Latin and Ballroom Dances

In the United States, there are 16 different "social dances". These are the dances that you would use to the music you are likely to hear when you go dancing. However most people do not learn all of them. There are 6 of the dances that are more popular. These dances make up approximately 90% of the music played at clubs and parties. Here at Birmingham Ballroom Dance Studio, on your introductory lessons you will be introduced to some of these dances so you can determine which ones you like and are interested in learning. All of the dances are listed below along with a brief description of each one. 

Rhythm and Latin Dances 

For competitive dancing, the Latin dance styles are grouped into two main categories: American Rhythm and International Latin. The American Rhythm style consists of five dances: Cha-Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Bolero, and Mambo. The International Latin style also consists of five dances: Cha-Cha, Rumba, Jive, Paso Doble, and Samba. When comparing the two styles, the most obvious difference is that they each have some unique dances. However, all the dances in each style do differ from their counterparts, in subtle ways, mostly having to do with technique. You will find competitive events in each style. Socially, the following dances fall under the category of Latin and/or rhythm: 

Rumba - Learning the Rumba is a prerequisite for good Latin dancing. The Cuban Motion is essential in most Latin dances. The Rumba is used by good dancers everywhere and provides interesting variety suited to a limited space. Neat, attractive, precise footwork gives you confidence in your dancing. The Rumba will sharpen your sense of rhythm, timing, and muscular control. 

The Rumba: This romantic Latin dance will sharpen your sense of rhythm, timing and muscular control. History:  The Rumba was at the beginning of the Cuban and Latin American dance crazes. Danced to music inspired by African rhythms and Spanish melodies, the Americanized Rumba was the basis for the Mambo and Cha Cha in the United States. Rumba dance rhythms have found their way into Country Western, Blues, Rock & Roll and other popular forms of music. Music:  Rumba music is usually written in 4/4 time and may be played over a wide variety of tempos. Often in rumba music there may be an underlying pulsation of & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4. The basic Rumba dance steps are counted Slow, Quick, Quick (SQQ).  Characteristics:  The distinctive hip movement of Rumba, called the Cuban Motion, is one of the most important elements of this dance. Introduced in the Rumba, it is an important styling element in a number of popular Latin American Dances. 

Rumba songs and artists include: And I Love Her - The Beetles, It's Now or Never - Elvis Presley, Besame Mucho - Xavier Cugat, Neon Moon - Brooks and Dunn, and Under the Boardwalk - The Drifters.

Cha-cha - The Cha-Cha adds fun to your dancing through it's syncopated steps and many open movements. When you can dance many interesting combinations with ease, you and your partner will be able to feel the pulsating Latin rhythms, which make this dance so fascinating. The energetic rhythm of the Cha-Cha encourages you to cut loose and let your personality show. 

Cha Cha: The energetic rhythm of the Cha Cha encourages you to cut loose and let your personality show. History: One of the most popular Latin dances in the U.S., the Cha Cha began as a variation of the Mambo called triple Mambo. It was so easy and so much fun; it became the rage of the early 1950's. It's infections one-two, one-two-three; rhythm demands that sitters become dancers. Everybody can learn the Cha Cha. Music:  Cha Cha music is written in 4/4 time and may be played over a wide range of tempos. Often in Cha Cha music, a rhythmical link can be heard between each measure resulting in an overall rhythm of 1, 2, 3, 4 & repeated over and over. Characteristics:  Triple steps (Chasse) and rock steps are the basic components of the Cha Cha. Since the Cha Cha is derived from the Rumba and Mambo, Cuban Motion is an important aspect of this dance.

Cha Cha songs and artists include: Oye Como Va - Tito Puente, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White - Perez "Prez" Prado and His Orchestra, Black Magic Woman - Santana, Bang Bang - David Sanborn, and Jezebel - Ricky Martin.

Swing/East Coast Swing- The Swing is a spot dance with a carefree relaxed style and is a dance that is easily mastered by most people. The various speeds are excellent training for quick footwork and good leading & following which will add comfort and ease in other rhythm dances. After mastering the patterns, both men and women will find Swing a fun and exciting dance to learn and practice. Perhaps the most uniquely American of all dances, the Swing brings forth a buoyant carefree movement. It's one of the dances that is contagious. 

