Waltz

A German-Austrian turning dance in 3/4 or 3/8 time whose origins are not clear, though it bears similarities to the volta, the weller, and the ländler. The last was danced in Austria and Bavaria for centuries and was also called the deutsch. The name waltz appeared in the late 18th century and the dance itself gained widespread popularity through the ballroom waltz music of Lanner and the Strausses. Some authorities tried to ban it on account of the daringly close embrace required between male and female dancers. Its first stage appearance was in Vicente Martín y Soler’s opera La cosa rara (Vienna, 1786) and its first ballet showing was in Gardel’s La Dansomanie (Paris, 1800).

Tango

South American dance in slow 2/4 time which is characterized by sensual partnering and fast interlocking footwork, It was based on dances brought to Argentina by African slaves and was originally performed in the slums of Buenos Aires in the 1860’s. It was also closely linked to tango music and song. In the 1920’s however the tango became popular worldwide as a form of ballroom dancing. In the 1930’s and 1940’s it was further popularized by Hollywood in such films as Flying Down to Rio (1933) and Down Argentine Way (1940). It went into decline in the mid-20th century but enjoyed a massive revival in the 1980’s.

Foxtrot

Popular ballroom dance of American origin danced to a march-like ragtime (slow or fast). From 1913, it was widely danced around the world. The dance was named after vaudeville performer Harry Fox, and it quickly pushed aside the other “trots” popular in the ragtime era. The American Smooth version danced in competitions is slower, and was made popular by Fred Astaire. The International Standard foxtrot, slower still, is sometimes called the “slow foxtrot” and was developed in England.

Viennese Waltz

The Viennese waltz is danced at a fast tempo that characterized the first waltzes. Later versions, such as the French and Boston waltzes, are much slower. The golden age of the Viennese waltz in Europe was the early 1800’s, when Johann Strauss was composing. Its popularity has gone up and down, but it has never gone out of style.

Cha-Cha

The term comes from Haiti, and it refers to the part of a bell that made a “cha-cha” noise when rubbed, but the dance itself evolved from the rumba and the mambo. Mambo was wildly popular in the United States just after World War II, but the music was fast and very difficult to dance to, so a Cuban composer named Enrique Jorrin slowed the music down, and the “cha-cha-cha” was born. By 1953, several of his songs were hits, and the cha-cha became a sensation.

Rumba

Rumba has a rich history — it started as both a family of music and a dance style that originated in Africa and came to the new world with the slave trade. As a result, rumba is highly polyrhythmic and very complex, and has spawned many different dance styles including salsa; African rumba, which emerged there in the 1950’s; Gypsy rumba, popularized with the Spanish “Gypsy kings” in the 1990’s; and the Cuban rumba, which was later imported to the States. This became the cabaret dance that flourished in America during prohibition. All of the styles, however, share similar movements that have a wonderfully sensual, rhythmic quality.

East Coast Swing

Swing is actually a whole family of dances, all of which evolved from the original swing dance, the “Lindy hop” of the 1920’s. Since then, more than 40 different versions have been documented, most of them set to that great, big band sound. The most common swing dance in competitions is the “East Coast swing,” a style developed by Arthur Murray and others in the years after World War II. With its free-wheeling style and adaptability to new kinds of music, swing has never gone out of style — even disco-era dances like “the hustle” can be traced back to swing.

Bolero

The bolero began as a dance form in the late 1700’s, to go along with the new Spanish romantic ballads of the day. The boleros we dance today have more in common with a form developed in Cuba a century later, but the themes of love and romantic longing remained essential. The bolero is a wonderful hybrid of different dances. It uses a slowed down rumba rhythm, has the rise and fall of the waltz, and the contra-body motion of the tango. This makes it a favorite of professionals, who can use this broad palette to create the slow, sensual, romantic dance so many love. And who can resist an excuse to play Ravel’s famous ballet score?

Mambo

The mambo is a Cuban dance though the word comes from Haiti. To the African slaves there it referred to a voodoo priestess who could converse with the gods. The first music called “mambo” was written in the late 1930’s by a Cuban composer, but the mambo craze began in the late 1940’s when a musician named Perez Prado came up with a dance to go with it. Prado took mambo from Havana to Mexico, and then to New York, where it became homogenized to suit mainstream American tastes.