Ballroom Dancing = Partnership
American Style of Ballroom Dancing
o Smooth — Waltz (W), Tango (T), Foxtrot (F), Viennese Waltz (VW)
o Rhythm — Cha Cha (C), Rumba (R), East Coast Swing (Sw), Bolero (B), Mambo (Ma)
o American style also includes Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Hustle, West Coast Swing and more
International Style of Ballroom Dancing
What are American (Social) and International styles of Ballroom Dancing?
One of the most popular Ballroom dancing questions is “What is the difference between American and International Ballroom dancing styles?”
There are two main styles of Ballroom Dancing -American (Social) and International. American style was brought up in North America by the fusion of ballet and folk dancing. And it has a huge influence on new “thinking” and is not as standardized as the International style. Actually, Social style is only the Bronze level of the American Style of Ballroom Dancing. All styles are organized into Bronze, Silver and Gold levels. The social style of Ballroom Dancing was created to serve the big mass of people and was created to be “user friendly.
In North America, the Social style tends to be used more often for social dancing, while the International style tends to be used primarily in competitions.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t compete in American style or dance International style socially. Dance competitions normally include both styles.
As for the dances themselves, they are grouped into two categories for each style. In the American style of Ballroom Dancing, the categories are called Smooth and Rhythm and in the International style, they are called Standard (sometimes Ballroom)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. Below you can see the breakdown of the dances by style and category, followed by the usual abbreviations used for each. The dances are placed in the order that they are danced in competitions.
Another popular question of Frequently Asked Questions is: What is the difference between American and International Ballroom dancing styles?
Between these two Ballroom Dancing styles are lots of similarities, but there are lots of differences.
For example: In International (Standard), all dances are danced in closed position (that means hips of dance partners are attached) verses in American (Smooth) are varieties of holds more than just “closed position” is used, and more freedom of movement is allowed. In the similarities, we could mention those dance principles, technique and footwork are the same, as dance patterns are the same.
Rhythm and Latin have more differences:
American and International Rumba are rhythmically counted very differently, and the use of the knees is different.
Chacha cha is similar in the count but different in hip motion, and the speed of dance has a big difference.
And Swing and Jive also have some similarities – very similar patterns, timing but Jive is faster and more cardio dance versus swing that is slower and much easier to dance (spatially at social dance occasions)
The biggest difference between the two styles is in the “Smooth” Dances.
The most apparent difference is that international standard includes quickstep, which is not part of American smooth. The other major difference is that the international style permits figures in closed positions only, while the American style allows open positions and even solo actions.
American Style “Smooth” has a greater diversity of patterns and is easier to learn at the beginner and intermediate levels. At the advanced and competition level, American Style is as hard to master as the International Style. In “American Style,” the box step is the basic component for all the dances and is used in some form as a conversion into more complex steps and patterns.
In the “Latin” or “Rhythm” Dances, the difference is how the Cuban or Latin movement is performed.
American Style of Ballroom Dancing uses a natural foot and soft knee movement to achieve the hip drop associated with Cuban motion. In the international style, the hips are forced up and out by stepping onto a straight knee.
If you, like most people who start taking dance lessons, only want to be contented on the dancefloor, be a fair social dancer and are not interested in any major competition, then the easier and more relaxed American Style might be a better choice for you.
Smooth dances of American Style of Ballroom Dancing
The American Style Waltz is one of the world’s most popular and romantic Smooth dances.
Its name comes from the Latin word “volvere,” which means to rotate. Its graceful turns and glides are unmistakable as dancers sweep across the floor. It is danced in ¾ time, with a pronounced accent on the first beat of each measure.
Slow speed, smooth movement and simplicity make this dance be for many couples a favourite choice for their Wedding First Dance.
Tango is one of the most colourful among all Smooth dances.
This dance is a dramatic, sensual, and supremely expressive dance. Dancer’s weight is transferred from foot to foot with fast, staccato action as they move across the floor, and the music is strong and rhythmic. There are 3 major styles of Tango: Argentine, American and International. The American Smooth Tango structure closely correlates to the musical phrasing and incorporates the freedom of expression. One of the favourite dances for the Wedding dance.
The Foxtrot has been a standard of American social dances since 1913.
Harry Fox first introduced it. It became popular in the 1930′s and remains popular until today.
Its basic components are walking steps and side steps, which vary in length to conform to a wide range of tempos. The Foxtrot is highly versatile and provides an excellent foundation for many of the other ballroom dances. Lots of patterns dancers used in the Foxtrot are also used in the Waltz choreography.