Swing/Jitterbug: Perhaps the most uniquely American of all dances, the Swing brings forth a buoyant carefree movement. It's one of the dances that becomes contagious. History:  The Lindy (Swing) picked up where Charleston left off. It had "swing-outs", "break-aways" and "shine-steps". With the birth of "Swing" music in the mid 1930's the Lindy climbed the social ladder. In August of 1935, at the Palomar Ballroom, bandleader Benny Goodman played a Fletcher Henderson arrangement of "Stompin' at the Savoy". The rest, as they say, is history. The dance craze swept the nation, and depending on where you lived, it was the Jitterbug, the Lindy Hop or the Swing. Since those days, each successive generation has "discovered" the fun of Swing. This most uniquely American dance is enjoyed all over the world. Music:  Swing, Jitterbug, Jive, Shag, Lindy Hop, etc are normally written in 2/4 or 4/4 time with the musical accents occurring on the second or second and fourth beats of a measure. Swing includes two general rhythms: Swing Rhythm - 1, 2, 3 & 4, 5 & 6 or its equivalent; Lindy Rhythm - 1, 2, 3 & 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8 or its equivalent. Swing may be danced comfortably over a wide range of tempos. Characteristics:  A side step or a triple step (shuffle) followed by a rock step done to lively music is the fundamental pattern for this dance. 

 Swing songs and artists include: In The Mood - Glenn Miller, Rock Around the Clock - Bill Haley and the Comets, Start Me Up - The Rolling Stones Jump, and Jive, An' Wail - Louis Prima or the Brian Setzer Orchestra. 

Merengue - Merengue develops Cuban Motion. Merengue is the simplest dance to learn. Its uncomplicated timing makes it easy to feel the music. Adapt to any partner. It is the only Latin dance that combines one-step timing with Cuban Motion and therefore is a help to all Latin dances. The march type beat sharpens timing & coordination and the proper use of the accent will develop a clearer interpretation of musical rhythm. 

Merengue: Merengue is the simplest dance to learn. Its uncomplicated timing makes it easy to feel the music. History:  There are two schools of thought as to how this captivating dance began. One says it started as a peasant dance in the Dominican Republic by African Slaves. Another says a returning war here, a General Maringie, danced dragging an injured leg. Whatever its origin, today's exciting rhythm of the Merengue inspires dancers all over the world to move to its intoxicating beat. Music: 
Merengue music is written in 2/4, 4/4 or 6/8 time. The rhythmical accent will occur on the first beat of each measure. Characteristics:  Walking steps and side steps (chasse) are the basic components of Merengue. This dance is introduced as a marching dance but can be developed into a very rhythmical dance. With "Cuban Motion" and animated body movement, the Merengue gives a festive party appeal. 

 Merengue songs and artists include: Hot, Hot, Hot - Buster Poindexter, Jump in the Line - Harry Belafonte, Cuban Pete - Jim Carey.

Jive - Jive is an international competitive Swing dance with elements of the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug. Characterized by up-tempo single-time music danced with triple steps done primarily on the toes with very lively movement 

Hustle - Hustle originated in the 1970's Disco Era and was popularized by John Travolta in the movie "Saturday Night Fever." Both the music and the dance swept the country like wildfire, and although the white suits and gold chains have faded away, the dance has stayed, giving us the fusion of Swing and Disco. Hustle is still one of the most popular nightclub dances across the country today. 

Hustle: The Hustle gives us the fusion of Swing and Disco. History:  Discotheques (Disco) with high quality sound systems, and flashing lights became a popular form of entertainment in Europe and America in the late 1960's and throughout the 70's. In the early 1970's a new dance craze became popular on the crowded dance floors of New York. This "Touch Disco" was called the Hustle. The Hustle marked a return to popular dances where couple danced touching each other. The popularity of modern and "retro" music with "disco" beat keeps Hustle dance steps exciting and full of energy for today. Music: Disco Music is normally written in 2/4 or 4/4 time with a strong bass beat. The melody and beat are based on rhythm and blues and the accent on each of the bass beats makes the music hard to resist. Characteristics:  Turns, spins and wraps are primary components of Hustle dance steps. The more accomplished dancers will use syncopated timing and fakes along with elaborate arm styling. 

