Ballroom Dance For Beginners – How to Start Ballroom Dancing

Ballroom dancing is a type of partner dancing that is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. People participate in ballroom dance at social events, and as a part of competitions. Ballroom dance is enjoyed not only by dancers, but also by audiences, as it is a very entertaining style of dance. While any type of dancing performed socially may be called ballroom dancing, modern ballroom dancing also known as dance-sport comprises of five dances of International Latin style; Samba, Rumba, Cha-Cha, Jive, and Pasodoble, and five Standard Ballroom dances; Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, Quick Step, Viennese Waltz, and Tango. Both the International Standard and International Latin ballroom dancing techniques were created in England, and the World Dance Council regulates the dances. IDSF – International Dance Sport Federation oversees all international amateur ballroom dance competitions.

In the United Kingdom, a style of ballroom dancing called sequence dancing is also extremely popular. In the US the most popular ballroom dancing style is called American Style, either American Smooth, or American Rhythm. Both of these are less technically stringent, and easier to learn versions of international styles that are a big part of social ballroom dancing in the US.


How did Ballroom Dancing originate?

Historically, ballroom dancing was conducted in ballrooms and large salons designated for dancing by the upper class of society, leaving the lower classes to folk dancing. Since the 16th century, ballroom dancing has been quite fashionable, with dances like Minuet, Polka, and Quadrille as a dance enjoying favor with a lot of folks. In the early 1800s, the waltz became a very popular dance in Europe, and by the mid 1800s, many of the original decorative dance steps had disappeared in traditional ballroom dancing.

By the 20th century, ballroom dancing had moved away from its traditional roots in sequence dancing, and became a style of dance in which the dancing couples moved freely from other couples. Professional ballroom dancers worked to bring ballroom dancing to the public by teaching many of the typical ballroom dance steps. Classes by Arthur Murray in the United States became very popular, and the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing in the United Kingdom flourished. When movie stars, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced in the movies of the 1930s, people clambered to learn the steps they watched on-screen.

It is not just a hobby, It is a Dance Sport!

The International Olympic Committee, now recognizes competitive ballroom dancing, but it is unclear whether dancing will ever be included in the Olympic Games. Currently, there are approximately 30 countries that participate in competitive ballroom dancing at the international level, and many countries hold national and regional dance competitions.


How is a ballroom dancing competition judged?

Judges in ballroom dancing competitions evaluate dancers on their poise, timing, presentation, posture, musicality, and authenticity of the character of dance.
Adjudicating ballroom dancing competitions is quite subjective and it is up to the judges to decide who gets their coveted mark to advance to the next round. Based on the number of total recalls in the last round danced, a given couple either advances onto the next round, or gets cut, if it did not get the minimum required number of marks/votes of confidence from the judges. Given the subjective nature of adjudicating ballroom dancing competitions, complaints are common. Scorekeepers are commonly used to keep track of the number of recalls each couple receives through the final round, and then the skating system is used to calculate the scores by ordinals 1 through 6.

Ballroom Dancing Competition IDSF Latin 2010 World Championships

Ballroom Dancing Competition IDSF Latin 2010 World Championships New York


Popular Social Dances

Some of the more popular current ballroom dances within the last few decades include Salsa, Hustle, West Coast Swing, Tango, Mambo, East Coast Swing, and Merengue. American Smooth ballroom dancers typically dance to the music from the 20th century, and move counter-clockwise around the dance floor while wearing formal attire. Men normally wear bow ties and tailcoats, while women wear full-length ball gowns. In some areas, men wear tuxedos in lieu of tailcoats.


Competitive Dances – International Latin

When ballroom dancers participate in the International Latin dancing, they do not move in a counter-clockwise fashion, but rather dance in roughly the same spot. Women normally wear short skirts and men wear tight pants that are wide at the bottom, and shirts, both in typical Latin style. The type of dress works to enhance the appearance of the leg and body movements of the dancers.


Waltz – American Smooth, and International Standard

Waltz has lasted as one of the most popular dances of the ballroom genre, and needs to be a part of every beginner’s dancer repertoire. The Waltz is a smooth dance that includes flowing movements, graceful and continuous turns that rise and fall, making the dancers appear to glide effortlessly around the dance floor. The tempo is slow, but the music is often expressive and brings out commanding performances by the dancers. The basic rhythm of the Waltz is 1, 2, 3, – 1, 2, 3, with the accent on the first beat.

Viennese Waltz

Viennese Waltz refers to the fast Waltzes from Vienna during the Romantic period. The music typically has a fast tempo of 6/8, with the basic rhythm of 1, 2, 3 – 1, 2, 3, with the accent focused on the 1.