Being flirtatious and playful among Smooth dances, Foxtrot became a favourite dance for the wedding dance choreography.
Many newly married couples often use this dance as a Wedding First Dance. Its simplicity and showmanship give a great base for the gliding movement around the dance floor.
The Viennese waltz is the oldest and most elegant of the Smooth dances.
It was first developed in Vienna as a fast-paced dance to the music of Johann Strauss. The Viennese Waltz is characterized by quick motion as couples spin around the dance floor.
Rhythm Dances of American Style of Ballroom Dancing
Cha Cha Cha of American Style Rhythm dancing originated in the 1950′s in New York City by dance instructors who danced the triple Mambo.
It is an exhilarating, syncopated Latin dance. The dance gets its name from its distinctive recurring foot rhythm or Cha-cha-cha. Cheerful and energetic, it is much loved among other Rhythm dances.
The American Style Rumba started from Afro-Cuban folk rhythms and became trendy in the 1930′s.
The basic step is somewhat similar to the waltz’s basic pattern, but American Style Rumba danced leisurely and sensuously in a Latin rhythm. Danced in 4/4 time. The basic count is slow, quick, quick.
Rumba might be one of the sexiest of the Latin dances. And is the top choice for the Wedding dance among other Rhythm dances.
Bolero, similarly to the Rumba, presents a slow rhythm and sensuous atmosphere to the Rhythm dances.
But Bolero is much slower, more polished and more dramatic than Rumba.
Bolero timing: slow, quick-quick. Bolero is a more demanding dance. The amount of body control and balance required to dance at this measured tempo is bigger than in other dances. Bolero is the American “show dance” and is greatly admired by the advanced dancers.
Mambo evolved from Cuba.
The Mambo is the forerunner of Cha-cha, Rumba and Salsa. Although somewhat more difficult than Cha-cha. International Rumba and other Latin dances take their origins from the Mambo. The same steps are used in many Rhythm dances (Latin dances). Once learned, lots of dance aficionados take Mambo as a favourite dance.
Salsa is perhaps the most popular dance on the planet today.
This could be the reason why each city has its own unique style. It isn’t a matter of which style is best since each style has its own special character.
Most famous styles are traced back to the Caribbean, South and North American roots. The most famous Salsa styles are Cali (Colombian), Casino (Cuban), Miami, Los Angeles and New York Salsa styles.
Salsa is a copycat dance. It mimics the movements and styles of many other dances. The origin of this dance goes back to the 1920′s and, over the years, has been influenced by a lot of Hispanic dances such as Rumba, Mambo, Cha cha cha, Cumbia, Merengue, and many others.
Thanks to the simple, basic rhythmic pattern, which is a clear combination of “three” and “three” steps (one, two, three-hold, five, six, seven-hold), it gives even beginning salsa dancers an easy way into the Latin dance world. As they progress, rhythm, foot and arm technique, and body motion become more sophisticated and complicated. Among dancers, the count of music may also vary. Some people choose to count: one, two, three, five six, seven; one, two, three, four, five, six; one, two, three-four, five, six, seven-eight; quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow; and many other variations. Please keep in mind that all previous counts described are actually the same rhythmical pattern.
The clave (consisting of two wooden sticks) is the main salsa instrument and rhythm keeper. The band musicians can choose to follow the clave’s standard rhythmic pattern or deviate to their own rhythmic style.
Salsa music is quite rich in rhythmical patterns and speed. It can take on a very romantic slow form or speed up to head-spinning fast movements! Regardless of speed or style, common moves include both male and female spins, drops, rolls and flirtatious gestures;)
Merengue is the most “forgiving” social dance of all!
This dance spawned from the Dominican Republic. Merging African and Latin dance styles.
Merengue is danced at a moderate tempo with fundamental steps and Cuban hip motion. The arm movements of the swing and salsa are performed in this dance too.
Even Merengue is not a part of the professional Rhythm dances competition; it has its own competitive crowd of amateurs.
East Coast Swing is a wonderful part of the Rhythm dances that are perfect for social dancing beginners.
Lively, upbeat dance with roots similar to the Jitterbug and the Lindy Hop. East Coast Swing is very easy to lead and follow, has a fun step, and turns variety.
Originating on the West Coast of California in the 1940′s.
West Coast Swing was originally called “Western Swing.” Nobody knows how the dance evolved, only that it had roots in a dance called the “Lindy Hop.” The Lindy Hop began in Harlem, New York, between the 1920′s and 30′s and was danced to jazz music.
