Ballroom dancing has been popular for years and continues to thrive today. Fun, social, and an excellent way to learn a new skill, there’s a whole host of physical and mental benefits that come with ballroom dancing.
Whether you’re an experienced dancer or haven’t stepped foot on a dancefloor in years, the good news is that anyone can learn ballroom dance – and take great enjoyment from it too.
With this in mind, we’ll cover what ballroom dancing is, why it’s worth considering, and ways to get involved.
What’s the history of ballroom dancing?
If you’ve ever sat admiring the beautiful dances, techniques, and costumes of the dancers on Strictly Come Dancing, you might have wondered to yourself how ballroom dancing all began.
The history of ballroom dancing goes back centuries, with the first records stemming from 16th-century France. Though, at this time it was very different and much more tame than what we know today.
It was in the early 1800s that the first Waltz came to Britain, though the routine’s need to stand close to your partner initially caused a lot of scandal and resistance. Ballroom dance saw a steady rise in popularity, and by the 1920s people were beginning to enjoy greater freedom – not only in their clothing (with shorter skirts and looser flapper style dresses becoming the norm), but on the dancefloor too.
With the rise of the Hollywood era in the 1930s, mass audiences were now able to see and appreciate the beauty and glamour of dances like the Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep – and routines from this period have since been recreated in popular productions like Singin’ in the Rain and Top Hat.
In Britain, Victor Sylvester is the man credited with introducing ballroom dancing to the masses, as in 1939 he began giving ballroom dance lessons on the radio and selling records for people to learn in the comfort of their own homes.
From then on, the rest is pretty much history. The first ever ballroom dance series Come Dancing ran from 1949 to 1998. It was so popular that it was followed in 2004 by Strictly Come Dancing, which has been a huge success ever since.
What’s ballroom dancing like today?
Today, ballroom dancing remains as popular as ever. At a very basic level, ballroom dances are split into two main categories; traditional ballroom and Latin ballroom. Together, there are over 20 different dances.
- Traditional ballroom dances tend to be more structured and elegant with very precise steps. The Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Viennese Waltz, and Quickstep are the five main ballroom dances.
- Latin ballroom dances are typically more fluid, sensual, and characterised by freer movements. The main Latin ballroom dances include the Jive, Cha Cha Cha, Rumba, Samba, and the Paso Doble.
Each dance has its own unique style that requires different technique, posture, and footwork. For example, having the correct ‘frame’ is essential in the Waltz to allow both partners to move together seamlessly, while in Foxtrot swaying movements are key, and the Tango is full of sharp footwork to create drama and suspense.
What’s ballroom dancing like today?
There are various mental and physical health benefits of ballroom dancing. Not only is it a fun and uplifting activity, but research has recognised its ability to boost mood, improve cardiovascular fitness, increase creativity, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, among many other things.
As a result of learning new routines and skills, this study even found that ballroom dancing, as well as other forms of social dance, can help to prevent the onset of dementia by improving spatial memory.
Plus, since learning to dance can be a very social activity – whether you learn with a partner or immerse yourself in a class full of people – ballroom dancing can be a great way to forge connections and meet new people.
Who can learn ballroom dance?
As with learning any new skill, there are various steps to familiarise yourself with for different ballroom dances. Some dances are trickier and more complex to get to grips with than others, but with enough practice, patience, and commitment, anyone can learn.
You don’t even need to dance with a partner; there are plenty of dance learning resources that cater to solo learners.
Generally speaking, experts recommend that beginners start by learning the basic steps of three main dances: the Waltz, Rumba, and Cha Cha Cha. These dances are a helpful place to start because the steps fit a lot of popular music. We’ll cover them in more detail below.
What are some different types of ballroom dance?
Below are some of the most common ballroom dances, split into traditional and Latin ballroom.
We’ll outline some of the basics of each dance, followed by a video to give you an idea of what a typical routine should look like.
Traditional ballroom dances
When you mention ballroom dancing, a lot of people might think of the Waltz. It’s a classic ballroom dance and when done well, truly flows across the dance floor.
The Waltz is danced to music that has three counts to a bar. Posture and frame are very important to allow partners to move together smoothly.
The Foxtrot is another graceful dance and its slow, slow, quick, quick, slow rhythm makes it an absolute joy to watch.
Being rather technical, it’s commonly recognised as one of the more difficult dances to learn, but remains a favourite among professional dancers.
