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Manukian’s map of dances: numerous styles of ballroom dance

Emma Manukian, entertainment editor

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Originally practiced in Europe and the United States, Ballroom dance is a type of social dancing, accompanied by a partner, that is performed by couples and follows prescribed steps. The tradition was historically distinguished from folk or country dance by its association with the elite social classes. In the 21st century, however, ballroom dance is present in many parts of the world and has dancers involved in all sectors of society. It is performed in various contexts, including invitational and public dance events, professional dance exhibitions, and formal competitions.

Ballroom dancing is a couples dance where couples move to the music using step-patterns and rhythms that match the character of a given song.  There are two main types of ballroom dance. The first, referred to as the Smooth/Ballroom style of dance, are flowing dances that move around the entire dance floor in a counterclockwise direction. The couple is constantly moving on the dance floor, smoothly transitioning from pattern to pattern. American Dance Competition television show Dancing with the Stars explicitly showcases all styles of this dance, ranging from Foxtrot and Viennese Waltz, to Quickstep and Tango.

The second type of ballroom dance is called the Latin/Rhythm style of dance.  These dances pretty much stay in one spot on the dance floor. They are energetic dances that reflect the abbreviated rhythm of the music being danced to. Examples of this are Swing, Cha Cha, and Paso Doble, once again most notably seen on Dancing with the Stars.

To dive into more detail, “Paso doble” means two-step in Spanish, and it was inspired by the bullfight. It is set to the music played during the bullfighter’s entrance and just before the kill. If you watch closely, you might see that the man plays the part of the matador, the bullfighter, while the woman’s movements mimic those of his cape.

Significantly different from “Paso doble,” Cha-cha originates from Haiti and 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.

A complete contradictory style of dance performed as American Smooth, the Viennese waltz is the oldest of all the ballroom dances, danced at the 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 1800s, when Johann Strauss was composing. Its popularity has gone up and down, but it has never gone out of style. It is classic “old-school” ballroom.

Once an expression of elite society, ballroom dance has continued to expand its appeal and adapt its approach in response to the ever-changing practitioners of contemporary culture.

Ballroom Dancing is a sport for people of all ages and backgrounds. It does not require any special skills or dance ability. By learning simple dance steps, and their associated timing, you can find yourself quickly out on the dance floor having fun while moving to the music.

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