History of Social Dance

Ballroom dancing originated in England in the 18th and 19th century Balls and social events. While these parties were attended by the wealthy, in the late 19th and early 20th century, Ballroom dancing became increasingly popular with the general public too. 

Ballroom competitions became popular in the Roaring '20s, and in 1924, the Ballroom Branch of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing was formed. Its mission was to standardize the music, steps, and technique of Ballroom dancing everywhere. 

The basic principals involved in social dancing are the same for all dances: the dance must fit the music, it must contain the basic characteristic that sets it apart from other dances, and of course be fun!

There are two primary styles for almost all the dances: the International/ competition style, and the American/ Social style.

Dance competitions have been a part of what has kept Ballroom dancing alive and popular, and in 1995 the Olympic Committee granted provisional recognition to Ballroom dancing, or "Dancesport." (Will it ever actually become an Olympic event? Ballroom and Latin competitions are currently entrenched in a traditional, very non-Olympic format, but who can say?) 

The Internationally recognized world Ballroom Dancing Championship is the British Open Dance Championships, held annually in Blackpool England.

The History of the FOXTROT

The Foxtrot originated in the summer of 1913, created by Vaudeville actor, singer and comedian Harry Fox (born Arthur Carringford in Pomona, California.)

On his own by age fifteen, the talented young man joined a circus for a brief tour, played professional baseball and sang and acted on Vaudeville stages. A music publisher liked his voice so much he hired him to sing songs from the boxes of vaudeville theaters in San Francisco. After the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, Harry Fox decided to give New York City a try. Appearing in various vaudeville shows in the New York area, he met and married Yansci Dolly of the famous Dolly Sister's When the New York Theatre (then one of the largest theaters in the World) was converted into a movie house, they decided to try vaudeville acts between the shows and selected Harry Fox and his company to put on the dancing acts. At the same time, the roof of the theatre was converted to the Jardin de Danse, and the Dolly sisters were featured in a nightly revue where "Fox's Trot" was born. Compared with today's standards, the original Foxtrot was moderately fast, similar to today’s Quickstep, though simple and unrefined.

It was the rise to fame of Vernon and Irene Castle's exhibition dances that led the elite of the dance world to try to capture the fox-trot's unusual style of movement, and it wasn't until the early 30's that Foxtrot began to take on the smoother and more flowing quality we recognize in today's dance.

It was also necessary to evolve a form of the dance that could express the slow syncopated 4/4 rhythm yet remain "on the spot." This did not mean that the "traveling" fox-trot was dropped, but the "on the spot" dance could be done in both small and larger spaces. Various bands and musicians experimented with the new sounds and beats and the "on the spot" dancing became known (appropriately) as "Crush," then as "rhythm dancing."

The Foxtrot is now one of the most common of the social dances and is easily the most significant development in all of ballroom dancing. 

Do the HUSTLE!

Hustle has roots in several dances, Swing, Samba, Cha Cha, in Mambo, Meringue, and the Tango. Generally believed to have originated in New York in 1970, it went through many variations:  line dances for groups, solo movements and styles that came and went, and several partner dances. These include the Basic Hustle, Latin, Spanish and Tango Hustles, the popular Street, and the Three-Count. Swing Hustle was created by Venice and Malibu California street skaters.

In "Saturday Night Fever" John Travolta popularized the dance, reaching national and worldwide audiences. Hustle is danced to '70's and 80's pop dance music. A fast, smooth dance, the lady is almost constantly spinning while her partner draws her close then sends her away.


Mambo originated in Cuba's Haitian settlements. One theory is that the name comes from an association with the name "Mambo" for the voodoo priestess, who served the villagers as counselor, healer, and exorcist, their soothsayer and organizer of public entertainment. How did the voodoo priestess became associated with the fascinating rhythm of Mambo, combined with Rumba and Swing?. We don’t know!

The "Mambo" dance is attributed to Perez Prado who introduced it at La Tropicana, a nightclub in Havana in 1943. The Mambo was originally played like a Rumba,  very fast, with a riff ending, and a break on beats 2 and 4.

