The history of ballroom dancing is a vast one, but for some who is passionate for the craft can really appreciate each shift in its history. If you think about it, the dances nowadays are so different from social dances in the past. You cannot really help but wonder if our present dances are just old dances that evolved into something new.
As there is a lot to cover, we are just going to talk about certain shifts in history that changed the course of ballroom dancing as we know it. At the same time, we are going to mention the important people who helped facilitate those changes.
What Is Ballroom Dance?
Let us first talk about what ballroom dance means. It actually has a lot of definitions, but in a nutshell, it is a type of dance that is done with a partner for recreational means. But all of us know that this is no longer accurate because ballroom dancing is now part of competitive dance sports.
Due to the changing times, it narrowed its scope to only five international standard and Latin-style dances. We are going to discuss these two styles later on.
That said, ballroom dancing was derived from the root word ball which in Latin is “ballare“, and it means “to dance”. In the past, as we have seen in countless movies, it is done as a social dance for the rich folk when they throw presentation balls. Now, it is widely spread as any other dance, but the style and techniques remain true to its roots.
The Two Styles
As we have mentioned earlier, there are two recognized ballroom dancing styles. The first one being the international standard style and the other one is the Latin style dances. Let us briefly discuss each style.
1. International Standard Style
This one has five dances under it, and these are the following:
This one is a combination of step, slide, and has a count of three-fourths per step. It also includes a lot of turning and the couples have a close frame which was viewed as scandalous before, but became the norm in the 19th century.
A closed frame is the name of the game for this dance. It consists of a lot of irregular counts, fierce movements, and individual freestyle.
This is usually danced with music that has a swing style. It is one of the easiest dances as it includes side steps and walking steps.
Many people think that it was supposed to be a march that turned into something entirely rhythmic. In the past, this dance was used in balls that celebrated heroes, presidents, governors, etc.
- Viennese Waltz
This is actually the oldest form of the waltz. It is believed that it originated from folk dance in France. Just like the regular waltz, it consists of a lot of turning.
2. Latin Style Dances
This also has five dances under it, and they are:
- Paso doble
This is an interesting type of dance that imitates a bullfight. It originated from Spain, and it was considered as a military march.
It has Cuban origins and is unique as the feet combinations are not always exact. It is a mixture of turning and fast pacing.
This is a combination of Afro-Cuban and American dancing styles. Some refer to this type of dance as the dance of lovers or dance of anger. It consists of a lot of big and bold movements.
This dance style came from Brazil. It combines stiff and rhythmic movements to be danced to almost any type of music.
This has African-American influences and is composed of very lively and rhythmic movements. With this one, you can stride and turn while doing a swing.
History of Ballroom Dancing
Let us now have a quick look at some of the notable happenings in the world of ballroom dancing.
Early Modern Period
Jehan Tabourot was able to document the earliest forms of ballroom dancing in his book named, Orchesographie. This was way back in 1588, and it was about the study of social dance during the French Renaissance. Some of the dances that were mentioned are pavane, the livelier branle, the solemn basse dance, and Shakespeare’s favorite, the galliarde.
During the 1650s, a new form of dance came into light, and it was called the minuet. This was actually a dance from the peasants; however, it gained popularity and was danced by King Louis XIV in public. Therefore, it became acceptable to the nobles and in turn, turned into the most popular dance of the 18th century.
It was by the 16th century that King Louis XIV started the Academie Royale de Musique et de Danse. This is the first time that dance was regulated in as much as having at least five positions for the feet. This was also the time that ballet and ballroom were distinguished as ballet was concentrated to be performed onstage.
During 1812, the Waltz gained popularity in England. Carl Maria von Weber wrote the book, Invitation to Dance and this was how waltz was adapted into what they call as the sphere of absolute music. Just as mentioned before, not everyone liked it at first due to the proximity of patterns, but they got over it eventually. From here on out, other styles of dance stemmed from waltz which involved a lot of decorative steps.
Early 20th Century
As you might notice, trends and dances change based on music. So by 1910-1930, it is all about jazz. This is the period where a lot of people invented the different types of dances; some even have independent choreography.
People like Irene and Vernon Castle, Victor Silvester, and Josephine Bradley were the ones who analyzed these dances and codified them in categories to fit certain standards.
There is still much to discuss about the history of ballroom dancing, but the ones that we mentioned are the most important shifts. If you truly want to learn more, just follow the type of music in that year, as more often than not, there is a significant change in dancing style and form based on that music alone. Truly, its history is as interesting as the dances themselves.