 Hustle songs and artists include: I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor, Last Dance - Donna Summer, and Believe - Cher.

West Coast Swing - WCS is a stylized Swing dance popular west of the Mississippi from Kansas to California. Danced to slow or medium tempo Swing or Disco music and characterized by slot movements, taps and shuffles, coaster steps, and push and pull action of the dancers. 

West Coast Swing: The sophisticated style and ease of movement makes this dance a popular favorite. History:  In the 1940's with the wild abandonment of the Jitterbug being banned from dance halls due to too many injuries, Arthur Murray developed and documented several swing steps that he later called "Sophisticated Swing". This was the beginning of what is now called West Coast Swing. Arthur Murray is credited with the first codifications of West Coast Swing and used such names as "Under Arm Pass, The Whip and The Sugar Push" to describe the patterns. The ladies taking "two walking steps forward" towards the man at the beginning of each pattern was standardized in his studios. In 1989 California selected the West Coast Swing as its state dance. Today there are over 5000 documented West Coast Swing step patterns and more are added every year. Music:  West Coast Swing can be danced to almost any music written in 4/4 time, from the Blues to Disco, Jazz, Pop, Country or Big Band. It is considered a "living dance" in that it is constantly evolving, growing and changing to the music styles currently in vogue. Characteristics:  The West Coast Swing differs from other swing dances because of it's distinctive "dancing in a slot" approach, where the lady's movement takes her towards the man, not away, such as in a rock step.

West Coast Swing songs and artists include: Addicted to Love - Robert Palmer, All Shook Up - Elvis Presley, Chain of Fools - Aretha Franklin, Fever - Peggy Lee, and  Brown Sugar - Rolling Stones.

Samba - Samba improves the flexibility of the body and helps achieve easy movement and lightness. The Samba rolling action teaches the body to be supple. To move lightly, quickly, and smoothly without effort takes study but only at the start. Although considered a good exercise, Samba should be danced smoothly and in a relaxed manner giving the appearance of effortless movement. Sometimes called the South American Waltz, the Samba pulsates to a unique Latin rhythm. 

Samba: Sometimes called the South American Waltz, the Samba pulsates to a unique Latin rhythm. History: This national dance of Brazil became the rage of its society in the 1930's but began as an exhibition dance in Paris in 1905. Movie star & singer Carmen Miranda, is credited with making the dance popular in the U.S. in the early 1940's. Music: Today's Samba music is influenced by Jazz and Latin rhythms. It is written in 2/4 or 4/4 time. The music is festive and fast paced with a sound associated with Rio's Carnival. The basic count is "Slow a Slow" or "1 & 2". Characteristics:  Walking steps and side steps are the basic components of Samba. The major characteristic of the Samba is the vertical bounce action. Steps are taken using the ball of the foot. Knee action along with body sway and "pendulum motion", in the accomplished dancer, is made to look effortless and carefree. 

Samba songs and artists include: One Note Samba - Antonio Carlos Jobim, Macarena - Los Del Rio, Copacabana - Barry Manilow, and  Quando, Quando, Quando - Engelbert Humperdinck.

Mambo - Mambo is a fusion of Cuban and American dancing. The music is characterized by a stirring Afro-Cuban beat. Mambo is an exciting dance, which allows you to develop your own feeling and expression. Because Mambo is such a fun dance, good Mambo dancers are always popular and in demand as partners. The wild exciting music and rhythmical body movements make the earthy Mambo irresistible. 

Salsa - Salsa is the Spanish word for "sauce" denoting a "spicy" and "hot" flavor to this popular dance style to a complex mix of many different rhythms. There are indications the term Salsa was coined by radio disc jockeys in Puerto Rico as early as the 1960's. Later associated with a New York sound developed by Puerto Rican musicians, Salsa is considered the national music and dance of Puerto Rico. The fusion of an Afro-Cuban beat with enhanced jazz textures results in an aggressive high-energy pulse which has become popular everywhere. Many of the patterns are closely related to those of the Mambo and Cha-Cha. 

