About Standard / Ballroom

Ballroom covers the five dances, the Slow English Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot and Quickstep.  Ballroom can also be referred to as “Modern” or “Standard”.

The five different dances have diverse origins and are danced to music of different tempos and have their own characteristic technique, however the common factor is that they are all danced by a couple in closed hold.  The dances travel round the ballroom in an anti-clockwise direction.

The origins of this position may be a result of the man wearing a sword on his left side and therefore the woman naturally standing to his right; the man would offer his arm to the lady and if she accepted the invitation to dance she would lay her arm on top.  Similarly the man would offer the lady his left hand for balance and she would accept by holding his hand with her right hand. The wearing of swords may also have resulting in the anti-clockwise progression round the floor so the sword was not near the audience.  The social expectation of the man having the initiative means that the man leads and the lady follows.

In the fifteenth century couples started dancing folk dances in couples.  This idea became popular amongst the aristocracy.  During the renaissance dances developed to become popular in courts where the emphasis was on rank and etiquette. Dancing has evolved as a result of changes in society; its development has been influenced by changes in the nature of spaces in the home and in the courts, fashion, music and etiquette.  For example in the seventeenth century heels were put on shoes and costuming became much less restrictive.  This changed the way people walked and hence how they danced – people started to dance with their toes turned out and parallel feet did not return until the start of the twentieth century.  With the Industrial Revolution came the idea that polite society could condone the idea of a man and woman dancing together in closed hold.  Influences from America and in particular ragtime music developed the dances into “walking” dances, which are recognisable today.  Such dances then became more popular amongst the working class and public dance assemblies became a social past-time.  In the 1920s the music, steps and technique were standardized and the nature of ballroom competition has evolved ever since.  Couples compete with the man wearing a tailsuit and the lady in a dress with free flowing skirt.

The Waltz: (tempo 28-30 bars per minute)

This smooth progressive dance is characterized by long, flowing movements, continuous turns, and substantial rise & fall.  It is performed to music with three beats in a bar and is often one of the first dances taught to beginners as it is slow.  The waltz may have its origins in the volta, an Italian folk dance, in the 16th century, which also had 3/4 rhythm; although this dance commonly had the woman dancing on the man’s left, the man held her round the waist and the lady used her left hand to lift her skirt. Despite criticism that dancing in couples in such a manner was improper, the “Waltzen” flourished in Vienna and western European courts in the 18th and 19th century.  A slower version of this dance developed in Austria where it was known as the Landler.  The dance contained the turns but was danced with hands on hips and for the first time with feet parallel.  The dance was brought to England and evolved into what it is today in the early 20th century, where dancers took advantage of the slower tempo to add more figures, hence this dance is known across Europe as the “English waltz.  The modern waltz was introduced at the first ever World Championships held in London in 1922.

The Foxtrot: (tempo 28-30 bars per minute)

This is performed to 4/4 music is characterized by numerous continuously forward or backward moving patterns which are straight and well aligned on the competition floo and performed with a smooth gliding action. Foxtrot is a slower version of the Victorian two-step.  It became popular in New York and London in the early twentieth century and also became influenced by the jazz craze.  It was made popular by stage shows popularised and it was designed to counteract the exaggerated dances that developed from the native dances of the African Americans. Again the emphasis was placed on parallel feet rather than the turn out of the Victorian era. 
There is also a simpler “social foxtrot” which is often taught to beginners for social dancing.

The Viennese Waltz: (tempo 58-60 bars per minute)

The fastest of the Ballroom dances this dance consists of continuous natural and reverse turns, with a limited range of figures.  The dance developed from the “Waltzen” and came to England under the name German Waltz.  It was popularised by the music of Strauss in the 19th century.

The Tango: (tempo 31-33 bars per minute)

Tango is characterized by strong movement without rise & fall and snappy, staccato actions such as head flicks, and dynamic strong lines.  Couples take up a slightly different hold in tango. The Milonga developed as a combination of the flamenco culture of Spain which was transferred to South America, an African American dance and a Cuban folk dance.  The Milonga was danced in the bars and gambling houses of Buenos Aires in the late nineteenth century by the lower classes in society and the dance was seen as a way of men taunting women for affection.  The dance gained popularity among the upper classes in Argentina and a demonstration in Paris in 1910 sparked an increased interest in this dance in Western Europe.  However the nature of the Milonga was changed by the Western Europeans to give the tango its characteristic staccato action.

The Quickstep: (tempo 50-52 bars per minute)

This is another fast dance to 4/4 music, with lots of energy and movement across the floor.  Quickstep developed from the foxtrot as it became influenced by the ragtime music of the 1920s and in particular the Charleston, which was danced by African American workers in the Caribbean and which gained popularity when it was performed on stage in NY.  Quickstep was seen as more free-flowing and attracted the younger generations who started to feel that the other forms of ballroom were too strict.