This is meant to be a small introduction and guide to the most popular and well known ballroom dances. However, we are knowledgeable in teaching all styles of partner dances, American and International styles, nightclub and novelty dances. The number of actual partner dances is quite long. If you do not see a dance here feel free to request it when setting up your introductory lesson. We do not teach ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap, or hip hop.
Consider the mother of all the ballroom dances, the Waltz was the first dance where a man and a woman had physical contact for an entire song. Originally coming from southern Germany in the 17th century, it grew in popularity with the music of Johann Strauss eventually blossoming in the 20th century. Although it was consider morally corrupt, bringing couples dangerously close, the Waltz withheld the test of time. Now, the image of prince and princess, circling around the dance floor, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes, represents the epitome of romance and grace. Even as other dances fade, the Waltz remains one of the best known of all the social dances, which is a testimony to its lasting appeal! The basic Waltz steps are the foundation to most ballroom dances. Waltz music is unique in nature, written in ¾ time, with a faster tempo categorized as Viennese Waltz. It is one of the best dances for developing balance and control. Correct posture, rise and fall, and flowing movements are some of the characteristics that makes the Waltz the most elegant of all the dances.
The Tango originated from the lower class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Musically, it was a unique fusion of various European styles brought over by the immigrants who flooded South America in the 1800s. The music told the emotional stories of hardship, passion and forbidden love, danced by sailors and prostitutes. It wasn’t until 1921, when silent screen star Rudolph Valentino brought this romantic dance to the world in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, did it become a popular and socially acceptable dance. Soon, dancers and orchestras from Buenos Aires traveled to Europe, and the first Tango craze took place in Paris. When it hit New York, American socialites did not always use the steps brought over from Paris. Accustomed to dancing more like the British, “American” Tango was born. Although the two Tangos have noticeable differences; Argentinean involving intricate kicks and improvisation, and American developing staccato movement and strict timing, they both exhibit emotions of a man and woman in love. Holding you partner closer than in any other dance, the Tango is a dance displaying feelings of love and hate in which every person can relate.
In the era of ragtime music, the United States was infatuated with “trot” dances. It wasn’t until vaudeville comedian Harry Fox, with his performance of a trot in the 1913 Ziegfeld Follies, would America’s infatuation bloom into true love. His “Fox trot” set the standard for social ballroom dances. From 1913 through the 1940s the majority of artists recorded many Foxtrots, categorized as big band music with vocals. This music was also used for Swing dancing, but the Foxtrot gave people the option to dance closer together and without having to perform any of the stunts that characterized the Lindy Hop. Over time, the Foxtrot split into fast and slow versions, resulting in the Quickstep and Slow Foxtrot. Both were popularized by dancers in Hollywood like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, giving people all over the world even more reasons to love the dance! Regardless of tempo, the Foxtrot shares characteristics similar to waltz, adopting the same continuous, flowing movement, balance and sophistication. But what makes the Foxtrot a favorite for social dancing is that the patterns can be compressed making it a practical and effortless dance on a crowded floor.
The Viennese Waltz was the original waltz and shares its history with the slower, American Waltz. Before the first World War, “Waltz” meant a fast waltz, unless specified otherwise. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the competitive ballroom world referred to the slow waltz as the Waltz, and renamed the fast waltz Viennese Waltz, after the city that originally made it famous. Up until then, this foreign sounding waltz was the most popular dance at balls around the world. Today, Viennese Waltz is mainly a competitive dance because of the room it requires to dance it well. However, it is a thrill to watch, and dance, challenging the most accomplished dancers in maneuvering gracefully at reckless speeds, all while dressed in beautiful gowns and suits!