One of the theories is that when the bands started to play slower (blues) music and moved to smaller clubs, dancers adapted the Lindy Hop steps to the new conditions. Another popular rumour goes back to Hollywood before the invention of wide-angle camera lenses. Dancers would move in slots to make it easier for filmmakers to capture the shots on camera.
The West Coast Swing belongs to the American style Rhythm dances.
This smooth dance people dance to quite a large variety of music, including Disco, Rock, Rhythm and Blues, Country Western, Pop, and even soul and folk-rock. Originally thought, it is traced back to the swing era, which incorporated mostly a lot of jazz music.
West Coast Swing is danced in a slot. It has no bounce motion. This means that while the leader moves minimally, and dances almost on one spot, the follower dances within an imaginary rectangular slot and brushes past the leader as she passes by him.
While the dance is still evolving, it returns to nightclubs and Latin dance clubs again and even has its own separate dance competitions and is very popular in Canada and the United States.
Dancers will dance to almost any music in a 4/4 rhythm. This may range from very fast to prolonged music. Dancers’ style will also invariably change according to the music speed, rhythm and style. This dance takes a “Classy” place among Rhythm dances.
International Style Standard:
The Slow Waltz is a slow and elegant dance.
You and your partner will move as if you are one in this dance.
During 1910-1914 many people went to the Boston club in the Savoy Hotel, central London, to dance the Bostonwals. That was the forerunner of our competition International Standard Slow Waltz. Later the basic steps dancers changed to the direction of the Waltz.
After World War 1 the Slow Waltz started to develop more into the direction of today’s Waltz.
Figures like the Natural and Reverse turns and the Closed Change was developed. The development process of the International Standard Slow Waltz was tough and slow. Special contribution to the development was given by Miss Josephine Bradly, Victor Silvester and Maxwell Steward and Pat Sykes’s first English Champions. The biggest contributor to the standardized Slow Waltz was the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD). Many of these variations are still danced by today’s competitors.
The Slow Waltz is a smooth romantic dance in ¾ time. The rhythm has a strong first beat followed by two lighter beats.
The Milonga is the forerunner of the Tango.
The Milonga had already the characteristic head and shoulder movements that suddenly switched over to stillness. At the beginning of the 20th Century, people danced the Milonga in small theatres for the High Society from Brazil. During that period, people changed the name from Milonga to Tango, but the Milonga name carried too many memories from the ghettoes of Buenos Aires.
The Tango was introduced in Europe, actually in Paris in the Argentine community.
Until 1907 the Tango was not accepted in London. The dance was considered overly erotic and had many opponents. After some stylistic changes, Paris and London accepted the dance.
In 1920/1921, the Tango was standardized at the Conference in London. During the “thirties,” the staccato actions merged into the International Style Tango choreography. This beautiful dance is a passionate staccato with distinct movements. It is characterized by more regimented movements than the Argentine Tango and can be danced to some of the most famous music pieces.
The International Standard Viennese Waltz originally comes from the South German Alps Area.
During the 18th century, the dances: Weller, Walzer and Ländler were found. This last dance, the Ländler, is originally the forerunner of our Viennese Waltz.
Between 1800 and 1820, dancers reduced the steps and figures from the Ländler due to the music’s speed and the 6 step Viennese Waltz was born. This dance whirls around the floor at a fast pace and is very similar to the Waltz. Poise and coordination are essential as you glide over the floor.
The Foxtrot was introduced in Europe just before World War.
From its origin, the Foxtrot was a passionate dance with sequences of slow and quick movements. They say the name comes from a musical dancer Harry Fox. The European dance teachers were not enthusiastic about the “wild” character of the Foxtrot. And started to polish it more. Between 1922 and 1929, Frank Ford, with whom Josephine Bradley used to give demonstrations, developed the Slow Foxtrot’s basic movements.
With his interpretation, he won the 1927 “Star Championships” with partner Molly Spain. Today’s competitors still use many of the figures they danced. The most difficult of the ballroom dances, Foxtrot, is beautiful and graceful and requires control and style. Some famous singers and Big-Band music make it a trendy dance to learn.
Foxtrot is considered the most difficult dance among all International Standard dances.
The Quickstep is derived from the Foxtrot.
During the twenties, many bands played the Slow Foxtrot too fast. The dancers had trouble with the large open steps from the Foxtrot at 50 Bars/min.
