The term “ballroom dancing” comes from the word ball, which in turn originates from the Latin word ballare that means to dance. The definition of ballroom dance also depends on the era. Regarding this, the Encyclopedia Britannica states that in the 21st century, ballroom dance is present in many parts of the world and has practitioners in virtually all segments of society. It is performed in various contexts, including invitational and public dance events, professional dance exhibitions, and formal competitions.
In this article we will travel with you through the history of the main smooth ballroom dances: Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Viennese waltz and Quickstep. Fasten your seat belts because we are about to take off to start our trip back in history.
Our first layover is Austria where this dance was born around the seventeenth century (there are still some debates on its origin). It is characterized by a step, slide, and step in 3/4 time. The Waltz, with its turning, embracing couples, at first was quite scandalous in the polite society. It became the ballroom dance par excellence of the 19th century and its popularity was maintained until the 20th century. Its variations include the rapid, whirling Viennese Waltz that we’ll discuss a bit later.
The name of the place where we were supposed to land for this quick layover is still unclear, but what we do know is that the Foxtrot is composed of fairly simple walking steps and side steps. It is typically danced to big band swing-style music, but it may be danced with a wide range of music types. Despite many different theories to its beginnings, the Foxtrot Vaudeville Actor Henry Fox brought it to popularity in the summer of 1914. It proves and shows the fun, easygoing nature of vaudeville comedy scenes, and enjoyed some of its greatest success during the glory days of singers like Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin. Another theory that we have heard is that as developed in the United States in the 1920’s and it is thought to have been performed at African American nightclubs before being popularized by Vernon and Irene Castle.
Wanna know more about Foxtrot?
American Tango, not be confused with Argentine Tango, is a ballroom dance that branched away from its original Argentine roots by allowing alternative influences into the style and the way this dance is executed.
The Ballroom Tango that many of us know from Dancing with the Stars or most ballroom group classes, is divided into two disciplines: American and International Styles. Both styles can be found on both the social and competitive floor. American Style is taught more often in a general group class setting. Both styles share a closed frame, but the American style allows its dancers to separate from closed position to execute more open choreography with turns and side-by-side patterns.
After the English standardization of their own new version of Tango, a ballroom dance instructor by the name of Arthur Murray, decided to standardized all of the ballroom dances, including Tango, and start his own chain of social dance school.
A very curious fact about Viennese Waltz is that it is the oldest form of the waltz. It first came into existence in the late 1700s and women held their gowns so they would not be stepped on or dragged during the dance. The first record of this waltz could be traced back in 1559 in France, as a piece of folk music called the Volta. There are historians who have said that there is some relationship with Italian music and dance styles because the word “volta” means “the turn” in Italian. In spite of its origins, we do know that Viennese waltz have involved the couple turning as they danced.
The following link will lead you to a short video that contains priceless information on these features.
According to some sources, the Quickstep was initially sort of a march which became popular around 1850. It was used to celebrate Presidents, Military, and Heroes. A lot of style came together to have today’s Quickstep (Foxtrot, Charleston, Shag, Peabody, and One Step). The dance is English in origin and after different stages of mixture it eventually became standardized in 1927.
Still curious about the Quickstep? Check out this video and hopefully it will answer all your questions!
Interested in any of these styles? Check out our upcoming schedule and see which dances you can add to your repertoire!
Thank you for the history of a lot of the different kind of ballroom dances. I took a small class for fun, and I have been wondering where all the different kind of dances came from. I think that is really cool that the Viennese Waltz is the oldest form of the waltz and came to be in the late 1700s. https://www.destinedance.com.au/
Hit me up and I’ll some info for this 😉
I’m down for another interview (or two!) Hope all is well my friend! -B
Great article 🙂 Additional info for me about ballroom dancing. I have been attending classes at Arthur Murray Dance Center. I definitely recommend this dance center for everyone, the people there are very supportive and they really want to help you out.
Thanks Avery! Keep dancing 😉