Ballroom & Latin Dances
Waltz – The forerunner of waltz was Boston, a dance imported from the USA and introduced in England by a very influential “Boston Club” around 1874. However, only after 1922 did this dance become as fashionable as the tango. The strange thing about Boston was that couples danced next to each other, nothing like what we do now.
Immediately after World War I the waltz got more shape. In 1921 it was decided that the basic movement should be: step, step, close. In 1922, when Victor Sylvester won the championship, the English waltz program consisted of not more than a right turn, a left turn and change of direction (less than what is learned by a beginner nowadays). In 1926/1927 the waltz was improved considerably. The basic movement was changed into step-side-close. As a result of this, many more variations became possible. They have been standardized by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD). Many of them are still dancing.
Tango – Tango was first danced in Europe before World War I, in 36 bars per minute tempo. It originates from Buenos Aires, Argentina where it was first danced in “Barria de Las Ranas,” the ghetto of Buenos Aires. It was then known under the name of “Baile con Corte” (dance with a rest). The “dandies” of Buenos Aires changed the dance in two ways. First they changed the so-called “polka rhythm” into the “Habanere rhythm” and secondly they called it tango.
From 1900 onward, several amateurs tried to introduce the dance from Argentina to Paris without success. Being rather an exotic dance, a sensuous creation of Southern nations, the tango initially did not become accepted by the European social establishment. It was however still danced in the suburban areas and gaining more and more popularity.
Tango’s breakthrough came in a dance competition on the French Riviera. The dance was so well presented by a group of its enthusiasts that it gained immediate recognition in Paris and then the rest of Europe.
Foxtrot – The foxtrot, a dance born in the twenties, was named after an American performer Harry Fox. Initially it was danced at 48 bars per minute tempo. The tempo issue led to the breakaway of quickstep at about 50 to 52 bars per minute and the continued slowing down of pure Foxtrot to 32 bars per minute by the end of the twenties.
At the end of World War I the slow-foxtrot consisted of walks, three-steps, a slow walk and a sort of a spin turn. At the end of 1918 the wave arose, then known as the “jazz-roll.” The American Morgan introduced a sort of open spin turn, the “Morgan-turn,” in 1919. In 1920, Mr. G.K. Anderson introduced the feather step and the change of direction, figures you cannot imagine today’s foxtrot without. The thirties had become the golden age for this dance. That is when Foxtrot tunes became the standards of its tempo.
The great fascination of Foxtrot is the amazing variety of interpretations there can be of what is basically such a simple dance. From swingers to trotters, from smoothies to ripples, from the military to the delicate steppers and more.
Quickstep – Developed during the World War I in suburban New York, initially performed by Caribbean and African dancers. It eventually made its debut on the stage of American music halls and immediately became popular in the ballrooms.
Foxtrot and quickstep have a common origin. In the twenties many bands played the slow foxtrot too fast, which gave rise to many complaints. Eventually they developed into two different dances, slow foxtrot tempo has been slowed down and quickstep became clearly the fast version of foxtrot, danced at 48 bars per minute tempo. The Charleston had a lot of influence on the development of Quickstep.
Viennese Waltz – The origins of Viennese Waltz date back to the 12th and13th centuries and found in the dance called “Nachtanz.” The Viennese waltz originally comes from Bavaria and used to be called the “German.” However, other people question this origin of the Viennese waltz. An article which appeared in the Paris magazine “La Patrie” (The Fatherland) on 17 January 1882, claimed that the waltz was first danced in Paris in 1178, not under the name waltz but as the Volta from the Province. Presumably this is a dance in 3/4 rhythm, which the French regard as the forerunner of the Viennese waltz.
The first waltz melodies date from 1770. It was introduced in Paris in 1775, but it took some time before it became popular. In 1813 Mr. Byron condemned the waltz as being unchaste. In 1816 the waltz was also accepted in England. But the struggle against it was not over yet. In 1833, a “good behavior” book was published by Miss Celbart and according to it, although it was allowed for married ladies to perform this dance, she called it “a dance of too loose in character for maidens to perform.”
Rumba – The Rumba originates from Cuba as a typical dance of a hot climate. It has become the classic of all the Latin American dances. In its present form many of the basic figures of the dance retain the age-old story of woman’s attempt to dominate man by the use of her feminine charm. In a well-choreographed dance there will always be an element of “tease and run,” the man being lured and then rejected.
Rumba is composed of three rhythms: Guaguanc, Yamb, Columbia. When you point out that Rumba is about feminine charm it is not quite like that. Actually Rumba is a fertility dance and thorough time it has broken down into three classes (in Cuba, of course).
In Guaguanc, the male tries to “penetrate” the female and the female responds, (of course, only dancing). In Yamb, the female just flirts but at the end “backs out” and refuses the pelvic thrust of the male dancer. Columbia is a later development and danced only in very few country towns.
Cha-cha – Cha-cha-cha is the newcomer of the Latin American dances. This dance was first seen in the dancehalls of America, in the early fifties, following closely Mambo, from which it was developed. Shortly after the Mambo was introduced, another rhythm started to gain popularity, a rhythm that was ultimately to become the most commonly known of the Latin American dances throughout the world. It was named Cha-cha-cha. The music is slower than Mambo and the rhythm is less complicated. The interpretation of Cha-Cha-Cha music should produce a happy, carefree, cheeky, party-like atmosphere. Recently it was decided to shorten the name to Cha-Cha.
Samba – Samba originates from Brazil where it is a national dance. Many versions of the Samba – from Baion (pronounce: Bajao) to Marcha – are danced at the local carnival in Rio. To achieve the true character of the Samba a dancer must give it a gay, flirtatious and exuberant interpretation. Many figures, used in the Samba today, require a pelvic tilt action. This action is difficult to accomplish, but without it the dance loses much of its effect.
Before 1914 it was known under a Brazilian name “Maxixe.” The first attempts of introducing samba to European ballrooms are dated 1923-24, but it was after the World War II when samba became a popular dance in Europe.
Samba has a very specific rhythm, highlighted to its best by characteristic Brazilian musical instruments: originally called tamborim, chocalho, reco-reco and cabaca.
Jive (ECS) – Jive, brought over from America was initially developed from a dance called “jitterbug” by eliminating all its acrobatic elements and polishing the technique. The first description of Jive made by London dance teacher Victor Sylvester was published in Europe in 1944. The boogie, rock & roll and the American swing also influenced this dance.
Jive is a very fast, energy-consuming dance. It is the last dance danced at the competitions, and dancers have to show that after having already danced four times, they are not tired and ready to go hard at it.