Jitterbug - Jitterbug is also known as single-time swing. It is usually done to faster Swing music and is a highly energetic and expressive dance. It could also be referred to as a toned down Lindy Hop. It is also a spot dance and highly useful on crowed dance floors. 

Bolero - Originally a Spanish dance in ¾ time, it was changed in Cuba into 2/4 time and then eventually into 4/4 time. It is now present as a very slow type of Rumba rhythm. This dance is often said to have the rise and fall of Waltz, the contra-body motion of Tango, and the rhythm of Rumba. It is a favorite of dancers, as it incorporates many techniques similar to other dances to create a slow, sensual, romantic dance.  

Bolero: The romantic Bolero is the slowest of the Latin dances. It combines controlled movement with dramatic expression of the music. History:  The Bolero has the same Afro-Cuban roots as the Rumba and is thought to have originated from Cuban or Spanish folk dances such as Danzon and Beguine. Music:  The Bolero is usually played in 4/4 time and its tempo is slower than that of the Rumba. While Rumba music is very rhythmical, the lyrical Bolero sounds more like a Latin Ballad. Characteristics:  The Bolero has some different characteristics from its Cuban relative the Rumba. Its long sweeping side steps and use of rise and fall create a softness that makes this dance unique among the Rhythm dances. The expanding and contracting dance position makes a very dramatic and romantic statement. 

Bolero songs and artists include: Con Los Anos Que Me Quedan - Gloria Estefan, Perfidia - Nat King Cole, Sin Excusas Ni Rodeos - Julio Iglesias, From Here to Eternity - Frank Sinatra.

Smooth and Standard Dances 

There are two main categories when talking about Standard Dancing - The International Standard and American Smooth. The International Standard style includes five dances: Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep. This style is danced widely in competitions, both in the United States and throughout the world. The most obvious trait of the International Standard style is the dancers' constant closed position, where the two dance partners never lose contact (as opposed to American Smooth style, where couples often open up, and dance apart from each other). The Standard dances are also characterized by their very precise elements of technique: footwork, rise & fall, amounts of turn, etc. From this technique emerges a unique elegance and beauty. Four of the Standard dances have their American-style counterparts. The American Smooth dances consist of: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and Viennese Waltz. In the American Smooth style, partners often separate from closed dance position, and dance apart from each other. American Smooth is quite popular at social dances, and is danced at major competition events across the United States. The ballroom dance steps in this expressive style are creative and can be extremely fun to dance and watch. The following are dances that fall under the category of standard and/or smooth: 

Fox Trot - Fox Trot is a basic dance from which you can acquire a foundation. Learning to combine dance steps easily and smoothly teaches variety and maneuverability. The Fox Trot posture is attractive in appearance and helpful to all other dances. Being able to dance to slow, medium, and fast tempos will add confidence to your dancing and will assure fun and relaxation for your partner. The Fox Trot provides a good foundation for all dances and is often called the "get-acquainted" or "first impression" dance. 

Fox Trot: The Fox Trot provides a good foundation for all dances and is often called the "get-acquainted" or "first impression" dance. History:  In 1913, Harry Fox, a vaudeville comedian, introduced a trot to a ragtime song in the 1913 Ziegfeld Follies that pushed other trots into the background. It became America's most popular dance and remains so to this day as the standard of social dances. Music:  Fox Trot music is written in 2/4 or 4/4 time. The first and third beats are accented in 4/4 time. The range of Fox Trot tempos makes it possible to consider Foxtrot as though it were three dances: Slow Fox Trot; Medium Fox Trot; and Fast Fox Trot, also called Society Tempo. Fox Trot has two major teaching rhythms: Magic Rhythm - Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick (SSQQ) and Box Rhythm - Slow, Quick, Quick (SQQ). Characteristics:  The basic components of Fox Trot are walking steps and side steps. Crowded dance floors or night club conditions require that all three tempos be expressed with short steps. In larger ballrooms the slow Fox Trot is characterized by longer smooth, gliding steps, demanding ease of movement and control in order to give this dance an unhurried appearance. 

