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Ballroom dance

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Ballroom dance, refers collectively to a set of partner dances, which originated in the Western world and are now enjoyed both socially and competitively around the globe. Its performance and entertainment aspects are also widely enjoyed on stage, in film, and on television. While historically ballroom dance may refer to any form of formal social dancing as recreation, with the eminence of dancesport in modern times the term has become much narrower in scope, usually referring specifically to the International Standard and International Latin style dances (see dance groupings below). In the United States, two additional variations—"American Smooth" and "American Rhythm"—have also been popularized and are commonly recognized as styles of "ballroom dance".


Definitions and history

1914 dance illustration 1914 dance illustration

The term "ballroom dancing" is derived from the word ball, which in turn originates from the Latin word ballare which means "to dance".

The definition of ballroom dance also depends on the era. Balls have featured Minuet, Quadrille, Polonaise, Pas de Gras, Mazurka, and other popular dances of the day, which are considered to be historical dances.

In times past, ballroom dancing was "social dancing" for the privileged, leaving "folk dancing" for the lower classes. These boundaries have since become blurred, and it should be noted even in times long gone, many "ballroom" dances were really elevated folk dances.

Ballroom dancing has been in continual use as a social art form since its inception with one exception in the 20th century. Dance historians usually mark the appearance of the Twist in the mid 1960s as the end of social partner dancing, and they credit what was then called the Latin Hustle for bringing it back in the late 1970s.

Rogers and Astaire

In the early 20th century, the on-screen dance pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers greatly influenced ballroom dancing in the USA. Although both actors had independent projects and careers (Astaire had many other partners and Rogers won an Academy Award for a dramatic role), their filmed dance sequences have reached iconic status. Much of their work portrayed social dance, although their performances were highly choreographed (often by Astaire or Hermes Pan), meticuously staged, and continually rehearsed. Ballroom dance historians note their portrayal of early 20th-century dancers Vernon and Irene Castle.

Their work has greatly influenced the American-style ballroom syllabus. American Smooth style was influenced greatly by the work of franchises such as Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire Dance Studios where 'Fred & Ginger' classes and workshops remain popular.

Modern ballroom movements

Classic and vintage dance societies are dedicated to the performance and preservation of ballroom dances of the past. These companies perform at special events attired in traditional dance costume. Some instructors specialize in the dances of one place or time, or in fad dances: short-lived, time-specific dances that may be associated with the music or style of an era (such as The Twist) or a particular song (such as YMCA or La Macarena).

Competitive dancing

In spite of its historical image as a pastime for the privileged; formal competitions, sometimes referred to as DanceSport, often allow participation by less advanced dancers at various proficiency levels.

In the United States, amateur dance proficiency levels are defined by USA Dance (formerly United States Amateur Ballroom Dance Association, USABDA) as Bronze->Silver->Gold for syllabus dancers, and Novice->Prechampionship->Championship for open competitors. These levels roughly correspond to the "E" to "S" levels in Europe and Australia. Among professionals, levels classify into Rising Star and Open Professional.

Eligibility and "leveling up" requirements will vary greatly between countries and sometimes within. For instance, in addition to USA Dance competitions, amateur dancers in the United States often participate in competitions sanctioned by NDCA or YCN (Youth Collegiate Network), each with its own distinct culture in addition to differing definitions of level and eligibility requirements.

The International Olympic Committee now recognizes competitive ballroom dance. It now appears doubtful that it will be included in the Olympic Games espcially in light of efforts to reduce the number of offerings, but the application has not been permanently rejected.

Ballroom dancing competitions in the former USSR also included the Soviet Ballroom dances, or Soviet Programme. Australian New Vogue is danced both competitively and socially. In competition there are 15 recognised New Vogue dances, which are performed by the competitors in sequence. Internationally, the Blackpool Dance Festival, hosted annually at Blackpool, England, is considered the most prestigious event a dancesport competitior can attend.