The Rumba was the dance that started the Latin dance craze around the world! Although officially introduced to the United States at the 1963 World’s Fair in Chicago, Rumba had been gaining popularity since the early 1920s. Bandleader and artist Xaiver Cugat popularized the music and dance from coast to coast. His exotic melodies and beautiful dancers, with sensuously moving hips, motivated both men and women to dance. Cugat’s insight also helped blaze the trail for other styles of Latin music and dances including Mambo, Cha-cha and Salsa. Today, Rumba rhythms have found their way into country western, blues, rock and roll and other popular forms of music. This makes the Rumba one of the most versatile and practical styles for anyone wanting to get out on a dance floor. Near and attractive footwork makes the Rumba perfectly suited for a limited space. But it is the Rumba’s signature, seductive hip movement, called Cuban Motion, which has made it an international favorite. Building romantic tension on, and off, the floor the Rumba has been rightfully crowned the “Dance of Love”.
The Cha-cha followed in the Mambo’s footsteps, becoming one of the most popular Latin dances in the United States in the 1950s. When the popular Latin bands slowed down the tempo of Mambo music, this “triple Mambo” is said to have been named after the sounds of Cuban slippers as they shuffled around the dance floor. Steps, shuffles, and rolling hips made physical contact nearly non-existent, and fed into the public’s demand for “no touch” dancing that was evolving in the rock and roll scene. Today, the Cha-cha is danced with a partner although touching is still optional. Its syncopated steps, open movements, interesting combinations, and Cuban Motion share similarities with Mambo, Salsa, Rumba and Swing. Cha Cha music is written in 4/4 time and may be played over a wide range of tempos. The pulsating rhythms which make this dance so fascinating can be heard in many modern artists’ music, from Santana to Lady Gaga. It’s this infectious one-two-cha-cha-cha rhythm that will make sitters become dancers!
Swing/East Coast Swing
With the birth of Swing music in the mid-1930s, Swing picked up where the Charleston left off. In the summer of 1935, bandleader Benny Goodman played a Fletcher Henderson arrangement of “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, and the rest was history! The dance craze swept the nation! Arthur Murray noted in his 1947 book Let’s Dance: “There are hundreds of regional dances of the Jitterbug type. Each section of the country seems to have a variation of its own.” Jitterbug, Lindy Hop, Swing, Shag and Jive all accurately describe a form of Swing depending on where you live. Due to the infectious music and numerous dance scenes from Hollywood, this uniquely American dance is enjoyed all over the world, with each generation discovering the fun. The various speeds of music are excellent training for quick footwork, leading and following, which carries over to most other rhythm dances. Whether dancing to big band, classic rock, oldies, or pop the carefree style of Swing can be easily mastered and enjoyed by young and old alike.
Shag is one of the many different variations of Swing, hailing from the southern United States during the Big Band Era of the 1930s and 40s. Like Swing, Shag is often used as a blanket term to describe any number of Swing dances that originated during that time. Although Shag can differ in patterns and music depending on which state it is danced, the Carolina Shag is one of the most popular versions. Named after the states who claimed it as their state dance, the Carolina Shag is often danced to slower “beach music” in a slot. This makes for an easy and relaxed feeling, leaving time to improvise with complex kicks and fancy footwork. The 1989 film Shag and 1997 single “Dancin’, Shaggin’ on the Boulevard” by Alabama, have helped keep the Carolina Shag alive and popular. With images of summertime freedom, where the beach is the place to be, the Carolina Shag is a dance that captures the fun of summer all year round!
West Coast Swing
West Coast Swing is the youngest of the Swings. It was based off of a slower version of Swing known as “Sophisticated Swing,” a smooth and subdued form of Lindy Hop. This slotted swing was popular in California, especially on Hollywood movie sets where the director didn’t want to see dancers’ backsides. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that today’s version was welcomed into the national Swing circle. With partner dances like the Hustle gaining popularity, West Coast Swing was becoming a dance of the era. By the 1990s, country western dancers were also dancing West Coast Swing to contemporary country songs. With this type of versatility, West Coast Swing can be danced to almost any music written in 4/4 time, ranging in styles and speeds. This leaves lots of room for interpretation allowing it to continue evolving! From sexy, slinky walks, to rhythmical footwork, or limitless spins, West Coast Swing lets one’s imagination soar!
