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What is Ballroom Dancing? International Standard and American Smooth

The world of ballroom dancing is rich with history and complexity, deeply rooted in the arts and music, with originations around the world!

When new students come to me wanting to begin ballroom dancing, they usually come with a general understanding of ballroom dance being traditional partner dancing such as what might happen at a wedding or other special occasion, or they may have images from popular television shows such as Dancing with the Stars. And they may be thinking of elegant, flowing, floating, beautiful dances with images of ladies wearing lovely long gowns.

In this blog I will talk about two styles of dance that people most think of when they hear the term “Ballroom Dancing” and I will describe the similarities and differences between both of them. Within Ballroom there are two styles: International Standard and American Smooth.

Ballroom dancing originated in the 16th century from dances held in the royal courts, with later influences from folk dances – for example, the Waltz began as an 18th century Austrian folk dance.

The International Style of ballroom dance was introduced in England in the early 1800s and became popular throughout the rest of the world by the 19th century. Within the International family there are two very distinct sub-styles: Standard (or “Ballroom”), and Latin (I will share more on Latin in a future blog). The International style is more frequently danced by professionals around the world on the competitive dance circuit but is always growing in popularity with dancers of all levels.

International Standard dance is a “closed” partner dance meaning that the two dancers maintain contact throughout and includes Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Quickstep, and Viennese Waltz. Each dance has its own character and distinct attributes. Men typically wear evening dress (coattails, waistcoats, and bow ties), while women wear gowns often with “floats” on the arms. Partners remain in closed position throughout the dance, and movements tend to be elegant and sweeping. The dances are progressive, moving counter-clockwise around the floor.

Here in the United States, ballroom dance adapted into the American Style between 1910 – 1930, mainly due to the influence of American jazz music, and a more social approach to dancing birthed by the iconic American dancers of the time. Once again, there are two subsets of American: Smooth and Rhythm (which I will write about next time).

American Smooth today includes Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and Viennese Waltz. American Smooth is similar to its counterpart from overseas, but does allow the dancers to separate (called “open position”) in their dance frame. American Smooth dancing today is commonly used in both social and competitive ballroom dance arenas and is gaining interest on the global competition scene in recent years -- mostly due to the increased freedom and creativity the style allows. In American Smooth, men still wear a coat and tie, but usually not coattails. Ladies dresses in Smooth are still long, but sometimes more revealing with cutouts or high slits that show the leg.

A conversation with your instructor will help with understanding the differences and similarities and help you choose which course of instruction makes the most sense for you. We can schedule a lesson today, and together, discuss and get started on your personal dance journey!

See you on the dance floor,


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