Until the 18th century, dance was strictly divided between courtly and country forms. In the courts, dances like the Minuet were refined affairs with an elaborate language of bows and curtsies. There was little physical contact between dancers, and proper form, like turned-out feet, was considered essential. Everything changed with the Waltz.
The name Waltz comes from the Italian word “volver”, meaning toturn or revolve. It evolved from a German and Austrian peasant dance called the Landler, and was the first widely popular dance to feature a closed position. Because of this close hold, Waltz was denounced as scandalous and immoral.
The Waltz was ultimately standardized with the Box pattern and the dance hold we know today. The Waltz dominated much of the European and American dance scene until the First World War, when the Tango and Foxtrot enraptured a whole new generation.
Ballroom Tango was born in the slums of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century. Argentine gauchos and migrating blacks met and mixed in the infamous Barrio de las Ranas, trading cultural rhythms and dance steps in and around the area's well-known brothels. From this melting pot emerged a highly passionate dance, one that the respectable classes of society shunned. But as with the Waltz, there is nothing like controversy to make a dance triumph.
In the United States, Tango became all the rage right before the First World War. Vernon and Irene Castle made their fortune from Tango, becoming America's sweethearts of the dance. There was a flurry of Tango dance hall openings, and Tango teas became popular in big hotels. Couples even danced between courses at the finer restaurants. Rudolph Valentino did his part, performing a sensual Tango in the silent film "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." The dance varied greatly from performer to performer, and was eventually standardized in the 1920s by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing
The story of the Foxtrot begins at the turn of the 20th century when African American musicians such as Scott Joplin began composing syncopated ragtime music. A smooth dance like the Waltz would not do for this fervent new music. One of the first dances to evolve for ragtime music was the Turkey Trot, a one-step that included flapping the arms like a turkey. Then came the Monkey Dance, Horse Trot, Grizzly Bear, Bunny Hug and Kangaroo Dip. Ragtime demanded dances with jerky steps, emulating the walk and the wild abandon of animals.
In 1914, a young dancer named Harry Fox did his version of trotting on the stage of the Ziegfield Follies. Fox's fast and jerky trot became the hot new thing in New York. When the Foxtrot traveled to England, the jumps and high jinks of the original were ironed out. What remains is a smooth, elegant dance more reminiscent of the Waltz than of the Trot's hyperactive past. In fact, many of Foxtrot's patterns have been adapted straight from the Waltz
Cha Cha evolved from a version of Cuban Mambo called Chassé Mambo. As music always dictates the dance, chassé (meaning to chase) steps were inserted between the forward and back breaks when a slower version of Mambo music was played. Reportedly, Cha Cha got its name from the sound of women’s shoes shuffling across the floor. Cha Cha was introduced to the United States in the early 1950s and promptly sparked a dance craze. Enrique Jorrin, a Cuban violinist, is attributed with creating the first Cha Cha song. After arriving in the U.S., the traditional violins and flutes were often exchanged for big-band instruments such as trumpet, trombone and saxophone
Rumba is a romantic Latin dance with Afro-Cuban origins. Rumba is a broad term referring to multiple music and dance forms, including Danzon, Guaracha and Son. These forms are a blend of African slave and colonial Spanish culture. The livelier forms feature fast hip movements and sexual strutting performed to a fiery orchestra of percussion. However, Ballroom Rumba comes from Son, one of the slower, less eroticized versions of the dance.
By the late 1920s, America’s appetite for Latin music was ignited. Orchestra leaders such as Xavier Cugat introduced and popularized Rumba music and dancing, which continued to grow in the 1930s and 1940s. Rumba was standardized as a ballroom dance in the mid-1950s.
East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing traces its roots to the original swing dance, Lindy Hop. Lindy Hop was created in the late 1920s by African American youth at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Danced to the swing and jazz music of big bands such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman, Lindy Hop was, and remains, a dynamic, athletic dance.
By the mid-1930s, Lindy Hop (also called Jitterbug and Swing) had captured the imagination of young people everywhere. It was widely danced in the U.S. and Europe through the end of World War II. In the early 1940s, Lindy Hop was tamed and simplified by dance schools to become a ballroom dance called Eastern Swing. In the late 1970s, the name was changed to East Coast Swing.