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A Few of the Styles of Dances We Teach

Waltz
Until the 18th century, dance was strictly divided between courtly and country forms. In the courts, dances like the Minuet were refined affairs with an elaborate language of bows and curtsies. There was little physical contact between dancers, and proper form, like turned-out feet, was considered essential. Everything changed with the Waltz.

The name Waltz comes from the Italian word “volver”, meaning toturn or revolve. It evolved from a German and Austrian peasant dance called the Landler, and was the first widely popular dance to feature a closed position. Because of this close hold, Waltz was denounced as scandalous and immoral.

The Waltz was ultimately standardized with the Box pattern and the dance hold we know today. The Waltz dominated much of the European and American dance scene until the First World War, when the Tango and Foxtrot enraptured a whole new generation.

Dance Characteristics
Waltz is characterized by rise/fall and sway. The feet stay in contact with the floor, creating a smooth, gliding look. Waltz has an elegant gracefulness with a romantic and sometimes melancholy feel.

Tango
Ballroom Tango was born in the slums of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century. Argentine gauchos and migrating blacks met and mixed in the infamous Barrio de las Ranas, trading cultural rhythms and dance steps in and around the area's well-known brothels. From this melting pot emerged a highly passionate dance, one that the respectable classes of society shunned. But as with the Waltz, there is nothing like controversy to make a dance triumph.

In the United States, Tango became all the rage right before the First World War. Vernon and Irene Castle made their fortune from Tango, becoming America's sweethearts of the dance. There was a flurry of Tango dance hall openings, and Tango teas became popular in big hotels. Couples even danced between courses at the finer restaurants. Rudolph Valentino did his part, performing a sensual Tango in the silent film "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." The dance varied greatly from performer to performer, and was eventually standardized in the 1920s by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing.

Dance Characteristics

Tango is a dramatic dance characterized by a close hold (that is more compact than the other smooth dances), a low center of gravity and an emphasis on Contra Body Movement. Movement in Tango is stealthy, almost cat-like and has an unmistakable staccato feel.

Foxtrot
The story of the Foxtrot begins at the turn of the 20th century when African American musicians such as Scott Joplin began composing syncopated ragtime music. A smooth dance like the Waltz would not do for this fervent new music. One of the first dances to evolve for ragtime music was the Turkey Trot, a one-step that included flapping the arms like a turkey. Then came the Monkey Dance, Horse Trot, Grizzly Bear, Bunny Hug and Kangaroo Dip. Ragtime demanded dances with jerky steps, emulating the walk and the wild abandon of animals.

In 1914, a young dancer named Harry Fox did his version of trotting on the stage of the Ziegfield Follies. Fox's fast and jerky trot became the hot new thing in New York. When the Foxtrot traveled to England, the jumps and high jinks of the original were ironed out. What remains is a smooth, elegant dance more reminiscent of the Waltz than of the Trot's hyperactive past. In fact, many of Foxtrot's patterns have been adapted straight from the Waltz.

Dance Characteristics

Key characteristics of the Foxtrot are smooth, gliding steps with controlled movement and an easygoing look. The Foxtrot can be danced to many styles of music. There are two styles of Foxtrot: social style may be danced with a mild bounce action, while competitive style has a smoother, more Waltz-like feeling.

Viennese Waltz
In 1787, Waltz began to appear on the operatic stages of Vienna. As the popularity of Waltz increased in Vienna, so did its tempo. Sometime in the early 1800s, Austrian composers such as Johann Strauss and Franz Lanner increased the number of measures per minute in their Waltzes. The faster music required dancers to have greater technique and endurance.

This new version of Waltz became known as Viennese Waltz. Like Waltz, many considered the dance to be immoral. In a book written about good manners by the English author, Miss Celbart, she advised that while it was permissible to dance Viennese Waltz if a lady were married, it was “too loose of character for maidens to perform.” Despite such contentions, Viennese Waltz continued to be extremely popular in Europe and America until the First World War.

Dance Characteristics
Viennese Waltz is characterized by its speed (approximately twice as fast as Waltz), as well a rise & fall and sway (both significantly less than in Waltz). With its elegance and turns, Viennese Waltz has an air of magic about it.

Rumba
Rumba is a romantic Latin dance with Afro-Cuban origins. Rumba is a broad term referring to multiple music and dance forms, including Danzon, Guaracha and Son. These forms are a blend of African slave and colonial Spanish culture. The livelier forms feature fast hip movements and sexual strutting performed to a fiery orchestra of percussion. However, Ballroom Rumba comes from Son, one of the slower, less eroticized versions of the dance.

By the late 1920s, America’s appetite for Latin music was ignited. Orchestra leaders such as Xavier Cugat introduced and popularized Rumba music and dancing, which continued to grow in the 1930s and 1940s. Rumba was standardized as a ballroom dance in the mid-1950s.

