Ballroom Dance Style Descriptions


The Waltz– (from the German “walzen”, meaning to roll, turn or glide) was the first dance in which the man and lady danced with body contact.  Waltz has materialized into two accepted forms known as Modern Waltz and Viennese Waltz both in keeping with the main characteristics of the dance, though at different tempos.  The Modern or Slow Waltz is done at a slower tempo, with long gliding steps, fewer turns, and more backward and forward movements.  The waltz is danced to ¾ time music, has an elegant rise and fall action and swaying to the sides.  It has a graceful and romantic feel.

The Foxtrot – Sometimes called the dance of Fred and Ginger, the Foxtrot made its first appearance during vauldeville time, when it was danced to ragtime music.  Modifications came when realized that ‘’trotting” couldn’t be sustained for long periods of time.   It evolved into a smooth and stylish dance much like the waltz, however, it is characterized with both slow gliding steps as well as quick steps with an easygoing look and feel.  It is danced to 4/4 time and has two rhythms which make it adaptable to many different music styles.

The Tango – Developed from many cultural influences beginning in Spain, Morocco, then Buenos Aires, Argentina, Paris and finally standardized in New York.  It was popularized by Vernon & Irene Castle right before WWI and then by Rudolph Valentino in a silent movie.  The tango is a dramatic dance with both cat-like and staccato movements.  Done in a close hold with bent knees,  the  tango is danced to 4/4 time music together with a marching rhythm and is phrased into 16 or 32 beats much like telling a story.

The Rumba – Known as the grandfather of all the Latin dances, Rumba is a very slow romantic dance, characterized by quick and slow steps, a still upper body and swaying of the hips.  Rumba music is written in 4/4 time with a very slow tempo.  It was greatly influenced by African style music, but has infiltrated many other popular music genres such as country, blues and rock.

East Coast Swing – Evolved from the 1920’s when it was called Lindy first and then Jitterbug.  After emergence of the Big Band Jazz music and several modifications of the dance, it was renamed Swing and finally distinguished as East Coast Swing in the 70’s.  ECS is an upbeat and happy dance characterized by its bounce steps and rock-back break.  It is a stationary dance done to 4/4 time music.

The Cha-Cha – A lively, playful dance of Cuban origin which evolved from a slow version of the Mambo called “Triple Mambo”.  Originally danced to Latin Pop or Latin Rock music it became the latest dance craze of the 50’s in the U.S. when the Big Band instruments were popular.  Cha-Cha is an exuberant and non-progressive dance done in 4/4 time music, and distinguished by the syncopated triple step (chasse or shuffle).

Nightclub Two-Step – Sometimes called disco two-step or California two-step, is a casual, relaxed and slow dance created in the 60’s.  It is characterized by rock steps, long glides and a traveling cross step which are used to spice up a slow dance and make it more interesting.  NCTS is done to popular music with a slower tempo as well as smooth jazz music.  It can be a stationary or a progressive dance or a combination of the two.

The Merengue – Was born in the Dominican Republic and blended with African and French influence.  It is a fun, fast and easy dance made up of simple steps.  Merengue became popular in New York during the 30’s and 40’s.  The Big Band instruments contributed to its marching rhythm.  It is characterized by strong side to side motion with emphasis on counts 1 and 5.  The dance encourages creative arm movements to go with the simple steps.