Ballroom Dancing Explained

Published in  
Ballroom Dance
January 14, 2020
Ballroom Dancing is one of the most popular forms of dance but somehow sometimes it is still mysterious to people. Learn more about this beautiful activity, all the different flavors of Ballroom Dancing and explore all the possibilities for performance or just social dancing.

I am going to warn you- it is a little long! It was not long enough to split in two halves that make logical sense, but it didn't end up being short and sweet either. Anyways I hope you can finish it! Have fun.

Very often, people come to the studio for the first time, looking for dance lessons, but they don’t know exactly what they are in for. They come in for Ballroom dance lessons because they are looking for couple dancing, and ballroom seems to be the most accessible form of couple dancing out there.

What is Ballroom Dancing?

Atanas and Pro-am student Rumi dance Cha- cha at Embassy Ball
My student Rumi and I dancing Cha-Cha at Embassy Ball

Long-time ago, Ballroom Dancing was primarily for the higher class, while the ordinary people had turned to folk dancing to satisfy their desire for rhythmical movement. These boundaries, of course, have since disappeared, leaving ballroom dancing a fun hobby for everyone.  

Today, Ballroom Dancing is referred to as a family of dances in which a “leader” and a “follower” is required to dance together in close proximity, usually with some degree of physical contact. This closeness is to permit the leader to get the follower to, well, follow along.

Types of Ballroom Dancing

When we talk about Ballroom Dance flavors, we can talk about two main aspects in which Ballroom Dancing has been developing- Social and Competitive.

The names are already suggestive enough, but we will go in a little more detail, hoping that by the end of the blog post, you will be able to distinguish the differences between those styles.

The Social Aspect of Ballroom Dancing

This style of Ballroom Dancing is mostly popular among people who want to dance for fun hence the name Social Dancing. Social dancers take ballroom dance lessons to learn some steps and dance patterns called routines. After that they start to hone their lead/ follow skills.

Once they feel comfortable enough to lead or follow someone else in a dance, they go out to social dance parties where they dance with other dancers with the same goals- having fun, meeting people.

Styles of Social Ballroom Dancing

Atanas and pro-am Student Etsuko Dance Foxtrot
Atanas and pro-am Student Etsuko Dance Foxtrot

1. Ballroom and Latin- Generally includes the easier for lead/ follow dances like Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Cha-Cha, Rumba, Swing. Social dancers usually try to stay away from the faster dances like Quickstep, Jive, and Viennese Waltz even though they are pretty rad if you ask me.

Social Salsa Dancing
Social Salsa Dancing

2. Club Dances- This category includes the dances that are much more accessible and, in a way, easier for everyone since they don't require such a strict technique like the regular competitive ballroom dances. Some of those dances are Nightclub two-step, Country Western, Salsa, West Coast Swing, Hustle, Merengue.

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The Competitive Aspect of Ballroom Dancing

Atanas and Kora with their Competitive Ballrom Couples at  US National Championships
Atanas and Kora with their Competitive Ballrom Couples at US National Championships

Okay, now we are getting to the real fun, at least for me. Don't get me wrong, nothing wrong with Social Dancing. It is a great way to experience Ballroom Dancing and challenge yourself to learn new things, but if you are like me and need just a little something more- look no further! Competitive Ballroom Dancing is what you need.

Do you like to push yourself hard? Like setting goals? Competitive? Those are all things Competitive Ballroom Dancing can give you and much more. Meeting cool new people, discipline, and a lot of traveling, to name just a few.

Garret and Deanna after winning Snowball

Oh, man, I might be biased (I've been a competitor for over 19 years), but that's why I'm so excited to tell you all about the Competitive side of Ballroom Dancing. Bear with me, and I will try to go methodically. We can look at Competitive Ballroom Dancing from two different sides- the type of competitor and the style of ballroom dance.

Amateur, Professional, and Pro-am dance competitors are the three main types of people who take part in a Ballroom Dance Competition.  

The Amateurs are just that- competitive couples who do it for fun; in other words, they don't get paid to do it. Those will include all of the kids that you see competing on the dance floor. Generally speaking, because that is not their profession, but extra curricular activity, the level of dancing will be considered lower than let's say, the Professionals.

Nowadays, however, at the top of each age group starting from Pre Teen to Adult, those competitors take Ballroom Dancing very seriously and "do it" like Professionals. All the traveling for competitions, taking coaching with many teachers, and represent their countries to European and World Championships.  

The Professional division should be pretty self-explanatory. They train, compete professionally, do pro-am competitions, teach, do shows, judge, and all other jobs that connected to Ballroom Dancing.

Hmm, now, what if you are, a woman, a lawyer, loves to dance and sold on Competitive Ballroom Dancing. You fall in the first category- Amateurs. You have another profession; ballroom dancing is your hobby, get out of office activity. Big red sign- you don't have a partner. No, your dream of becoming a dancer is not lost; on the contrary, there has never been a better time to bring it to life.

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You are a Pro-Am Ballroom dancer. Your couple will consist of You (the amateur) and your Professional dance teacher and partner who will teach you to dance and compete with you at super exciting pro-am ballroom dance competitions. Can't get any better than this.

Styles of Competitive Ballroom Dancing

1. International Style- The International style of Ballroom Dancing is the most diverse one. It starts in Europe, the dance figures and technique was standardized and described in a technique book widely used around the world.

There are two groups of Ballroom dances in the International Style. They are Standard or also knowns as Ballroom, and Latin- American.

In the Standard, we have five dances- Slow Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep.
The Latin- American also has five dances- Cha- Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble, and Jive.

2. American Style - The Americans came up with their slightly modified version of the International Style, which turned out pretty awesome. The two versions are called American Smooth and Rhythm, which are analog to the International Style division of Ballroom and Latin- American.  

The American Smooth has only four dances- Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz.

The Rhythm has 5- Cha- Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Bolero, and the Mambo.

3. Theater Arts/ Showdance- you like to break free and push boundaries. Maybe try the show dance categories. In this category, you can do elements of all the styles of Ballroom Dance combined with some lifts, and best of all, you can do it to the music of your liking and pre-choreographed everything to the music. How cool! The video below gives you an example.

Here Shane and Shannon show us a beautiful representation of the Theater Arts style.

What is the Difference between the Ballroom Dance Styles?

Probably  you have already noticed that we have some overlapping between the styles, for example both International Ballroom and American Smooth have the dance Waltz in their comptetitive programs.

We can really get technical pinpointing the differences (trust me there are plenty) but for the sake of keeping it short we are going to mention the most obvious difference- The dance hold through out the dance.

As you can see on the videos bellow. In International style you are required to hold your frame without breaking it with your partner, where as in American Smooth you can go in other “open” positions. That’s it- short and sweet.

Victor Fung and Anastasia perform a beautiful International Style Waltz

Roman and Galina dancing the American Smooth Waltz

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Now let's get to the difference between Rhythm and Latin- American. Here things get complicated. Cha- Cha is pretty much the same with minor variations. Rumba in Rhythm is an entirely different dance the Cuban Rumba from the Latin- American program. The main difference is the three entirely new dances in Rhythm ( East Coast Swing, Bolero and Mambo) that we do not have in the Latin- American Program.

Nazar and Irina dance the Mambo, this dance is part of the American Rhythm competitive program.

Ricardo and Yulia show us how to Samba, which is only available in the Latin- American competitions

Sorry guys, that was longer than I originally planned, but I tried to cut down the irrelevant for understanding the basic differences information. I hope you enjoyed it, and if you want more blog posts like this, please let me know in the comments bellow If you like, please share. Over and out now!

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