Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers. Source: The Kobal Collection
"There is something so rewarding about dancing. It's almost spiritual - you let loose, you feel free, you get endorphins from the exercise."
The desire to dance can be classified as one of the deepest human instincts . It has been said that “dancing is older than anything except eating, drinking and love.” Prehistoric cave paintings depict primitive figures moving to unseen forces- the same forces that move us today.
While the intimate association of emotion and movement is part of our unique make-up, modern life has conditioned us to suppress our natural healthy inclination to respond to our feelings with movement. Nevertheless that inborn desire to express ourselves by moving to a rhythm remains strong. It has been said that “rhythm is life” and rhythm combined with movement forms the basis of all dancing, including what is widely known around the globe as ballroom dancing.
Ballroom dancing continues to evolve from its origins of nearly a century ago. It does not exist in isolation, but is an integrated activity, influenced by cultural events in the world at large, one that develops and changes with the times. Fashion, art, science and aesthetics, as well as styles in popular music and ethnic themes have an impact on the dance landscape.
Currently, ballroom dancing consists of four major styles: American Smooth, American Rhythm, International Standard and International Latin.
Probably the style most similar to film performances by dancing stars such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, American Smooth blends social roots with theatrical embellishment . In line with the Hollywood-esque version of the leading man and lady; men typically dance in dinner jackets and women in full-length dresses that are highly embellished both in front and back. They are designed to be dramatic, playful, flirtatious, elegant, or some combination that complements the couple's choreography and dance characterizations (how they portray each of the dances). Blending many of the closed-hold techniques of Standard and the open partner-work of Latin Smooth involves the most total movement as partners move both around the floor (progressing counter-clockwise, down the line of dance) but also into and away from each other. Dresses, while long, cannot be too full or have too many extra swaths of streaming fabric as these could easily pose technical difficulties as dancers continuously connect and separate and reconnect.
American Rhythm is the style most closely identified with its roots in social dancing. For the dances it shares with International Latin, Rhythm uses different tempos, and technique-wise involves arriving on a slightly flexed knee, both allowing for fuller body actions. In a related vein, this is the style that allows for the greatest leeway in costuming although in a nod to its social roots, women's skirts are often visibly derivative of non-competition dress, and typically have short hemlines to exhibit leg lines and actions.
International Standard may best be understood as the connoisseurs' style of ballroom dancing. Because partners remain in frame at all times– never separating while dancing- it is challenging for onlookers to fully grasp and appreciate the range of skills, artistry, and athleticism involved.' Top professional couples are able to create an illusion of effortlessness and ease. Closest in style to its courtly upper-class origins, Standard costuming is the most formal and elegant with men wearing black tailsuits and women wearing full-length dresses. Because partners dance in closed-frame, the front of women's bodices may not be as decorated as seen in Smooth dresses, but skirts are often fuller and numerous styles of floats - various swaths of fabric and related elements attached at the woman's wrists and back of the dress - are typical accents that help highlight and enhance progressive and rotational movements as they billow out behind the couple.
International Latin is widely considered the flashiest, most attention-grabbing style of ballroom dancing, including the skimpiest of dresses (women), most manly shirts and trousers (men), and fastest movement. Contrasted with Rhythm, Latin offers different music tempi, demanding that dancers' straight-leg actions happen faster, producing quicker movement into and out of various body lines and positions. This speed - layered on top of what is often deliberately 'sexy' costuming-produces a product that is easy to appreciate, even without specialized dance training or knowledge. Much further from its social counterparts than Rhythm, Latin often exhibits quite a lot of side-by-side and otherwise separated choreography.
Where dances overlap between Rhythm and Latin, they have traditionally varied in technique and tempi (as well as very different basic step pattern and timing in Rumba). And, while the Smooth and Standard dances allow slightly different tempi, the major difference is that Smooth allows partners to separate from one another while dancing, whereas Standard is the only style where a couple is required to remain in frame throughout. Indeed, the name 'Smooth' is meant to signal the premium this style places on seamlessly transitioning in and out of Standard's always-closed-frame.
To find out more about specific dances, please visit Dances We Teach.
Modern Ballroom Dancing, Victor Silvester, Trafalgar Square Publishing, North Pomfret VT 2005.
Ballroom. Dance & Glamour, Jonathan S. Marion, Bloomsbury, London 2014.
The Internet. Arthur Murray Dance Centers. https://arthurmurray.com/ 11/18/2020.
The lecture of Anthony Hurley at Blackpool Congress 1998 –Choreographic Characterisation of Competitive Standard Dances.
The Internet. https://www.liveabout.com/ 11/18/2020.