One of the best things about ballroom dancing is the variety of styles you can do! Ballroom dances are split into four categories—two international styles and two American styles. Each style has four or five dances. Some styles have dances with the same name, but the dances themselves can be drastically different!
There are plenty of dances that aren't strictly ballroom dances, such as hustle and West Coast swing. People often dance these at social events like weddings or clubs. There are also some popular traditional and folk dances like the Polka.
Click on any of the dances below to read about them and watch a video to see what the dance looks like!
International ballroom is a style of dance characterized by long, swinging motion that follows a "line of dance" counterclockwise around the room. Ballroom dances are always with a partner and in the international style partners maintain a closed hold—there are no separations or spins. Figures emphasize motion in the line formed by the couple's arms, torso, and legs. Typical attire for performance/competition is a full tailsuit for the lead and a gown for the follow.
Foxtrot is often danced to big band music. This dance allows for a lot of musicality, playing with the "slows" and the "quicks" on its many figures. This dance can be intimidating for beginners as the "basic" step is a sequence of six figures! Dancing to Sinatra once you've got it all down is well worth the effort, though.
This aptly-named dance is energetic and will get you moving around the floor. This dance appears playful and light on the feet though it requires a great amount of physical exertion! Quickstep was developed out of the foxtrot and Charleston by Caribbean and African dancers in New York City in the twenties.
In contrast to the slow waltz, Viennese waltz is danced in 6/8 time and is much faster. The international style consists of just seven figures, with most dancers sticking to only three. The Viennese Waltz involves a lot of spinning, so take your dizzy pills beforehand! This is almost always the dance you'll see in a ballroom in the movies.
American style ballroom (smooth) shares many aspects with the international style, but allows dancers to separate into more interesting figures. The swinging motions remain, but dancers can also cross their feet and dance "jazzier" moves in place and side-by-side!
Latin dances are often fast, energetic, and showy. Performers often wear sequined, flashy clothing. Latin dances are heavily inspired by traditional music and dances from South America and the Caribbean. The music can be very complex which is fun when you've developed an ear for it! Latin dances involve a motion in the hips that's hard to learn but fun to use.
Samba is another dance heavily influenced by West African music and culture. The musical style came out of urban Rio de Janeiro and is still the focus of Carnival every year. The dance that's learned and competed in international Latin style is a more formalized, limited dance. If you like progressive dances then samba is the Latin dance for you! It's the only Latin dance that moves around the floor.
Paso doble is a comparatively rare dance learned mostly by competitive Latin dancers. The dance is nearly always danced to a rendition of the song España Cañi and mimics a matador (the lead) flourishing a cape (the follow). There are several points in the music that reach a dramatic climax, at which point dancers choreograph a figure to match. These "highlights" are the subject of much applause!
American rhythm dance is the answer to the international style. At first glance many of the dances are identical to their Latin counterparts. However, the technique differs greatly and the available figures vary.
The first mambo was a dance invented in Cuba in the early part of the century. Modern mambo is very similar to salsa but danced on the two beat. The dance was standardized to market it to professional studios, since the original dance contained no specific basic steps. Despite this, the modern mambo is lively, fun to dance, and entertaining to watch!