What is social ballroom dance?

The first ballroom dance was the Viennese waltz, which was scandalous in its time since the partners faced each other and took a close embrace unlike the more proper minuets.

The waltz traveled from its early roots in Vienna and spread out across Europe and finally to the United States. In some regions the tempo of music gradually slowed down.  While social partner dancing had its early roots in the mid-eighteen hundreds, most of the known ballroom dances today originated in the early to mid-twentieth century like the foxtrot, rumba and cha cha. Many of the ballroom dances had roots in much earlier forms of cultural dances like the rumba, which had 18th century roots but took its present form in about the 1930’s. Ballroom dancing still flourishes today and has expanded to include many diverse dances under the umbrella term ballroom dance.

Ballroom dancing is defined in one dictionary as, “social dancing, popular since the beginning of the 20th century, to dances in conventional rhythms (ballroom dances) such as the foxtrot and the quickstep, in another as, ” any of a variety of social or recreational dances performed by couples, as in a ballroom.” These definitions are a broad brush sweeping many different types of dancing into one category. These definitions are overly broad because they would include Country Western, Cajun, Argentine tango, folk, salsa, bachata and swing dancing, yet these dance genres are not thought of as ballroom dance genres but rather social partner dances.

Ballroom dance studios use an even more specific term “classic ballroom dances,” which usually includes waltz, foxtrot, tango, cha cha and rumba. Other dances that are usually considered ballroom dances are samba, mambo, bolero and Viennese waltz. Within ballroom dancing there are two major sub-divisions: American and International style. International style is done in many countries around the world, like Europe, Japan, Australia, South Africa and the United States. In the United States, it is the dominant dance genre at competitions for Dancesport.  American style ballroom is also done at competitions but is the preferred style for social dancing in the United States. American style ballroom dance has two divisions for Dancesport: American smooth and American rhythm.

The American smooth ballroom dances includes waltz, tango, foxtrot and Viennese waltz. The American rhythm ballroom dances includes cha cha, rumba, mambo, swing and bolero. There is also an American style samba. International style ballroom has two divisions: Latin and standard.

The International Latin ballroom dances include cha cha, rumba, samba, jive and paso doble. The International standard ballroom dance division includes foxtrot, waltz, tango, quickstep and Viennese waltz.

Organization like DVIDA and ISTD have established standardized syllabi for competitors and judges at Dancesport events. These organizations also provide training and teaching syllabi for teaching the ballroom dances in both American and International style.

American style social ballroom dance is resistant to standardization since it is difficult to contain and document the vast variety of movements. The beauty of social ballroom dancing is the ability of the dancing couple to create a unique experience to a piece of music through spontaneity and together participate in a creative process while still maintaining certain rhythm units and/or guidelines for a dance genre using connection through lead and follow.

I will delve into the individual ballroom dance genres and provide some historical information and buzz on the current state of ballroom dancing in Part 2 of Ballroom Dancing!