 Fox Trot songs and artists include: New York, New York - Frank Sinatra, My Baby Only Cares For Me - The Brian Setzer Orchestra, and  It Had To Be You - Harry Connick Jr.

Waltz - Waltz develops balance and control. The basic Waltz steps are the foundation patterns used in most ballroom dances. Correct posture, rise and fall, and flowing movements should be stressed to achieve good styling. The elegant sweeping movement of the Waltz gives dancers a chance to practice balance and to move lightly with ease. 

Waltz: The elegant sweeping movement of the Waltz gives dancers a chance to practice balance and to move lightly with ease. History:  Considered the mother of present day dances, the Waltz began in southern Germany in the seventeenth century. The popularity of the Waltz grew with the music of Johan Strauss and eventually blossomed in the 20th century. It is the basis for many dances and is popular today all over the world. Music:  The Waltz is written in 3/4 time and has a slow to medium tempo with the musical accent occurring on the first beat of each measure. The basic count for Waltz is 1, 2, 3. Faster tempo Waltz is called Viennese Waltz. Characteristics:  The basic components of Waltz are walking steps and side steps. Rise and Fall and Body Sway are some of the styling characteristics, which make the simplest Waltz patterns elegant and beautiful.

Waltz songs and artists include: Moon River - Andy Williams, Open Arms - Mariah Carey, Could I Have This Dance - Anne Murray, and  Are You Lonesome Tonight - Elvis Presley.

Tango - The Tango is one of the most beautiful of all the dances. Its earthy and dramatic movements characterize it. In order to achieve the distinctive style of Tango, it is important to develop controlled staccato footwork along with fluid graceful movements. The unique rhythm of the music is great training for timing and phrasing which develops as the dancer becomes more proficient. Tango practice is essential towards becoming a good dancer. 

Tango (American): The Tango is one of the most beautiful of all the dances. Earthy and dramatic movements characterize it. History:  The Tango began in the West Indies and found its way to Argentina where the Gauchos stylized it. It became the rage in 1921 after the silent screen star Rudolph Valentineo brought this romantic dance to millions in "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse". More recently, it has been danced in movies such as True Lies and Scent of a Woman. Today, the Tango is considered the "dancer's dance" and becomes a favorite of all who learn it. Music:  Tango music is usually written in 2/4 or 4/4 timing. The first teaching rhythm in tango is slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. Characteristics: 
The hold in Tango is more compact than in other moving dances. The walk in Tango differs from walks in other dances in that it is a staccato action obtained by delaying the follow through of the free leg and foot.

Tango songs and artists include: Hernando's Hideaway - from "The Pajama Game", Whatever Lola Wants - from "Damn Yankees",  La Cumparsita - Julio Iglesias, and  Por Una Cabeza - from "Scent of a Woman".

Viennese Waltz - With such wonderful composers as Johan Strauss and others, the Waltz became more and more refined. The steps became smaller with the turns smoother and more compact. Adding the graceful lilt of the flowing skirts we have today's Viennese Waltz. 

Viennese Waltz: From Strauss Waltzes and Tchaikovsky Ballets to music by contemporary artists, Viennese Waltz music has inspired people to dance for generations. History:  The Waltz developed in Central Europe from the Austrian dance known as the Landler. The fast whirling of partners held as if in an embrace shocked polite society. The music of Johan Strauss and the famous ballrooms of Vienna popularized the faster version known as the Viennese Waltz. Music:  Viennese Waltz is basically Waltz music played at a much quicker tempo. While slow Waltz is played at 28-36 measures per minute (MPM), Viennese Waltz is played at 50-60 MPM. It is usually played in 3/4 time, but some Viennese Waltz's are written in 6/8 time. Characteristics:  Sweeping turns that gracefully move around the floor characterize this dance. The Viennese Waltz is known for its rotational movement, which is simple and elegant. 

Viennese Waltz songs and artists include: Blue Danube - Johan Strauss, Kiss From A Rose - Seal, Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman? - Bryan Adams, and That's Amore - Dean Martin.

Quickstep - Quickstep is the English version of the Fast Fox Trot, which has quick hopping steps set in with the smoother gliding figures. It is very popular in Europe as a competition dance. It ranks among the "Big Five."