When referring to the Hustle several disco dances which were extremely popular in the 1970s might come to mind. The 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever showed both the line and partner forms of Hustle, as well as a dance referred to as the “tango hustle” (invented just for that film by the cast). The success of the movie created an overnight sensation and different line and partner forms of the Hustle emerged. Danced to music by artist such as the Bee Gees, Donna Summers, and KC Cool and the Gang, a generation of dancers was formed. The Hustle, sometimes called New York Hustle, brought partner dancing back to pop culture. Although the popularity of the movie faded, the Hustle continued. It has taken a place besides Swing, Cha-cha, Tango, Rumba, and other partner dances as a classic. With similarities to Swing and Salsa, today’s Hustle is being modernized for a new generation. It is now danced to pop artists like Katy Perry and Rihanna, all while keeping its original cool style.
Mambo was the first formal Latin dance of Cuba. During the 1930s, fast Swing music and rhythmical Cuban music were fused to create a new style of jazz. Yet, it wasn’t until 1943 did Perez Prado introduced the dance at La Tropicana nightclub in Havana. Prado was also the first person to market his music as “Mambo”. Shortly after, many popular Latin and American artists furthered the trend with familiar songs including “Mambo Italiano”, “Papa Loves Mambo”, and “Mambo #5″. The dance made its first appearance in the United States in 1947 at the New York Park Plaza Ballroom. Although the original dance was modified due to its violent acrobatic nature, this gentler version enjoyed a decade in the spotlight danced at studios, resort hotels, and nightclubs around the states. The Mambo craze did not last long, giving way to dances like Cha-cha and Salsa, however Mambo is still danced at nightclubs being referred to as “Salsa on the 2”. While most agree Mambo is more technical than Salsa, Mambo is enjoyed by advance and competitive dancers appreciative of its rhythmical accent and precision.
Salsa can be as hot and spicy as its namesake! As a blend of many Latin and Afro-Caribbean dances, Salsa is like Swing in that it has many different styles depending on where it is danced. New York City, Los Angeles, Miami and the Latin countries all have slight variations of Salsa. The modern version first became popular in New York City in the 1970s thanks to Eddie Torres. Torres’ “Mambo”, or Salsa on the 2nd beat, was developed by dropping the chasse (or triple step) from Cha-cha when the music became too fast to dance all three steps. Instead of dancing to steady Mambo music, the zestier Salsa music became the ideal choice. This made the overall look and feel noticeably different solidifying the separation between the two dances. No matter where it is danced, or to what music, turns and tricks have become important features. And of course, the famously moving hip action, Cuban Motion, is a must in this Latin dance! Open to improvisation and interpretation Salsa is continuously evolving. Salsa can be found globally in most metropolitan cities at night clubs, ballrooms, restaurants, and outdoor festivals making it one of the most current dances of our time.
There are many stories about how the Merengue was born, but all theories are deeply rooted in Dominican identity. In one version, the dance originated from the Dominican slaves working in sugar beet fields. These slaves were connected to one another by chains strapped to their ankles and had to walk in such a manner as to drag one leg. Another account tells of a heroic, Dominican general who danced with a limp after being injured in the winning battle. Whatever the story, we do know that Merengue was made the official music and dance of the Dominican Republic by Rafael Trujillo. Originally danced to their delightful island music, Merengue is now also danced to pop music with quick, heavy beats making it the ideal party dance! It is a practical dance for developing the flirtatious Cuban Motion found in all the Latin dances. Complicated pretzel-like turns from Swing and Salsa are attainable due to simple steps. Although the tempo of the music can be fast, dancers learn how to keep the upper body calm and turn slowly, making Merengue effortlessly fun for all.
