Waltz is one of the world’s most loved and well-known ballroom dances. American Waltz is more free-flowing, allowing dancers more improvisation and expression. Shocking many when it was first introduced, the waltz became fashionable in Vienna around the 1780s, spreading to many other countries in the years to follow. The waltz, and especially its closed position, became the example for the creation of many other ballroom dances. Video example.
A fun and easy dance to learn, the Foxtrot can be danced to a wide variety of music. Foxtrot can be danced to big band, swing, or 50’s rock and roll. The Foxtrot is great for beginners and can be danced on crowded dance floors at parties and weddings. The dance was premiered in 1914, quickly catching the eye of the talented husband and wife duo Vernon and Irene Castle, who lent the dance its signature grace and style. When rock and roll first emerged in the early 1950s, record companies were uncertain as to what style of dance would be most applicable to the music. Famously, Decca Records initially labeled its rock and roll releases as “foxtrots”, most notably “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets. Video example.
This steamy and sultry dance has been enthralling audiences since its introduction. American style uses larger movements to highlight an exuberant expression of passion. Tango dance and tango music originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, and spread to the rest of the world soon after.
Intermediate and advanced dancers looking for a challenge will enjoy this aristocratic and athletic dance. What is now called the Viennese waltz is the original form of the waltz. It was the first ballroom dance performed in the closed hold or “waltz” position. As the Waltz evolved, some of the versions that were done at the original fast tempo came to be called specifically “Viennese Waltz” to distinguish them from the slower waltzes. Video example.
Cha Cha is a Latin American dance of Cuban origin, derived from a version of Cuban Mambo called Chasse’ Mambo (chasse means “to chase”), reportedly getting its name from the sound of women’s shoes shuffling across the floor. In traditional American Rhythm style, Latin hip movement is achieved through the alternate bending and straightening action of the knees. Video example.
In my opinion the most romantic of all the dances, Rumba is a non-progressive dance distinguished by its romantic feel and sensual hip action. The word Rumba describes a family of percussive rhythms, song and dance that originated in Cuba as a combination of the musical traditions of Africans brought to Cuba as slaves and Spanish colonizers. Video example. Video example.
Samba is a lively, rhythmical party dance that originated on Brazilian plantations, and was introduced to the US in the late 20s via the Broadway musical “Street Carnival”. The dance borrows movements from Afro-Brazilian traditional dances such as those used in candomblé rituals and the chamadas of capoeira angola. Video example.
Mambo developed from the Cuban dance Danzon, and was greatly influenced by Cuban Haitians and American Jazz. Mambo is a fast and spicy dance characterized by strong Cuban Motion, staccato movement and expression of rhythm through the body. The dancer holds count on “1” and breaks on “2”. Video example.
Another romantic Latin dance, Bolero was originally a Spanish dance with Moroccan roots. Often called the “cuban dance of love”. Contemporary Bolero music is slow and dreamy, usually with Spanish vocals and soft percussion. This dance is quite different from the other American Rhythm dances in that it not only requires cuban motion but rises and falls such as found in waltz. Video example.
Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic, where it originated in the early 1800s. There are legends about a limping war hero who had to step with a limp to one side while dancing because of wounds, and polite public imitated him. Video example.
Today’s salsa dancing is a rich blend of Latin-American and Western influences, namely from Puerto Rico, Colombia, and other dances such as Western and Ballroom dancing. Salsa traces a 90 year history in which there are a multiple evolutionary paths, sometimes split due to political and social influences. The basic step of all styles of salsa involves three weight changes (or steps) in each four-beat measure. As a salsa dancer changes weight the upper body remains level and nearly unaffected by the weight changes. Caught in the middle are the hips which end up moving quite a bit—the famous “Cuban hip movement.”
Country/Western, Swing and more
East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing has its roots in the original swing dance, Lindy Hop, which was created in the late 1920s by African American youth at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. By the mid 30s, Lindy Hop (also called Jitterbug and Swing) had captured the imagination of young people everywhere. In the early 40s, Lindy Hop was tamed and simplified by dance schools to become a ballroom dance called Eastern Swing, which was changed to East Coast Swing in the 70s. East Coast Swing is a fun, upbeat dance distinguished by its bounce, back break/rock step, and swing hip action. Video example.
West Coast Swing
West Coast Swing is a partner dance derived from Lindy Hop. It is characterized by a distinctive elastic look that results from its basic extension-compression technique of partner connection, and is danced primarily in a slotted area on the dance floor. West Coast Swing was born in California during the 1940s. While West Coast Swing is the official California state dance, it is dance widely throughout the United States and Canada. Video example. Video example.
Country-Western Two Step
The country/western two-step, often called the “Texas two-step” or simply the “two-step,” is a country/western dance usually danced to country music in 4/4 time. It is a progressive dance that proceeds counterclockwise around the floor. The Two Step is a dance with roots in European and Mexican dance history and appeared in Germany and Hungary in the 1800s.
Please realize that the video examples are high-level professionals with years of training and experience. While you won’t look like them, I wanted to include videos to give you examples of each dance type.
Some students have requested a chart to visually show what types of dances go with what music. This is in NO way scientific, necessarily traditional, “official”, or the only way that it can be, I am simply providing this chart based upon student feedback regarding what they use the dances for and their perceived difficulty level of different dance styles. So if, for example, you wanted to know what style of dance might be feasible for beginning dancers to a slow rock song, you might look at the chart and choose Rumba or East Coast Swing:
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