Foxtrot – Smooth, and Standard

Jazz music inspired the development of the Foxtrot dance, which is a smooth ballroom dance style where the dancers move in long, flowing movements around the dance floor. The Foxtrot can be danced to many types of music, but is typically danced to big band style music. Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Billie Holiday are the characteristic vocalists of Foxtrot dancing. Named after the dance’s inventor, Harry Fox, the Foxtrot is a very versatile dance that has gone through many changes in style throughout the ages. The Slow Foxtrot is now the basis of the modern Foxtrot dance. Foxtrot’s basic rhythm is slow quick quick on a 4/4 timing.

Tango – Smooth and Standard

Tango is a popular Smooth/Standard dance that also has a lot in common with Latin ballroom dances in terms of passion, sharpness and style. Tango originated in Buenos Aires where it used to be danced around a small circle in the Argentinian salons. Tango became an international favorite when Europeans adopted and transcended the dance moves to new levels. The tango is an exotic and suggestive dance that is emotional and contains a lot of gyration. The choreography is often sexual in nature, with the original dance being designed to pantomime a pimp and a prostitute communications. While the tango has changed somewhat, the emotional style, and the bandoneon background music remains.

Tango incorporates some patterns from other Ballroom and Latin dances, but it is unique in its sharp head snaps and dramatic motions. American Smooth Tango, like Foxtrot is danced to a 4/4 timing, and its basic step timing is quick-quick-slow. It is often said that Tango steps should be similar to careful steps of a cat or a fax quietly sneaking/closing in on its prey.


Cha Cha – American Rhythm and International Latin

In Cha Cha, dancers take their first steps on the ball of their foot and then lower the heel to the floor. When the dancer lifts their foot the heel is removed from the floor first, while allowing the toes to push off the floor. Alternating bending of the knees, and then straightening them out again create Cha Cha’s characteristic hip movements. The free leg bends, while the leg carrying the weight is kept straight. Hips will naturally move toward the weighted leg, and when the free leg straightens right before it becomes the weighted leg. Cha Cha is danced in the basic rhythm of 2, 3, 4, and 1, 2, 3, 4 and 1, with accent on the 1 and 3.

Cha Cha Dance International Latin Championships - IDSF 2010, New York

Cha Cha Dance International Latin Championships - IDSF 2010, New York

Samba – International Latin Only

Samba is a Brazilian dance with a medium tempo, danced to the basic rhythm of 1 a2, 1 a2 with the accent on the downbeat in a 2/4 meter. The basic dance steps in Samba are series of forward and backward steps, alternating in a bouncy motion, which is created from the pelvis. The Samba includes a move called the whisk in which the dancer’s foot crosses behind the other during the second beat of the measure.

Salsa (Street) – Mambo (American Rhythm)

Salsa dancing is characterized by up-tempo Latin music that is popular in nightclubs, danced in the rhythm of quick-quick-slow. All footsteps in Salsa are taken with the ball of the foot making first contact with the floor, and the heel being lowered to the floor when all of the weight is transferred. Hip movement is rather subtle in Salsa dancing, while arms of the dancers are kept at, or above the waist level. All arm movements should be a result of the body movement, instead of independent movements, which can appear to be contrived, and abnormal. Mambo is a Salsa-inspired American rhythm dance with the same timing as Salsa “on the 2”.

Where can I go to Ballroom Dance?

Many cities have dance classes, studios, and organizations to join, where all aspects of ballroom dancing can be learned and enjoyed. Learning to ballroom dance can provide great opportunities to have fun and meet new people. The companionship and social interaction of group dance classes can supply dance students with a stimulating environment of learning, where both beginners and seasoned veterans work together. Before signing a contract for dance lessons, many dance studios offer a free first lesson to give you a feel for their atmosphere and teaching methods. This can be a good way for you to assess the studio and its instructors before committing to and private dance lessons or buying a package of private dance lessons.


Benefits of Ballroom Dancing

Aside from the social aspect of dance, ballroom dancing also produces many physical and good mood benefits. It can be a fantastic stress reliever! Ballroom dancing can boost your self-confidence, and improve your overall health. Private instructors are available for booking, if you are looking to learn quicker and advance your ballroom dancing in a shorter period of time. By taking a private lesson by yourself or with your partner, you will benefit from individual attention and focus. You should also consider taking group classes to establish a good base, and get a good feel for a dance of your interest. You can later build upon that base, and fine tune any quirks in your dancing during your private lessons.


How to Get/Become good at Ballroom Dancing

Becoming a skilled ballroom dancer requires more than just an expert instructor, as dancers will need to commit to continuous practice and use of learned techniques. A minimum of 15 minutes per day should be devoted to practicing ballroom dancing steps, in which focus is spent on reinforcing what has been learned in class. Learning how to ballroom dance can take a great deal of time and practice, but the payoff can be well worth the effort.

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