Elements of competition

Intermediate level international style latin dancing at the 2006 MIT ballroom dance competition.  A judge stands in the foreground. Intermediate level international style latin dancing at the 2006 MIT ballroom dance competition. A judge stands in the foreground.

In competition ballroom dancers are judged by multifarious criteria such as connection, frame, posture, speed, proper body alignment, proper usage of weight/ankles/feet, and grooming. Judging in a performance-oriented sport is inevitably subjective in nature, and controversy and complaints by competitors over judging placements are not uncommon. The scorekeepers—called scrutineers—will tally the total number recalls accumulated by each couple through each round until the finals, when the Skating system is used to place each couple by ordinals, typically 1-6, though the number of couples in the final can vary.

Medal examinations

Medal examinations enable dancers' abilities to be recognized according to conventional standards. In medal exams, each dancer performs two or more dances in a certain genre (e.g., International Standard) in front of a judge. In North America, examination levels include Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Each level (i.e. Bronze, Silver, Gold) may be further subdivided into either two or four separate sections.


Commonly, "ballroom dance" refers to both International Standard and International Latin, though in some cases its meaning can be restricted to only the international standard dances. In the United States, the American styles (American Smooth and American Rhythm) are also included. Less commonly, other dances are also included under the umbrella "ballroom dance". Such dances include Nightclub Dances such as Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing, and Hustle. Others are called street dances, including salsa and merengue. Nightclub dances are danced differently in different places, and club/street styles differ from the styles taught in ballroom studios.

In Europe, Latin Swing dances include Tango Argentino, Mambo, Lindy Hop, Swing Boogie (sometimes also known as Nostalgic Boogie), and Disco Fox. Country and Western dances are danced both competitively and socially at Country & Western bars, clubs, and ballrooms. There is also a Rock 'n' Roll dance variant accepted as a social dance. A related category is regional social dances. One example is the subcategory of Cajun dances that originated in New Orleans, with branches reaching both coasts of the United States.

Standard/Smooth dances are normally danced to Western music (often from the mid-twentieth century), and couples dance counter-clockwise around a rectangular floor generally following the line of dance. In competitions, competitors are costumed as would be appropriate for a white-tie affair, with full gowns for the ladies and bow tie and tailsuits for the men; though in American Smooth it is now conventional for the men to abandon the tailsuit in favor of shorter tuxedos, vests, and other creative outfits.

Latin/Rhythm dances are commonly danced to contemporary latin music, and with the exception of a few travelling dances (e.g. Samba and Paso Doble) couples do not follow the line of dance and perform their routines more or less in one spot. In competitions, the women are often dressed in short-skirted latin outfits while the men outfitted in tight-fitting shirts and pants; the goal being to bring emphasis to the dancers' leg action and body movements.

International Style

International Standard
Slow Waltz - Tango - Viennese Waltz - Slow Foxtrot - Quickstep
International Latin
Cha cha - Samba - Rumba - Paso Doble - Jive

American Style

American Smooth
Waltz - Tango - Foxtrot - Viennese Waltz
American Rhythm
Cha-cha - Rumba - East Coast Swing - Bolero - Mambo

Other dances occasionally categorized as ballroom

Nightclub Two-step - Hustle - Modern Jive / LeRoc / Ceroc - and the whole swing variety: West Coast Swing / East Coast Swing (always included in the "American Rhythm" category) / Lindy Hop / Carolina Shag / Collegiate Shag / Balboa
Latin nightclub
Salsa - Merengue - Cumbia - Bachata - Cha-cha - Samba
Polka - Cha-cha - Two-step - Waltz...
also referred to as "Country and Western" or C/W:
C/W Polka - C/W Cha-cha - C/W Two-step - C/W Waltz...
Cajun dances
Cajun One Step - Cajun Two Step - Zydeco - Cajun Waltz - Cajun Jitterbug
Argentine tango

External links

Home | Up | Ballroom dance | Latin dance | Novelty and fad dances | Partner dance | Square dance | Swing dance

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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