If there is one image that conjures up ideas of romanticism, beauty, and grace, it is that of ballroom dancing. We imagine beautifully dressed women with long, flowing dresses, handsome men in tuxedos, everyone twirling around and having a good time.
This now famous art form originated in Europe, with more styles being introduced and popularized around the Renaissance, around the 14th to 17th centuries.
Latin American dances also spread around the world, so that they are now just as common as the European ones. In the past, ballroom dancing was seen as a way to distinguish the socially elite from the peasants, who danced to folk music.
However, as time passed, the distinction between the two types blurred, and new ballroom dances were basically elevated folk dancing. While the term “ballroom dancing” is generally defined as any set of partner dances, those who dance competitively perform one of five International Standard or five International Latin dances.
The International Standard dances are: the waltz, tango, foxtrot, quickstep, and Viennese waltz. In some countries, the Viennese waltz is known as “the waltz” and the waltz as “the slow waltz.” Minor naming differences aside, these five dances are the same throughout the world.
The waltz is perhaps the most well-known dance of the five, characterized by smooth, flowing, rising and falling movements. The advent of flatter dance floors and the abandonment of heavy hobnailed shoes allowed for the rise of this graceful dance.
When it was first popularized, one major feature of the waltz was that individual couples danced independently of the rest of the group, whereas before many dances had everyone dancing together, changing partners as they went.
Waltzes are danced in three-four time, with the basic movements, a step forward/ backward, to the side, and back in, moving to the beat of “1,2,3″ or “quick, quick, quick.” The tango is also a very popular dance, usually performed by a male and female couple, and with an element of romance. Several different styles of tango exist, each with its own individual characteristics. This dance, as well as the foxtrot and quickstep, gained popularity during the 20th century.
There are also five International Latin dances: the samba, cha-cha-cha, rumba, pasa doble, and jive. The international form of the samba varies quite a bit from the original Brazilian Samba, and is noted for a slight bouncing action and specific hip movements, which is where it differs from the rumba and the cha-cha-cha. The later dance is of Cuban origin, and also known as the cha-cha. In the standard form, it is danced with no up and down movements, and although it has gradually evolved, the dance still remains true to its Cuban origins.
The rumba, pasa doble, jive, and cha-cha-cha all became more wide-spread during the 20th century, just as people’s ideas about the nature ballroom dancing were changing, and social rules relaxed.
No matter what the type or style, it is always inspiring to see graceful dancers moving about the ballroom floor.
Ballroom dancing as a competitive sport is prevalent across the world, and there are many professionals who dance for a living. Of course, anyone can learn to dance well with a bit of hard work and practice. We may no longer have the huge, dramatic balls where social elites once gathered together, but we can still admire the beauty of ballroom dancing.