confused with country two step, this club-style Two Step dance style features a swaying lilt. It was created and popularized by California dance teacher Buddy Schwimmer more than 30 years ago when he was only 15.
Merengue is mainly a club dance set to fast Latin music. It is characterized by dramatically swinging hips and a closed hold position. The couple steps side to side in sets of 8 to 2/4 music, turning clockwise or counterclockwise and features a characteristic hip swing and graceful arm flourishes. It is the national dance of the Dominican Republic and there are a number of popular versions as to the origin of this dance. One story claims the dance originated with slaves who were chained together, and, of necessity, were forced to drag one leg as they cut sugar cane to the beat of a drum.
The second story maintains that a great hero was wounded in the leg during one of the many insurrections in the Dominican Republic. A party of villagers welcomed him home with a victory celebration and out of sympathy everyone dancing felt obliged to limp and drag one foot. The Dominicans themselves maintain Merengue is a combination of two dances, one African and the other the French Minuet, from the late 1700's - to early 1800s.The Black slaves saw the ballroom dancing in the Big Houses and when they had their own festivities started mimicking the "masters’ dances". But the European dances were uninteresting so the slaves added a special upbeat (provided by the drums), which was a slight skip or a hop.
The original Merengue was not danced by individual couples, but was a circle dance, men and women faced each other, holding hands at arms' length. They did not hold each other closely and the original movements of this dance were only the shaking of the shoulders and swift movements of the feet. There was no blatant movement as there is today as ethnic African dances do not move the hips. In fact, African dances consisted of complicated steps and arm movements. Ethnic dance does not have sexual shaking of the hips this is only done in Hollywood movies. Not only is it performed on every dancing occasion in the Republic, but it is very popular throughout the Caribbean and South America. A lot of variety exists in Merengue music. Ideally suited to small, crowded dance floors, it is a dance that is easy to learn and very enjoyable to perform.
Paso Doble originated in France, but is reminiscent of the sound, dramas and movement of the Spanish bullfight. Paso Doble means "two step" in Spanish. It is a dance for the Man, which allows him to fill the "stage" with strong three-dimensional shapes and movements danced with "Pride and Dignity".
The woman's role varies depending on the interpretation of the dance. The woman can take the role of the matador's cape, the bull or even the matador at different times within the dance. Characteristics of the Paso Doble are the "marching" flavor given to the steps and the cape movements creating tension between both dancers.
The CHASSEZ CAPE is when the man uses the woman as the cape in order to turn her around. APEL is when the man stamps his foot as if trying to attract the bulls' attention. During the dance the use of castanets is simulated. The ARPEL is a commencement of a movement with the stamping of the feet where the man and woman walk in different directions.
Because of its inherently choreographed tradition, ballroom Paso Doble for the most part is usually only danced competitively, almost never socially – unless there is a previously learned routine.
The Quick step is a descendent of the Boston and the One Step which appeared on the scene with the arrival of Ragtime and Jazz music in America towards the end of the nineteenth century. These two were the first dances based on the forward step. They used a heel lead followed by two or more steps on the balls of the feet.
It was first performed on stage in New York in 1922 in a black revue by George White, and then in the stage show "Running Wild" in 1923 by the Ziegfeld Follies, which toured U.S.A. It was popularized in Europe by Josephine Baker in Paris in the 1920's. It was danced with wild swinging arms and side kicks to music at 200 to 240 beats per minute. It subsequently became very popular worldwide, but the wild character of the dance induced many sedate ballrooms either to ban it altogether, or to put up notices saying simply "PCQ", standing for "Please Charleston Quietly".
The Black Bottom and the Shimmy became very popular in the USA between 1910 to 1920, and became a national craze after being performed in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1922. These dances became absorbed into a faster version of Foxtrot after a visit by Paul Whiteman's band to the UK in 1923, becoming known as the Quickstep.