Mambo music's origins: Arsenio Rodriguez, a famous, (and blind), Cuban tres player, built Mambo from the "Diablo Rhythm" of the Congolese Abakua religion, taught to him by his grandfather, a former slave. The rhythm is one of the three hand-held African Batá drums: the Iyá, Itótele and the Okónkolo.

Mambo first appeared in the United States at New York's Park Plaza Ballroom - a favorite hangout of enthusiastic dancers from Harlem.

A modified version of the "Mambo" (the original dance had to be toned down due to its violent acrobatics) was soon presented in New York and Miami nightclubs, then in dance studios across the country. One of the most difficult of dances, perhaps Mambo's single most important contribution to social dance is that it led to the development of the Cha-Cha.

The Mambo's popularity is currently surging, due in part to several films which recently featured the dance, plus the efforts of a man named Eddie and Maria Torres A New York City dance pro and Mambo fanatic, Eddie is determined to reintroduce dancers to what he believes is the authentic style of mambo dancing, now called Salsa.


While the Mambo dance originated in Cuba's Haitian settlements, “Salsa dancing” came along later, largely courtesy of NYC’s Eddie and Maria Torres. He said, let’s dance Mambo slower, and on the first beat of the measure! Dance it too salsa music, and let’s just call the dance “Salsa” too!

There are significant similarities between the two dances: Mambo/ "Salsa On 2," breaks on the second beat, and Salsa on 1, sometimes called NY Style. “Salsa On 2,” (often preferred by purists), is a blend of Puerto Rican salsa and Latin Hustle and focuses mainly of the sounds of the conga and the clave (a pair of short, thick sticks AND the five-stroke clave pattern, the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms) in salsa music, with the break on the second beat of the clave.


With Spanish and African sources, Rumba's main growth was in Cuba,though similar dance developments took place in other Caribbean islands and in Latin America generally.

The "rumba influence" came in the 16th century with slaves imported from Africa. The native Rumba folk dance is essentially a sex pantomime danced extremely fast with exaggerated hip movements, the man's sensually aggressive attitude countered by a defensive one on the part of the woman.

As recently as the second world war, the "Son," a modified, slower and more refined version of the native Rumba, was a popular dance of the middle classes in Cuba, and the still slower "Danzon" was preferred by the wealthy. Very small steps are taken, with the women producing a very subtle tilting of the hips, “Latin Motion,” alternately bending and straightening the knees. 

The American Rumba is a modified version of the "Son", and the first serious attempt to introduce the Rumba to the United States was by Lew Quinn and Joan Sawyer in 1913; real interest in Latin music didn't begin until the late 1920's when Xavier Cugat formed an orchestra that specialized in Latin American music.

In 1935, George Raft played the part of a suave dancer in the movie "Rumba", a light weight musical where the hero finally wins the heiress (Carol Lombard) through a mutual love of dancing.

In Europe, the introduction of Latin American dancing (Rumba in particular) owed much to the enthusiasm and interpretive ability of Monsieur Pierre (London's leading teacher in this dance form). In the 1930's he and his partner, Doris Lavelle, demonstrated and popularized Latin American dancing. Pierre and Lavelle introduced the true "Cuban Rumba" which was eventually established, after much contention, as the official version in 1955.

Rumba is the heart and soul of Latin American dance and music, and it's fascinating rhythms and bodily expressions make the Rumba extremelty popular.


The history of Swing dates to the 1920's when the New York City African American community, dancing to contemporary Jazz music, created dances that would later be called The Charleston, Lindy Hop and numerous other variants. On March 26, 1926, the Savoy Ballroom opened in New York with its block-long dance floor and raised double bandstand. Nightly dancing attracted the best dancers in the New York area. Stimulated by the presence of both great dancers and the best bands, musicians at the Savoy played Swinging Jazz almost exclusively. 

One evening in 1926 following Lindbergh's flight to Paris a local dance enthusiast named "Shorty George" Snowden was watching some of the dancing couples. A reporter asked him what (dance) the couple was doing. A newspaper headlined "Lindy Hops the Atlantic" was sitting on the bench beside them. George, scratching his head, glanced down, and then said with a smile, "The Lindy Hop." The name stuck.

