About the Ballroom Dances

A. American Style Smooth Dances:

You will also hear these dances called the ‘Smooth’ dances. These dances move around the dance floor in a counter-clockwise fashion. They are elegant, beautiful, and dramatic, each with its characteristic style.

  • Waltz: This is the granddaddy of all ballroom dances. It grew out of the Germanic dances of the 17th and 18th century such as the Landler and the Allemande. The name “Waltz” comes from an old German word walzen, meaning to roll, turn, or glide. Waltz was the first dance in which the man and lady danced with body contact, and was considered quite scandalous in its day. It was immensely popular all across Europe, first with the lower classes and then with the aristocracy. Waltz features a lovely, elegant rise-and-fall action, ¾ time music and a 1-2-3 rhythm.
  • Foxtrot: Foxtrot is the dance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This smooth and elegant dance had its beginnings in a New York theatre in 1914. There, a vaudeville actor named Harry Fox began dancing a series of trotting steps to ragtime music as a part of his act. Eventually the dance evolved to incorporate the walking and brush steps that make this dance popular with beginners and advanced dancers alike. Foxtrot is danced to music with a 4/4 time signature (think Frank Sinatra) and has two rhythms: slow-slow-quick-quick and slow-quick-quick.
  • Tango (American Style): Oh what a fiery and dramatic dance! American Style Tango evolved as a ballroom dance from the sultry Argentine Tango danced by gauchos and prostitutes in the brothels of Buenos Aires. American Style Tango features sharp movements, head snaps, and a cat-like and stealthy foot action. The music is in 4/4 time and has a marching rhythm.
  • Viennese Waltz: This whirling, thrilling dance dates back to the early 1700’s in Europe. It was a dance first popular with the common folk and then with the upper classes. In 1774, the great writer Goethe wrote this about dancing the Viennese Waltz at a country dance, “Never have I moved so lightly. I was no longer a human being. To hold the most adorable creature in one’s arms and fly around with her like the wind, so that everything around us fades away.”
    Viennese Waltz is danced in fast ¾ time with a 1-2-3 rhythm and features a series of left and right turns as the couple whirls around the dance floor. Popular Viennese Waltz songs include “The Blue Danube” and “The Skater’s Waltz.”

B. American Latin Dances

These dances, also called ‘Rhythm’ dances, feature many of the sensual, romantic, sexy Latin dances as well as the quintessentially American East Coast Swing. The Latin dances are “spot”dances, meaning the couples generally dance in the same spot on the dance floor as opposed to traveling around the dance floor in a counterclockwise circle, (as they do in the Ballroom or Smooth dances.) Dances below are the dances we teach in our Ballroom/Latin series classes.

  • Rumba: Rumba is universally recognized as the dance of love. It is danced to slow, sensual music with a Latin beat and features a hip action known as “Cuban Motion.” Rumba is derived from the Afro-Caribbean dance “Son” and has been popular in this country as a ballroom dance since the 1930’s. Rumba is sometimes known as the “Latin Waltz”, because many of the figures in Waltz can also be danced in the Rumba, using Rumba timing and Cuban hip action. Rumba is danced to music in 4/4 time and the count of the steps is slow-quick-quick.
  • Cha Cha: This is a fun, flirty dance that grew out of the Cuban Mambo and became immensely popular in the United States in the 1950’s. It consists of triple chasse steps (cha cha cha’s) and rock steps. Cha Cha has a modified Cuban Motion hip action, because of the speed. This is an exuberant dance that will get your heart pumping and put a smile on your face.
  • East Coast Swing: This dance (and all contemporary Swing) has its roots with the Lindy Hop dances done at the great Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in the 1920’s and 1930’s. East Coast Swing is an energetic, fast dance, done usually with triple steps and rock steps to Big Band or contemporary music that ‘swings’.
  • Bolero: Bolero is a slow, beautiful, expressive dance that is somewhat of a hybrid. It combines the dance patterns of Rumba with the rise and fall action of the Waltz. It is danced to music in 4/4 time, at a tempo slower than Rumba. Bolero is the slowest of all the American Style Rhythm dances.

C. Club Dances

These are dances that have their origins in night clubs and dance halls, as opposed to on the competition ballroom floor. The club dances often have a full community of dancers who dance only this dance. Each of these club dances has its own evolving culture, legendary dancers, and legendary musicians, as well as new and evolving styles and cultures.