The English developed a progressive dance from the original Charleston without kicks and made a mixture with the above-mentioned fast Foxtrot. They called this dance “the Quicktime Foxtrot and Charleston.” Frank Ford and Molly Spain danced on the ‘Star’ Championships of 1927, a version of this Quicktime Foxtrot and Charleston without the characteristic Charleston knee actions and made it dance for two instead of solo.
Quickstep is a fast-moving bouncy dance full of life and fire comprising walks and chasses. With steps including the “Running Right Turn,” “V6?, and “Fishtail,” you’ll be zooming around the floor in no time.
International Style Latin:
Fun, attractive and sharp Cha-cha!
In 1952, dance instructor Pierre Lavelle visited Cuba and witnessed an unusual way of dancing the Rumba. People danced with a triple step in place of a slow one. This was the surfacing of the cha-cha-cha. This type of Latin dance uses contemporary Latin music to provide the beat. There are two main types of cha-cha-cha: Latin, which involves slower, more sensuous movements, and “Cowboy,” which can basically be danced to any energetic music.
This type of Latin dance is favoured by many today because it is easier to learn than others. The steps are basic, and transitions are easier to make. It is also quite exciting because of the energetic pace of the music. People describe this type of Latin dance as lighthearted, energetic, wholesome and amusing.
How was this dance developed?
International Style Cha Cha Cha is developed from the Mambo and is a Latin dance that most people like to learn first. The name Cha Cha Cha is a sound imitation of the “shoes” from dancing Cuban women. This dance was first seen in America and came to Europe almost at the same time with Mambo – the forerunner of International Style Cha Cha Cha. After World War II, Mambo was pushed aside by International Style Cha Cha Cha which became really popular in 1956. According to its roots, the Cha-cha-cha music is played fervently without any seriousness and with staccato allowing the dancers to project an atmosphere of ‘naughtiness” to the audience. Recently it was decided by dance professionals to shorten the name to Cha Cha.
International Latin Style Samba is originated from Brazil.
It is very lively and can be danced either alone or with a partner. Although many people think that this is just one type of Latin dance, it actually is not. Samba is actually a collection of dances inside Brazil. The different accents of the music in various parts of Brazil tend to influence this Latin dance type. As such, you will find that different people make different movements when they dance.
You will easily recognize this dance from the Carnival Parties and Samba Schools in Brazil.
In 1925 the Samba was imported into Europe. Although Samba was already accepted as a competition Dance, Samba’s great breakthrough happened at the World Exhibition in New York in 1939. The Samba really captured Europe in 1948/1949. Walter Laird with partner Lorraine improved this dance very much.
The Rumba has more serious sensual overtones than the Cha-cha.
It is slow, quite dynamic and romantic. A lot of the Rumba dance patterns have a theme of flirting and rejection or teasing. The basic premise of International Style Rumba is to spotlight the lady’s body and sexuality. Merge this with the slow Latin beat and the rhythmic body movements, and you have a sizzling combination.
They estimate that Rumba was brought to America by the African slaves. But around 1928/1929, the actual steps and figures of this dance were not clear.
Many people treated and danced it like a new type of foxtrot with additional hip actions. After World War II, Rumba was further developed into the “Cuban Rumba.” By monsieur Pierre and Doris Lavell, which had a school in Regent Street, London. But still, the standardization was a problem until Walter Laird started to write his Latin books. Many official dance Associations accepted his work, and standardization became a fact.
Meaning Paso Doble is “two-step.”
This type of International Latin dancing actually originated from Southern France. This type of Latin dance’s lively music actually comes from the same music played at bullfights during the bullfighters’ entrance. The movements are generally based on the movements of the matador, the bull or the cape.
Interestingly, the Paso Doble is the only Latin Dance is not coming from the African American culture, and the roots are in Spain. The peak in popularity of this dance was in 1926. After World War II, the Paso Doble was accepted as a Competition Dance.
Jive is another type of International Latin that does not have Latin American roots.
It is actually a very lively variation of the Jitterbug. It was mainly propagated during the early 1940′s by young people. For example, this type of Latin Dancing is actually rooted in different African-American origin dances, such as the Lindy Hop and the Boogie.
Moreover, it is a fast, rhythmical and swinging dance influenced by Rock & Roll, Boogie and the African/American Swing. The roots of the Jive are in New York, Harlem. In 1940, Jive was developed into the jitterbug, and thus, the English Jos Bradly and Alex Moore developed from that the International Competition Jive.