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Ballroom dance
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Ballroom dance

Ballroom dance is a style of partner dance which originated in the western world, and is now enjoyed both socially and competitively in many parts of the world. Its performance and entertainment aspects are also widely enjoyed on stage, in film and on television.

The definition of "Ballroom Dance" depends on the epoque. We all know of or have heard of balls that featured Minuet, Quadrille, Polonaise, Pas de Gras, Mazurka and many other exciting dances, which today are placed into the category of Historical dances.

In times past ballroom dancing was "social dancing" of privileged classes, leaving "folk dancing" for other folks. Today ballroom dancing is much more democratic, and the boundaries between once polarized ballroom and folk dances become blurred. Notice, however, that even in times long gone many "ballroom" dances were elevated folk dances.

Ballroom dancing has been in continual use as a social art form since its inception with one obvious exception in the 20th Century: Dance historians usually mark the appearance of the Twist in the mid 1960s as the end of social partner dancing, and credit what was then called the Latin Hustle for bringing it back in the late 1970s.

Today one may speak of "Competitive Ballroom" dancing, with its competitions, schools, societies and books of technique, and of "Social Ballroom" dancing, with emphasis on having fun.

"Strictly Ballroom" - Competitive Dancing

Contemporary ballroom dance technique has been extensively studied and formalized. Medal Exams are a commonly accepted standard of measurement of a dancer's technique according to conventional standards, franchise studios in the United States classify them as Bronze, Silver, Gold and Gold Bar for the social dancers. For amateur competitive dancers the rankings go Bronze->Silver->Gold->Novice->Prechampionship->Championship (roughly equivalent to the A->E rankings in Europe and Australia), then Rising Star and Open Professional for the pro ranks. The International Olympic Committee recognizes competitive ballroom dance as a DanceSport.

Most ballroom dances were social and/or folk dances before being formalized as ballroom dances, and many of these dances are still danced as social and folk dance.

Coming from grouping dances in competitions, the following divisions of contemporary ballroom dance are recognized: International Standard and International Latin. In addition, American Smooth, and American Rhythm are widely popular in the USA. The former two divisions are called International Style and the latter two are American Style.

Australia also has a division called New Vogue and is often referred to as 'Australian New Vogue'. It is danced both competitively and socially. In competition there are 15 recognised New Vogue dances which are performed by the competitors in sequence.

As a historical curiosity, ballroom dancing competitions in the former USSR included the Soviet Ballroom dances, or Soviet Programme in addition to Standard dances and Latin dances.

As you may see below, both styles include dances with the same names, however they are danced quite differently. Therefore in discussing dance technique, the dance is named including its style, e.g., it is spoken of American Style Rumba vs. International Rumba or American Tango vs. International Tango. In a way, "Standard" matches "Smooth" and "Latin" matches "Rhythm".

International Standard is sometimes called International Ballroom or Modern Ballroom.

Standard and Smooth dances are characterized by travelling: couples travel around the dance floor (along the line of dance, typically counter-clockwise). Time may be 2/4, 4/4, 3/4 or 6/8 .

Most "Latin" and "Rhythm" dances are Stationary, i.e., do not travel much, with the exception of Samba and Paso Doble. Time is 2/4 or 4/4.

Social Ballroom

Of course, all the above can be and are danced socially in numerous dance clubs, schools and studios.

In addition, social ballroom dancing recognizes the Nightclub Dances category. Nightclub dances are less formalized than the others. A number of them are proudly called Street dances. Nightclub dances are danced differently in different places and club/street styles differ from styles taught in ballroom studios.

Akin to "Ballroom dances" and "Nightclub dances" are Country/western dances, danced both competitively and socially at C/W bars, clubs, ballrooms.

A related category is Regional Ballroom Dances. One example would be the subcategory of Cajun Dances which originated in New Orleans, with branches reaching both coasts of the USA.

Rogers and Astaire

Few would argue the enormous influence the on-screen dance pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had on perceptions of ballroom dancing. Although both actors had independent projects and careers (Fred Astaire had many other partners and Ginger Rogers won an Academy Award for a dramatic role), their filmed dance sequences have reached iconic status. Much of their work centred on portraying social dance, but the performances were highly choreographed, often by Astaire or Hermes Pan, meticuously staged and rehearsed endlessly. Ballroom dance historians also note their portrayal of Vernon and Irene Castle.

Their work has greatly influenced social ballroom syllabuses, and 'Fred & Ginger' classes and workshops remain popular.

Classic Ballroom

There are also classic and vintage dance societies, dedicated to the performance and preservation of the ballroom dances of the past. These companies may perform at special events attired in costume. Some ballroom dance instructors specialize in the dances of one place or time, or in fad dances, short-lived, time-specific dances which may be associated with the music or style of an era ("The Twist") or a particular song ("YMCA", "La Macarena").

Performance and exhibition

While nightclub and street dances tend to focus on connection between partners and musicality, ballroom dances tend to focus more on performing to an audience. Of course, ballroom dancers do learn about connection and musicality, and club dancers are often excellent performers. But ballroom dancers will tend to put appearance above connection, while club dancers will tend to focus primarily on their partners.

Consequently, competetive ballroom dance essentially consists of some number of couples each performing for the audience's attention. Since ballroom dance is so participation-oriented, most of the audience are themselves dancers, so this format works well; everyone gets a chance to try to outperform their peers.

However, there are several noncompetetive forms of ballroom performance. Visiting professionals will generally give a showcase as part of a workshop, and often the winners of the higher levels of competition will be invited to give a short victory dance after awards are presented. Studios also commonly hold showcases where their students can show off what they've learned.

There is also a growing interest in formation dance, which is also performance-oriented.

Dance grouping

International Standard
-Waltz - Tango - Viennese Waltz - Foxtrot - Quickstep

International Latin
-Cha-Cha - Samba - Rumba - Paso Doble - Jive (dance)

American Smooth
-Waltz - Foxtrot - Tango - Viennese Waltz

American Rhythm
- Cha-Cha - Mambo - Rumba - Bolero - East Coast Swing

- Nightclub Two Step - Hustle - Modern Jive / LeRoc / Ceroc - and the whole swing variety: West Coast Swing / East Coast Swing / Lindy Hop / Carolina Shag / Collegiate Shag / Balboa

Latin Nightclub
- Salsa - Merengue - Cumbia - Bachata - Cha-Cha-Cha

All dances listed here are better to bear the "C/W" qualifier when discussed in non-C/W context.
-Polka - Cha-Cha-Cha - Two Step -Waltz - ...
or rather:
-C/W Polka - C/W Cha-Cha-Cha - C/W Two Step - C/W Waltz - ...

Cajun Dances
- Cajun One Step - Cajun Two Step - Zydeco - Cajun Waltz - Cajun Jitterbug

- Argentine Tango
- Polka