  • Salsa: This is a truly great club dance, one that is fun, accessible, sexy, and constantly evolving as new generations come to the Salsa clubs. Salsa as a dance style began in New York in the Latino dance clubs (Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican) in the 1960’s and 1970’s, though most agree that Salsa clearly had its earliest origins in Cuban Son. Both the music and the dance continue to evolve in the Salsa clubs of New York, California, Texas, and beyond.
    Salsa music is Afro-Caribbean in its beginnings, though it has been adapted by Latin jazz musicians to meet the tastes of the current popular music, with contemporary pop, rock, and R&B also added to the mix. Salsa music features a complex clave driven rhythm with exuberant horns and percussion sections (with cow bells and timbales) as well as a powerful vocalist. Salsa dancing features break steps, spins, showy performance moves and drops, and solo moves called “Shines” – a term borrowed from the world of tap dancing.
  • Argentine Tango: This gorgeous and improvisational style of dancing has its origins in the brothels of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century. Argentine gauchos (cowboys) would dance with the prostitutes in what was then the world’s first Milonga. Argentine Tango has evolved to become the extraordinary dance form that is today.
    It differs from American Style (or Ballroom) Tango in several ways. The Argentine Tango hold is more of an embrace, with the couples’ upper bodies close and the legs far apart (the better to execute the complicated kicks, or ganchos that is a crucial aspect of this organic dance.) Whereas Ballroom Tango is very formalized, Argentine Tango is an improvisational form, with both partners contributing to telling the story of a relationship that is encompassed in each dance.
    Argentine Tango music features violins, piano, and an accordion-like instrument called the bandoneon. Some of the greatest Tango music in the world was composed by the Argentine genius Astor Piazzola, who is widely regarded as one of the great composers of the twentieth century.
  • Hustle: The Hustle is the partner version of disco dancing. It is a fast moving, energetic dance characterized by its many turns. The lady spins almost constantly while her partner draws her close and sends her away. Hustle is still very popular at West Coast Swing dances and in some Latin clubs. It is a fusion of swing and disco, a return to partner dancing, a modified lindyhop and jitterbug, still very popular in crowded dance floors in New York. Music played for the Hustle is modern, based upon rhythm and blues.
  • Night Club Two Step: This dance was allegedly invented by Buddy Schwimmer, the father of So You Think You Can Dance star Benji Schwimmer. It is a slow, romantic, floaty dance that features rock steps and long glides across the dance floor. It is done to contemporary and popular ballads (“The Lady in Red” is probably the classic Night Club Two-Step.)

D. International Style Dances

The International Style is primarily a competitive style of dancing. It shares many of the same dances with the American Style, but the International Style dances are more formalistic and difficult, with strict technique guidelines.

At Ballroom Dance Academy, we emphasize American Style dancing because it is much easier for students to learn and much more conducive to social dancing. That said, we do offer a few International Style classes in our Sunday Specialty Series. Here is a description of those dances.

INTERNATIONAL STYLE STANDARD DANCES: These dances are the counterparts to the American Style Smooth dances. They travel around the ballroom along the line of dance. The Standard dances are:

  • Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Tango, and Quickstep. International Style Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, and Viennese Waltz use the same music as their American Style counterparts, but the dances are different and more difficult. They are all done in closed position and the couples pass their feet instead of close them at the end of measures (no box steps in International Style!) The timing is more complex and there are new technique challenges such as heel turns. American Style Foxtrot is the easiest Smooth dance; International Style Foxtrot is the most difficult.
  • Quickstep: The newcomer here is Quickstep, which is a fast, light, and elegant dance in which the partners seem to fly around the ballroom and execute a series of kicks, skips, jumps, and runs. This is a dance for people with high energy and who like to have a lot of fun. It has a kid-like quality.

INTERNATIONAL STYLE LATIN DANCES: These sexy dances feature loads of hip action, long expressive legs and arms, and long beautiful lines. The International Style Latin dances are Rumba, Cha Cha, Samba, Jive, and Paso Doble.

  • Rumba and Cha Cha: While Samba is similar to its American Style counterpart, Rumba and Cha Cha feature entirely different steps (no box steps in this Rumba!) and figures, many done in open position.
  • Jive is similar to a triple-step East Coast Swing. Jive, however, is much faster, arguably more elegant (and less earthy), and uses a lot of knee and hip action.
  • Paso Doble is a stirring and dramatic dance based on a Spanish bull fight. The leader in this dance represents the Matador and the lady symbolizes his red cape. Paso Doble features beautiful body shapes and sharp, flamenco-like footwork.