The Quickstep was developed to interpret music with a faster tempo. It is a fast moving dance based on walks and Chasses danced to music of four beats per bar at 50 bars per minute, or 200 beats per minute. It retains the walks, runs, chasses and turns, of the original Foxtrot, with some other fast figures such as locks, hops, and skips added.
The Rumba, widely considered the most romantic and sensual of the Latin dances, has a magnetic interplay between its partners. Sometimes called the Grandfather of the Latin dances, the Rumba made its way from Cuba to the United States in the early 1920’s. Rumba music is in 4/4 time and there are four beats in each measure. Two measures of music are required for a full basic step. In four beats of music, three steps are taken. Essential to Rumba is the Cuban motion achieved through knee-straightening, figure-eight hip rolls and swiveling action of the feet. Strong and direct walks lead by the ball of the foot are also characteristic of the Rumba.
Samba is a lively, rhythmical dance of Brazilian origin in 2/4 time danced under the Samba music. However, there are three steps to every bar, making the Samba feel like a 3/4 timed dance. There are two major streams of Samba dance that differ significantly: the modern Ballroom Samba, and the traditional Brazilian Samba. Rio de Janeiro is the type of Samba seen in Brazilian Carnival parades.
The ballroom Samba is danced to music in 2/4 or 4/4 time. The basic movements are counted either 1-2 or 1-a-2, and are danced with a slight downward bouncing or dropping action. This action is created through the bending and straightening of the knees, with bending occurring on the beats of 1 and 2, and the straightening occurring on the "a".
As a ballroom dance, the samba is a partner dance. Ballroom samba, like other ballroom dances, is very disconnected from the origins and evolution of the music and dance that gives it its name. It is a form created for its suitability as a partner dance. The dance movements, which do not change depending on the style of samba music being played, borrows some movements from Afro-Brazilian traditional dances.
Salsa is not easily defined. Who invented salsa? The Cubans, Puerto Ricans? Salsa is a distillation of many Latin and Afro-Caribbean dances. Each played a large part in its evolution.
Salsa is similar to Mambo in that both have a pattern of six steps danced over eight counts of music. The dances share many of the same moves. In Salsa, turns have become an important feature, so the overall look and feels are quite different form those of Mambo. Mambo moves generally forward and backward, whereas, Salsa has more of a side to side feel.
Swing music has an infectious accent on the upbeat and makes
even non-dancers tap their feet, and snap their fingers. The
most elemental definition of Swing dancing is any style of dancing
to Swing music, and there are hundreds of styles. Swing dancing
is usually characterized by its bounce and energy as well as
lots of spins or under arm turns.
Known by many for its acrobatic moves called arials, Lindy Hop is also danced socially featuring 8 count and 6 count patterns, often with kicking or Charleston steps. Examples of Lindy Hop can be seen in recent movies such as Malcolm X or Swing Kids, or older movies like A Day at the Races or Hellzapoppin. There are many different definitions and styles, but when most people refer to basic swing dancing, they are referring to a simplified version of the original Lindy Hop, favoring 6 count moves and also referred to as 6- count swing, east coast swing, jitterbug, and Lindy.
Six-count swing can be danced to jazz or big band music from speeds of 110 beats per minute to 300 beats per minute, but most people enjoy dancing to the 120-180 beat per minute range. The 6 count basic can be modified in many ways, but is most common as rock-step, triple-step, triple-step (often referred to as triple time or triple step swing) or rock-step, step, step (often referred to as single step or single time swing). 6 count swing is easy to learn, especially when done with the single step rhythm. The triple step rhythm is better suited for slower songs, and can be substituted for the single step once you are comfortable with the steps. Swing music and dancing are two of the most important cultural imports of America, learning how to dance can be a great way to connect with a part of our history.
West Coast Swing is a smooth and sexy dance style that is danced in a slot (a narrow line), making it perfect for a crowded dance floor. West Coast Swing is danced to a variety of music, including rock, blues, funk, country/western, disco and contemporary pop. West Coast Swing also stresses leader-follower connection and dancing in close harmony with the music.
