History of Ballroom Dancing- Old Time to Modern Ballroom Dancing

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History of Ballroom Dance
June 24, 2020
Since the early days of humankind, emotion stimulates the body to move freely and undisturbed until it becomes one with the rhythm. The main purpose of dance in those days was communication using body language.

The desire to dance is older than anything except eating drinking and love. It is one of the most primitive instincts of all humans. Emotion stimulates the body to move freely and undisturbed until it becomes one with the rhythm. Primitive cave- drawings depict men taking part in mystical dance rituals around a fire. The main purpose of dance in those early days was to communicate using body language.

Earliest forms of Dancing.jpg

From then on, language was developed, and the immediate need of mime and gesture no longer existed; however, the body's expressive movement couldn't be replaced. Spontaneity ceased to be the primary driver for movement. It was replaced with the formal and finally traditional forms of dance.

Undoubtedly the desire for a rhythmic movement combined with the communal instinct innate for most human beings enabled the early folk dances to survive the dull period in history known as the Dark Ages.

Traditional "folk" or national dances has been a feature in most of the Church Festival days in Italy, France, and England. Dancing may have slowed down its development during the Dark Ages, but it never died or completely stopped inhabiting people's lives.

Dance is everywhere around us.

Ballroom Dancing- Old Times to Modern Days

The Sixteen Hundreds

We gain our first authoritative knowledge of the earliest ballroom dances from the end of the 16th century from a priest called Thoinot-Arbeau. His book Orchesographie follows the journey of the dances of the 16th century, dance music, and social functions. Listen to the Orchesographie Album

Academie Royale de Musique et de Danse
Academie Royale de Musique et de Danse

In the times of Arbeau, a technique was slowly being formed by the dancing masters of the period. It was not until the latter half of the 17th century that Louis XIV founded his "Academie Royale de Musique et de Danse" that hard and fast rules for the execution of every dance were laid down by the members of the Academy and the five positions of the feet were formulated for the first time.

At that time, the Minuet and Gavotte were the main dances of the Court. The Minuet was introduced into Paris in 1650, and the King himself danced it in public. It can be said that it was a dance that dominated the ballroom from that time until the close of the eighteenth century.

Dances of that period, such as the Minuet were used as "entrees" in Ballets from the early days of Louis XIV. These dances were, therefore, spectacular. They were based on a technique that was, to some extent, artificial. For instance, the legs had to be turned out to provide a more graceful "line," and many purely "decorative" steps such as entrechats and cabrioles were executed.

The first definitive split between the Ballet and the ballroom came when professional dancers appeared in ballets. The ballets left the Court and went to the Stage. Still, the influence of the ballet technique lingered for over two centuries. At the close of the Victorian Era, the dancing masters still based their tuition on the 'turned out' five positions on Stage.

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The Eighteen Hundreds

When the Ballet made it to the Stage of theaters, its technique became considerably more enriched. However, the ballroom dances followed the instruction of the dancing masters who also ruled the Ballet. The coming of a new technique was already foreshadowed. However, it was not until nearly two hundred and fifty years later that this new technique actually came into being.

Waltz 1812.jpg

We saw the first beginnings of modern dancing when in 1812 when the modern hold made its appearance in our ballrooms in the Waltz. This was very controversial at the time, and a storm of protests arose at the time.

There has been a difference in opinion about the origin of Waltz. The French trace it back to Volta, a turning dance in triple time that came into Provence from Italy.

A more common opinion today is to trace the Waltz back to the Landler of Southern Germany. It first came into notice about the year 1780.

In those days, the Waltz was danced to tunes generally in three-eight time. The couples stood in a circle around the room. Partners held one another, usually by the hands only, and the dance consisted of several different figures.

It was about 1812 that the Waltz, with its modern hold, took root in England, and it was about this time that the famous "Invitation A  la Valse" was composed. The dance was met with tremendous opposition. Mothers forbade it, the ballrooms became a scene of feud and contention. Sarcastic remarks were made, and young ladies were deterred from such recreation.

This didn't last long, and finally, the Waltz was accepted along with other dances like the Polka and Mazurka. At that time, there was a strong tendency to drop most of the decorative steps taken from Ballet.

The Nineteen Hundreds

Ballroom Dancing was inclined to stagnate at the close of the Victorian Era, possibly owing to the absence of any new development. The coming of the Boston, which was a new way of dancing to Waltz music and the Rag, put fresh life into the stagnating art. These innovations appealed to the young generations who had wearied the fast Waltz played by the orchestras, and the ballroom dancing took a fresh lease of life.

A pivotal point in the history of ballroom dancing perhaps was the rebellion of young generations against the artificial technique of the old-time teachers with its five positions and "petty" movements. The newly introduced style by the dancers themselves was a free and easy go as you please style based more or less on the natural movements used in Walking. The coming of the Foxtrot in 1914 fanned this rebellion and killed the sway of the old-time technique.

History of Ballroom Dancing Early Days.jpg

The Dancing Times in 1920 was an informal conference that was widely attended by dancers and at which some attempt was made to standardize dance steps of the Foxtrot and One-Step. A new hierarchy of dance teachers arose. Those teachers were the first to recognize the break with the old tradition and to evolve and codify a modern ballroom dancing technique based on natural movement with feet in alignment.

They formed the first Committee of the Ballroom Branch of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. The style which they codified and which has since been so highly developed is what we call today "International Style," previously known as "English Style."


Stay tuned for more articles from the series “History of Ballroom Dancing.”

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