In the 1934, the noted band leader Cab Calloway introduced a tune called "Jitterbug" a bouncy six-beat variant, and he named a new dance. Dancers also soon incorporated tap and jazz steps into numerous new Swing styles.

In the late 1930's, though the Lindy had become quite popular in the United States, it received a cold reception from most dance instructors. For instance in 1936, Philip Nutl, president of the American Society of Teachers of Dancing, expressed the opinion that Swing "would not last beyond the winter, " and in 1938 Donald Grant, president of the Dance Teachers' Business Association, said that "swing music devotees are the unfortunate victims of economic instability."

By 1942, however, it seems the New York Society of Teachers of Dancing felt The Jitterbug could no longer be ignored. In 1938, the most famous dance contest in the world, Madison Square Garden's Harvest Moon Ball, included both Lindy Hop and Jitterbug competitions for the first time. The Charleston is often associated with these Swing variations. Swing was also captured on film and presented in movie newsreels between 1938 and 1951.

As music evolved and changed in the Twentieth Century, (Jazz to Rock, Rhythm & Blues to Disco and Country), the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, and Swing also evolved, developing regional styles. These styles became so distinct that, in the early 1940's, Arthur Murray studios directed their teachers to teach the unique dance forms danced in their respective cities, thus spawning many undocumented (and largely lost) Swing styles. Finally, in 1951, Lauré Haile published her dance notes as a syllabus for her students at the Santa Monica Arthur Murray Studio. It included something she called Western Swing, and since then, many original regional styles have been documented.

In the late 1950's, television brought "American Bandstand", "The Buddy Dean Show" and other programs to teenage audiences, increasing Swing's popularity. In 1959, the California-born Western Swing's name was officially changed to West Coast Swing, to avoid being confused with Country and Western dancing. 


Tango's history is one of the most fascinating of all the social dances. Originating in Spain or Morocco, the Tango was introduced to the New World by Spanish settlers, eventually returning to Spain with Black and Creole influences. In the early 19th Century, the Tango was a solo dance performed by a woman. The Adualisian Tango was later done by one or two couples walking together using castanets... and was considered immoral!

The dance we recognize today as Ballroom Tango originated in the "Barria de Las Ranas", a Buenos Aires ghetto. Originally it was called "Baile con corte" (dance with a rest.) Tango oral history has it that Argentina's gauchos, wearing chaps hardened from the foam and sweat of their horse's body, generally were forced to walk with knees flexed. They would go to crowded nightclubs and ask the local girls to dance. Since the gaucho hadn't showered, the lady would dance in the crook of the man's right arm holding her head back. Her right hand was held low on his left hip, close to his pocket looking for a payment for dancing with him. The man danced in a curving fashion because the floor was small and littered with round tables, which he danced around and between.

The dance spread through Europe in the 1900's. Originally popularized in New York in the winter of 1910-1911, Rudolph Valentino made Tango a hit in 1921.

Time passed and the music became more subdued. Tango dance attained respectability, even in Argentina.

Styles vary: There is the Argentine, French, Gaucho and International, but the Tango has become an American Standard. The 5 step/ 8-count Americanized version is a combination of parts of all the tangos.

Phrasing is an important part of Tango. Most Tango music is phrased to 16 or 32 beats of music, and is a story. It contains paragraphs (Major phrases); sentences (Minor phrases) with the period at the end of each sentence the three beat "Tango, close." 


A forerunner of today's waltz was a dance called The Boston, created in the United States in the 1870's. Interestingly, couples danced the Boston side by side, not in today's partner position. At the time, the dance was quite radical. Lorenzo Papanti, a Boston dance master, gave an exhibition and was roundly condemned. In 1921 the basic movement was a forward moving:  Step Forward, step Forward, Close, but in the mid to late 20's the basic step was changed to the currently recognized Box step:  Step Forward, Side, Close. The Waltz emerges today in two accepted forms, both reflecting the main characteristics of the dance. They are the Modern Waltz and the Viennese or Quick Waltz.

The weller, or turning dances, were probably first danced by peasants in Austria and Bavaria in the Sixteenth or early Seventeenth centuries. However, an article appearing in the Parisian magazine "La Patrie"(The Fatherland) on January 17, 1882, claimed that the waltz was first danced in Paris in the year 1178, called the "Volta" and was from the Provence. Presumably this was a dance done in a 3/4 rhythm, and as the waltz is the only dance done to that meter, there may be a historically valid point.