Basically, West Coast Swing consists of 6-beat and 8-beat patterns executed in a slot area on the dance floor, and can be danced to a variety of styles of music. It has enjoyed a rise in popularity in the last few years, due partly to the work of the U.S. Open Swing Dance Championships.
The introduction of the Waltz was the scandal of 19th century English society. Never before had a man and woman danced publicly in a virtual embrace. Fortunately the grace and beauty of the Waltz were noticed, and English society, so quick to denounce the dance, eventually "embraced" it. In fact, Queen Victoria was an exquisite ballroom dancer who developed a passion for the Waltz. Johann Strauss can be credited with the persistence of the Waltz in mainstream ballroom dancing with his fast paced Waltz compositions that paved the way for the quicker Viennese style. In America the Waltz tempo slowed to form a more smooth and graceful gliding dance with a gentle "rise and fall" motion. Today the Waltz persists as the oldest of ballroom dances and perhaps the best loved. The Waltz is unique in that it is the only ballroom dance written in 3/4 time. There are three beats to each measure, counted as "1-2-3" or "quick-quick-quick." Typically, there are three steps of equal duration per measure, with the Hesitation being the exception. The lead foot alternates with each measure (i.e., Left-2-3-Right-2-3). Because of this, Waltz combinations are usually written in a series of six steps.
One of the most distinguishing features of the Waltz is the 3/4 time signature that it is played in. This means that each measure has 3 beats rather than the more common 2 or 4. Waltz is counted 1-2-3 with a heavy accent on the 1. You can not dance other dances such as foxtrot, swing, or tango to waltz music because of this three beat grouping. Graceful turning moves are very characteristic of the Waltz.
Today, the Waltz is most commonly danced in the Viennese, country or ballroom style. Viennese originates from England and is danced mostly in competitions by more advanced dancers, while American Style is more suitable to beginners and those who want to dance Waltz socially. A beginner dancer should start with country or American style Waltz. Viennese Waltz is danced very fast and is characterized by an almost nonstop turning and is one of the most difficult forms of Waltz to learn. Country and ballroom styles of Waltz are very similar, with the country style danced at a slightly faster pace and incorporating more moves in open and side-by-side positions. Ballroom Waltz can be divided into American and International Styles. International Style as LRL (left-right-left) and the second as RLR (right-left-right), for a total of six steps.
The Waltz is a dance performed to music with three beats to the bar, and gives the dance a delightful romantic lift.
The first record of a dance to 3/4 rhythm is a peasant dance of the Provence area of France in 1559, as a piece of folk music called the Volta, although the Volta has also been claimed to be an Italian folk dance at this time. The word "Volta" means "the turn" in Italian. This, even in its earliest days, the dance appears to have involved the couple turning as they danced.
During the 16th Century, the Volta became popular in the royal courts of Western Europe. The Volta required the partners to dance in a closed position but with the lady to the left of the man! As in any turning dance, as the couple perform their step around their partner, they have to take a larger than usual step to get from one side of their partner to the other. In order to do this in the Volta, the partners had to hold each other in such a close embrace that many declared it immoral. Louis XIII (1610-1613) had it banned from court on this account.
Thus although the Volta may have originally been in 3 time, it evolved to be in 5 time. In 1754 the first music for the actual "Waltzen" appeared in Germany. Any connection between the Waltzen and the Volta remains obscure, except that the word "waltzen" in German also means "to revolve".
The dance became very popular in Vienna, with large dance halls being opened to accommodate the craze. In 1812 the dance was introduced into England under the name of the German Waltz and it caused a great sensation. Through the 19th Century, the danced stabilized, and was further popularized by the music of Josef and Johann Strauss.
Currently, the Viennese Waltz is danced at a tempo of about 180 beats per minute, with a limited range of figures: change steps, hesitations, hovers, passing changes, natural and reverse turns, (traveling or on the spot as Fleckers), and the contra check.
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