Ballroom dancing enjoys a long and fascinating background. Learn how we got to where we are today as these dances progressed through the decades in this study of ballroom dance history.

Cha Cha

From the less inhibited night clubs and dance halls a popular Cuban dance called the Mambo underwent subtle changes. It was triple Mambo, and its peculiar scraping and shuffling sounds during the “tripling” produced the imitative sound of Cha Cha Cha. This then became a dance in itself, developed by English dance teacher Pierre Lavelle and his wife Doris who were captivated by those qualities during a visit to Cuba in the 1930’s. The Cha Cha Cha, or just Cha Cha as it is now called, is another example of how ballroom dances evolve as an advanced stage in interpretive social dancing born of the fusion of progressive American and Latin music.


The Foxtrot is said to have been originated by performer Harry Fox in Boston in 1913. He developed some steps that borrowed from the Quickstep and other popular dances of the day, but were smoother and more controlled. It caught on like wildfire and is now a standard ballroom dance the world over. Its clear, easy movements make Social Foxtrot the easiest of the ballroom dances to learn. However, the control needed for higher level versions known as the Slow Foxtrot make that the hardest of the ballroom dances to master.


The Jive is an International Style competitive Swing dance that utilizes elements of the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug. Characterized by uptempo single time music danced with triple steps done primarily on the balls of the feet with very lively movement, it was named after a 1930’s Mickey Mouse cartoon that showed Mickey and Minnie dancing a modified version of the Jitterbug. The word “Jive” meant “fake” in those days and they called the cartoon depiction a “Jitterbug Jive.” But the dance appealed to people and they developed it into a real dance that was less wild and out of control than the other club dances of that time.


The Rumba was originally a marriage dance. Many of its movements and actions, which today have an erotic meaning, originally related to the cultural love of dance by the poor farmers of Cuba. It became a popular ballroom dance and was introduced in the US about 1933, during a period when tourism in Cuba became common and night life consisted of dancing in Cuban night clubs. The Rumba as we dance it today is the Americanized version of the Cuban Son and Danzon.

Learn about the Rumba Wars.


This Brazilian dance was first introduced in 1917 but was adopted by Brazilian society in 1930 as a ballroom dance. They say that the Samba was introduced in the United States in 1939 by the late Carmen Miranda. Even today it is considered the national dance of Brazil, and performed in the many Brazilian street parties and Mardi Gras.

Learn more about the Samba.


There are basically three types of Tango — Argentine Tango, American Smooth Tango and International Style Tango. We teach only the International Style, which is a little more subdued but has the benefit of being danced exactly the same way no matter where you go in the world.

Argentine Tango (Arrabalero) was created by the Gauchos in Buenos Aires. It was actually an attempt on their part to imitate a Spanish dance except that they danced it in a closed ballroom position. The Tango caused a sensation and was soon to be seen the world over in a more subdued version.

Unlike the Argentine Tango, in which the dancer interprets the music spontaneously without any predetermined slows or quicks, the American Tango features a structure which is correlated to the musical phrasing. The dance is executed both in closed position and in various types of extravagant dance relationships which incorporate a particular freedom of expression that is not present in the International style. This version had its origins in the popular dance musicals and show performances of the 1930’s.

International Tango is a highly disciplined and distinctively structured form of the Tango which is accepted worldwide. It was developed to give a sense of common structure for teaching and judging the Tango around the world. The dancers remain in traditional closed position throughout and expresses both legato and staccato aspects of the type of music appropriate to this style.

Learn about the year the world went Tango Mad.

Viennese Waltz

Originating in the lavish balls of Austria during the 1700’s, the Viennese Waltz actually predated the slower Modern Waltz. It took advantage of the large hems of the ladies’ ballgowns as the couples rotated around the floor to create a swirling pattern of colorful circles around the dance floor, a characteristic that still makes this dance a favorite in competition events worldwide.

Modern Waltz

The real origin of the Modern, or Slow, Waltz is rather obscure, but a dance of turns and glides, leaping and stomping appeared in various parts of Europe at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century. In Italy it was the Volta, France has its Volte, Germany the Weller and Austria had its Landler. These were round dances but at the end of the dance itself there was a short period in which the circle would break up into couples who would whirl madly round and round and finish with a jump in the air.

In the Landler the hopping gave way more to a gliding motion and that is why it is considered the forerunner of the Waltz. The Waltz can be traced back more than 400 years in early forms, but was usually considered too scandalous for polite society. The idea of men and women dancing so closely together — a necessity given the fast turning actions of the early Waltz — was deemed highly vulgar, and opposition raged. When it was learned that Queen Victoria secretly loved the Waltz, people began to embrace it publicly.

The Waltz regained its real popularity in the 20th century. The dance blossomed in a form called the Hesitation Waltz in 1913. Until the development of the hesitation, couples had waltzed in one direction until dizzy and then reversed until ready to drop. It had degenerated into an endurance contest. The Hesitation resulted in the Waltz as it is danced today.

ballroom-iconsIf you’d like to learn more about the history of ballroom dancing, consider investing in the excellent book “Ballroom Icons” by Brigitt Mayer Karakis. A spectacular coffee table book, this work of art encompasses years of research and explores the greatest figures of ballroom dance, the “icons” who shaped modern partnership dancing into its current form.
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