The first formal social Waltzes were in the Hapsburg court's ballrooms, but familiar waltz tunes can be traced back to simple Austrian peasant yodeling melodies. 

In the eighteenth century, the allemande form of the waltz was very popular in France. Originally danced as one of the figures in the contredanse, with arms inter-twining at the shoulder level, it soon evolved into an independent dance, and the close-hold position was introduced. But opposition was not lacking. Dancing masters saw the waltz as a threat to their profession. The basic steps of the waltz could be learned in relatively short time whereas the minuet and other court dances require considerable practice. Not only were the many complex figures difficult to learn, but also to develop suitable postures and deportment required time and effort. The waltz was also criticized on moral grounds by those opposed to its close hold and rapid turning movements. Religious leaders almost unanimously regarded it as vulgar and sinful. In July of 1816, the waltz was played at a Ball given in London by the Prince Regent and a blistering editorial in The Times a few days later stated: 

"We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last ... it is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion."

The History of CHA CHA (Cha)

Cha-Cha-Cha is the newcomer in the world of the Latin American dances. The dance was first observed in American dance-halls in the early nineteen fifties.

Shortly after the Mambo was first introduced, a seductive variant rhythm began to gain popularity, a rhythm that would ultimately be the foundation of this best known of the Latin American dances. Called Cha-Cha-Cha; it's slower than Mambo, the rhythm less complicated. Recently, the name was officially shortened to Cha-Cha.


Quickstep evolved in the 1920s from a combination of the foxtrot,  Charleston, Shag, Peabody peabody, and  One-Step. The dance is English in origin and was standardized in 1927. While it evolved from the foxtrot, the quickstep now is quite separate. Unlike the modern foxtrot, the man often closes his feet, and syncopated steps are regular occurrences (as was the case in early foxtrot). Three characteristic dance figures of the quickstep are the chassés, where the feet are brought together, the quarter turns, and the lock step.

This dance evolved into a very dynamic one with a lot of movement on the dance floor, with many advanced patterns including hops, runs, quick steps with a lot of momentum, and rotation. The tempo of quickstep dance is rather brisk, as it was developed to ragtime era jazz music, which is fast-paced when compared to other dance music.

By the end of the 20th century the complexity of quickstep as done by advanced dancers had increased, with the extensive use of syncopated steps with eighth note durations. While in older times quickstep patterns were counted with "quick" (one beat) and "slow" (two beats) steps, many advanced patterns today are cued with split beats, such as "quick-and-quick-and-quick, quick, slow", with there being further steps on the 'and's.


Bachata, from the Dominican Republic, is now danced all over the world.

The original, slow style in the 1960s was danced in closed position, like the bolero, often in close embrace. The bachata basic steps are done by moving within a small square (side, side and then tap your toes back and side, side, back) and is inspired from the bolero step but evolved to including a tap and also syncopation (steps in between the beats) depending on the dynamics of the music being played. The hand placement can vary according to the position of the dances, which can range from very close to open to completely open.

At some point in the late 1990s, dancers and dance-schools in the western world began using a side to side pattern instead of the box-steps. The basic steps of this pattern move side to side, changing direction after every tap. Characteristics of this "early" dance school dance is the close connection between partners, soft hip movements, tap with a small "pop" of the hip on the 4th step (1, 2, 3, tap/hip) and does not include many turns/figures. Most of the styling in this dance is from ballroom dance and show moves like dips are commonly used in the dance. This was the first new dance to bachata music that was popularized by dance schools outside the Dominican Republic.


Bolero refers to two distinct genres of slow-tempo Latin music and their associated dances. The oldest type of bolero originated in Spain during the late 18th century as a form of ballroom music, which influenced art music composers around the world, most famously Maurice Ravel's Boléro, as well as a flamenco style known as boleras. An unrelated genre of sung music originated in eastern Cuba in the late 19th century as part of the trova tradition. This genre gained widespread popularity around Latin America throughout the 20th century and continues to thrive.