The Bolero is one of the most erotic of all the Latin dances because of its slow and dreamy tempo and beautiful melodies. Originally a Spanish dance, it was introduced to United States in the mid-1930s. At that time, it was danced in its classical form, which was performed to a constant beat of drums. It is now danced to a very slow type of Rumba rhythm. The music is frequently arranged with Spanish vocals and a subtle percussion effect. The style of Bolero is often referred to as a mix between Tango, Waltz and Rumba, with patterns similar to Rumba danced with rise and fall from Waltz, while in a close Tango hold. Bolero is a great dance to develop body rise and sensuality. This, coupled with the slow sexy music, gives Bolero a very smooth, powerful, yet romantic, look and feeling arousing anyone’s desire to dance.
Although images of carnival and feather headdresses might come to mind, the ballroom version of Samba is more closely related to the Waltz than a street party. Yet, the Samba is anything but a lullaby! Making its first appearance in the United States on the big screen in 1933, movie audiences watched Fred Astaire and Dolores Del Rio dance the Carioca in Flying Down to Rio. Years later, Carmen Miranda danced the Samba in That Night in Rio. Interest was further stimulated at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, where Samba music was played at the Brazilian Pavilion. A few years later, the Brazilian composer Ary Barroso wrote the classic Samba “Brasil” leading him to compose the score for the 1944 musical “Brazil”. Nowadays, Samba music and moves are performed in dance related exercise class around the world, making movers out of sitters. The ballroom version is just as energetic and exhilarating, combining patterns from Waltz, Rumba and Salsa. With its mesmerizing hip action, and music representing the vivaciousness of Rio, Samba is a party for two!
There are many types of country western partner dances based off of similar ballroom styles. Country Two-Step, Waltz, Swing and Cha-cha all share related steps and pattern, danced to country music with a more relaxed look. Each country dance shares identical characteristics, most notably positioning one’s partner from dancing face to face, to side by side, throughout the dance. For anyone who has already learned basic ballroom, country dancing is a breeze to pick up, and vice versa!
Country Western Two-Step, often called the “Texas two-step” or simply the “two-step,” is a dance with many names and styles depending on the area of the country, and even in the particular dance hall. There may be no one “correct” way to do the Two-Step, but there is a foundation most country dancers agree upon. The Two-Step is a traveling dance meaning it proceeds counter-clockwise around the dance floor, like a Nascar race. The best overall look of the dance is smooth and gliding to the music. Although, it is common to see it danced “joyous and bouncy” due to one too many beers. It is the country version of Foxtrot, however it may start with either the slow steps, or the quick steps, as the local custom dictates. It can be danced over a fairly wide range of tempos, making it the most popular of the country dances.
There are different variations of the Country Two-Step including “Triple two-step”, which is usually danced to slower music. Since the music is slower, more steps are added to fill in the extra time (referred to as triple steps). This is the same count as many of the Swings, although Triple two-step still travels around the floor, where as Swing stays in place. The Triple two-step has other names like the “Double two-step” and “Country shuffle” but shares all the same moves as the Country Two-Step.
Country Waltz is usually a fast pace waltz, since country music tends to favor a quicker tempo. This can make one feel like they are just running around the floor if they do not have the proper balance and control. However, a simple streamline step is the basis for this dance making it an easy pattern to master and maneuver around a dance floor. It shares similar steps to ballroom Waltz, often using the side by side position known as shadow position, and has many nice turns and spins that add to the look and fun.
Country Swing is a simple, steady version of single-time Swing, danced with a slight “lilt”. It shares patterns with Swing and Hustle, demonstrating a riotous style, fun turns and pretzel like spins. It is different from West Coast Swing, which is also danced at country venues. West Coast Swing is a slinkier and slower swing, with no bounce, allowing both partners to improvise.
Country Cha-cha shares the same basic pattern as the Cha-cha, however, the country version is usually danced in a side by side position known as shadow position. It can have a more genteel look to it, with the men bowing and tipping their hats to the ladies, and the women curtsying in return. Country Cha-cha can also travel around a dance floor, stopping and going depending on the turns and curtsies. Often danced repetitively, Country Cha-cha can be related to a ten-step and makes for easy memorization.