There are 5 standard ballroom dances - the Viennese Waltz, the Waltz, the Tango, the Slow Foxtrot and the Quickstep. In addition, we have another one officially called Social Rhythm that can be danced at a foxtrot speed or faster, and that one is the most useful at "a do".
These dances are largely European and American in origin but not entirely so. They are all progressive, that means they travel around the room anti-clockwise following the line of dance - it's a bit like going around a race track but without the crashes!
It's a fabulous dance, not many steps to learn but quite tricky in the execution - it tends to make novices feel a little green around the gills. It continuously rotates, first one way and then the other, and is rather fast. And all of this to be danced with a beautiful gliding rise and fall. Don't worry, we tend to keep this one for more advanced dancers.
So its history - back in the sixteenth century, there is a dance in Provence (France) called the Volta and this is the root of the Viennese Waltz. However, the Norwegians also claim it and "volta" means a turn in Italian, so there we go. Anyway, Louis XIII bans it from the French court in the seventeenth century because it's immoral (danced in a close embrace, you see) and then in the eighteenth century the Waltzen appears in Germany..... nearly there! It becomes very popular in Vienna (hurrah!) in the nineteenth century, and comes to England as the German Waltz where the Prince Regent includes it in a ball in 1816 and The Times says not only that it is "indecent" but also that "it is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressor on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females." Oh, for clarity, today the Germans and Austrians call this one "the Waltz" and the other one "the English or Slow Waltz".
Viennese Waltz timing: 3 beats per bar - 60 bars per minute - count 123 etc
This is usually the first ballroom dance I teach as it's easy to grasp the basics. It's a beautiful, romantic, lyrical dance..... once it's been mastered. It's full of slow gliding and turning steps with a lilting rise and fall. I make sure that you have steps that will fit both a large and small dance floor, so if you're at a function then you will be able to waltz.
As you may have guessed this Waltz has a shared history with the Viennese Waltz. A dance called the Landler becomes popular in Austria in the early nineteenth century - it's a variation of the German Waltzen danced to slower music. And while that's going on, a dance called the Boston develops in America a few decades later. So you blend all of that together and, early in the twentieth century, the present Waltz style develops in England. Now remember, the Germans and Austrians call this one "the English or Slow Waltz" because they call the Viennese Waltz just "the Waltz"!
Waltz timing: 3 beats per bar - 30 bars per minute - count 123 etc
My favourite ballroom dance. It's got quite a different character to the Argentine Tango but that's where it developed from. It's full of wonderful panther-like stalking movements and crisp staccato action, no rise and fall so danced with slightly flexed knees, and a closer hold than the usual ballroom hold. I normally start to teach this dance when you've reached Beyond Beginners.
It's a dance that developed in the slums of Buenos Aires in Argentina in the nineteenth century, at the time of mass immigration from Europe. There is a flamenco dance from Spain called Tango and also an African dance called Tangano - it may be that these mixed with other dances from the New World, like the Habanera from Cuba..... or it might be even more complicated than that! The dance is picked up by the Argentine upper classes, becomes popular in Paris after a performance by a famous music-hall star (Mistinguett), and gets toned down and cleaned up for European society by the famous dancers Vernon and Irene Castle. Et Voila! We have the ballroom Tango.
Tango timing: 2 beats per bar - 33 bars per minute - count in slows & quicks
This is the "Fred & Ginger" of all the ballroom dances - the classic big band dance! All grace and style, sophistication and elegance, long smooth gliding steps, moving around the room in beautiful straight lines and zigzags, sometimes difficult to get right but so worth the effort.... and when it is right you feel like you're floating.
This one starts in the Victorian era with a dance variously called the One Step or Two Step! Originally quite speedy and with trotting steps, it's popularised by a chap called Harry Fox (there you go) c1914 in New York. Then Vernon and Irene Castle introduce it into their show as the Castle Walk, and it becomes very popular in New York and London. In the 1920s it's smoothed out and the first Slow Foxtrot competition is held at the Savoy Hotel in 1925.
Foxtrot timing: 4 beats per bar - 30 bars per minute - count in slows & quicks
This is a speedy dance that requires a lot of spring in the feet. I always say it should feel like lemon souffle and not bread pudding. It's bright and energetic and has got some lively footwork, and it's always fun to dance.
This one starts in the same place as the Foxtrot and just gets faster. In the 1920s as ragtime music develops into swing, dances like the Charleston, the Shimmy and the Black Bottom gain popularity in America - the Charleston, in particular, is of African-American origin and is brought to Europe in the 1920s by the famous performer Josephine Baker. All of those dances are absorbed into a fast dance that eventually is known as the Quickstep which is brought to England by Paul Whiteman's band in 1923 and introduced into competitions in 1927 by two English dancers, Frank Ford and Molly Spain.
Quickstep timing: 4 beats per bar - 50 bars per minute - count in slows & quicks
Social Rhythm (Social Foxtrot)
This is one of the most useful dances you will ever learn! This is always taught at the Beginners class and is probably the easiest to pick up. I teach it at Foxtrot tempo but you can dance it a Quickstep tempo or even to Tango music. At Foxtrot speed it saunters along rather nicely and is ideal for small or overcrowded dance floors, always useful for weddings or functions.
Social Rhythm timing: 4 beats per bar - 28 to 42 bars per minute - count in slows & quicks
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