The fiery, sexy, passionate tango is a complete contrast to the elegant flow of the Waltz and Foxtrot. Tango steps are long and punctuated with sharp turns and quick head movements. The hold between partners is also much closer and tighter, which adds drama to the dance.
Ballroom tango is related but differs to the Argentine tango – although both originate from the vibrant streets of Buenos Aires.
Compared to the Waltz which has 30 musical bars each minute, the quickstep has 50, so as the name suggests, it’s a quick dance. So quick in fact, that most of it’s carried out on the balls of the feet to help give the impression that you’re hardly touching the ground.
The quickstep is a fun dance full of skips, slides, kicks, and chasses that’ll get your heart racing.
Just like the regular Waltz, the Viennese Waltz is danced to music with three counts to a bar, but has a quicker pace. Partners move around the dancefloor in a routine of spins and turns.
As the name suggests, the Viennese Waltz originated from Austria and to this day there’s a huge ball held each New Year in City Hall Vienna where the dance is shown off with hundreds of couples dancing together.
Latin ballroom dances
Origins of the Jive can be traced back in some form to early 1930s America – before it was brought to Europe during World War Two. The Jive is a very lively and energetic dance that involves a combination of bounces, kicks, and turns.
The posture for Jive is completely different to traditional ballroom as dancers need plenty of space to allow their legs to move in all directions. The Jive is usually danced to music that has a 4/4 time signature – a beat that fits plenty of modern and classic songs.
Cha Cha Cha
The Cha Cha Cha is fast, fun, and flirty. Originating in Cuba, it was brought back to Britain in the 1950s by an English dance teacher called Pierre Lavell after he saw dancers performing a triple step to Rumba music.
Cha Cha Cha differs from other dances because steps are danced with a parallel leg, turned out toes, and a lot of hip action. Dance moves like the Cuban Break and New Yorker are frequently used in the Cha Cha Cha.
If you were to ask “what’s the slowest ballroom dance?”, the Rumba might be it. It’s known as the dance of love and connection between the two dancers performing it is crucial.
The Rumba belongs in the Latin ballroom section because it’s drawn from a Cuban rhythm. It involves a smooth, subtle use of the hips and strides that use the full length of the foot.
Not many dances stir the same energy as the Samba. With origins traced back to Africa, modern day ballroom Samba is a combination of Brazilian music and African steps.
The Samba involves lots of bounce action, fluid hips, and partners moving together as one. The ability to really let go and let your body move to the beat of the music is what makes the Samba so fun to dance.
The Paso Doble is one of the most dramatic Latin ballroom dances as the dance tells the story of the Matador and the cape (a modern-day fairytale about the struggle between two natural enemies – bull and bullfighter).
The dance is exciting and intense, with foot stamps and strong steps. Interestingly, the Paso Doble is the only Latin dance where ladies wear a long skirt (to represent the cape). The skirt is often full length and layered, and used as part of the dance.
How can I get started with ballroom dancing?
There are various ways that you can learn ballroom dance, from self-teaching to taking a course or attending a dance class, there should be an option to suit everyone.
If you’d like to learn ballroom dancing from the comfort of your own home, the internet has a host of learning resources to help you get started. On YouTube you’ll find various channels that’ll take you through from basic steps all the way through to learning whole routines. Passion4dancing and Ballroom with Anna are some good channels to get started with. You can check out the video from Passion4dancing below to get a taste.
If you’d like to commit to more structured learning, you could consider taking a course in ballroom dancing. For example, this social ballroom dancing crash course from Udemy is for absolute beginners and covers the basic dance steps of Waltz, Swing, and Rumba. There are also plenty of other ballroom dance course options, which you can search for on the learning section of our website.
Alternatively, if you prefer in-person teaching, attending a ballroom dance class might suit you better. Some people find in-person classes more effective because they allow you to ask questions on the spot and for a teacher to correct any mistakes you may be making.
Ballroom dance classes are held across the UK and you can find a class near you using this handy search tool from Bark. Simply search by entering your postcode, experience level, and personal preferences.
Ballroom dancing is a fun, uplifting activity that’s good for the mind, body, and soul. From the smooth moves of the Waltz and Rumba all the way through to the fast and energetic Cha Cha Cha or Samba, there’s a dance to suit everyone’s taste – and the good news is that anyone can learn.
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