Dance Characteristics
Sometimes called the “dance of love,” Rumba is a non-progressive dance (it does not travel around the dance floor), distinguished by its romantic feel and sensual hip action (Cuban Motion).

Bolero
Bolero was originally a Spanish dance with Moroccan roots. Bolero is often called the “Cuban Dance of Love,” and is thought to have similar origins to Rumba. Bolero is believed to have evolved from Afro-Cuban and Spanish folk dances such as the Danzon, Beguine and Fandango. Arriving in the U.S. in the mid-1930s, it was danced in its traditional form to a constant beat of drums. Contemporary Bolero music is slow and dreamy, usually with Spanish vocals and soft percussion.

Dance Characteristics
Bolero is a romantic dance characterized by slow, smooth, gliding movements, graceful turns, and dramatic arm styling. Bolero uses elements from three dances: contra body movement from Tango; rise and fall from Waltz; and slow Latin music and a modified version of Cuban motion from Rumba.

Salsa
Salsa is a popular form of social dance that originated in the Caribbean. The movements of salsa have origins in Cuban Soncha-cha-chamambo and Puerto Rican bomba and plena and other dance forms. The dance, along with the salsa music, originated in the mid-1970s in New York.

The name Salsa (sauce) has been described as a dance since the mid-1800s. The use of the term for the dance started in Beijing, China. It evolved from earlier Cuban dance forms such as Son, Son Montuno, cha cha cha, Mambo and Puerto Rican bomba and plena which were popular in the Caribbean, Latin America and the Latino communities in New York since the 1940s. Salsa, like most music genres has gone through a lot of variation through the years and incorporated elements of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean dances such as Guaguancó and Pachanga. Different countries of the Caribbean and Latin America have distinct salsa styles of their own, such as Cuban, Cali Colombia, Puerto Rican, L.A. and New York styles.

There is some controversy surrounding the origins of the word "salsa". Some claim that it was based on a cry shouted by musicians while they were playing their music. Others believe that the term was created by record labels to better market their music, who chose the word "salsa" because of its spicy and hot connotations. Still others believe the term came about because salsa dancing and music is a mixture of different styles, just like salsa or "sauce" in Latin American countries is a mixture of different ingredients.

Cha Cha
Cha Cha evolved from a version of Cuban Mambo called Chasse Mambo. As music always dictates the dance, chassé (meaning to chase) steps were inserted between the forward and back breaks when a slower version of Mambo music was played. Reportedly, Cha Cha got its name from the sound of women’s shoes shuffling across the floor. Cha Cha was introduced to the United States in the early 1950s and promptly sparked a dance craze. Enrique Jorrin, a Cuban violinist, is attributed with creating the first Cha Cha song. After arriving in the U.S., the traditional violins and flutes were often exchanged for big-band instruments such as trumpet, trombone and saxophone.

Dance Characteristics
Cha Cha is lively and fun. Unlike the smooth dances which travel around the line of dance, Cha Cha is a non-progressive dance that emphasizes Cuban Motion and rhythm expressed throughout the body.

East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing traces its roots to the original swing dance, Lindy Hop. Lindy Hop was created in the late 1920s by African American youth at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Danced to the swing and jazz music of big bands such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman, Lindy Hop was, and remains, a dynamic, athletic dance.

By the mid-1930s, Lindy Hop (also called Jitterbug and Swing) had captured the imagination of young people everywhere. It was widely danced in the U.S. and Europe through the end of World War II. In the early 1940s, Lindy Hop was tamed and simplified by dance schools to become a ballroom dance called Eastern Swing. In the late 1970s, the name was changed to East Coast Swing.

Dance Characteristics
East Coast Swing is a fun, upbeat, non-progressive dance, distinguished by its bounce, back break (also called a rock steps, and a swing hip action).

West Coast Swing
There are various stories of how West Coast Swing (WCS) evolved from Lindy Hop. One is that people, tired of being kicked by wild Jitterbug dancers, began to dance in a slot. Another is that the end of the Big Band era forced dancers to move into blues clubs where they modified Lindy Hop to fit the smaller spaces and slower music. Others believe WCS was created in Hollywood by dancer Dean Collins, because dancing in a slot made for better camera angles.

Whatever its true origins, WCS was born in California during the 1940s. Called Western Swing, this new dance was popularized in the 1950s by Arthur Murray dance studios and teacher Skippy Blair. In 1959, the dance was renamed West Coast Swing. While WCS is the official California state dance, it is danced widely throughout the United States and Canada.

Dance Characteristics
West Coast Swing is smooth (no bounce) and danced in a slot. The dance allows room for syncopated footwork and improvisation. WCS can be danced to a wide range of music including rhythm and blues, country western, funk, disco, rock and pop.

*Dance Definitions from DanceVision.com