Latin Vs Ballroom Dancing
Ballroom dance refers to partner
dances which originated in the Western world and are danced in both
social and competitive contexts. Under the heading of ballroom dance are
the ten competitive dances of International Standard (which is what most
people refer to as ballroom dance) and International Latin dance. The
International Standard dances are the Slow Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz,
Slow Foxtrot, and Quickstep. International Latin dances are the Cha Cha,
Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble, and Jive.
Latin Dance refers to dances which originated in or are derived from
Latin American dances. Compared to typical ballroom dance, the Latin
category includes dances that are faster-paced, more sensual, and have
greater rhythmic expression. The time is usually 4/4. Couple stand face
to face in the basic Latin Dance position. Music is variable – either
traditional Latin American music or contemporary popular songs.
In all Latin dances, steps should be taken with the ball of the foot
contacting the floor first, then the heel lowering when the weight is
fully transferred. Latin hip movement is achieved though the alternate
bending and straightening of the knees, or, in International Latin
style, by making the weighted leg straight and bending the free leg.
This allows the hips to settle in the direction of the weighted leg.
Latin dance also uses different shoes than standard ballroom dance. Open
toed sandals are common for women. It is common to take very small steps
in Latin dance, unless the music is very slow, such as Bolero or Rumba.
Men lead almost exclusively in Latin dance, with the female partner
following. Erect stance and adequate tension in the body are also
important for formal Latin dance.
The Cha Cha (originally cha-cha-cha) was created when a UK dance
teacher, Pierre Lavelle, visited Cuba in 1952. Dancers were dancing the
mambo with a triple step. This eventually became the modern Cha Cha. The
Samba is of Brazilian origin, danced in 2/4 time. It has three steps to
every bar of music, and is danced with a slight downward bouncing action
created through the bending and straightening of the knees.
The Rumba is a very sensual Latin dance, done quite slowly. The only
dance done more slowly is the Bolero, which some consider to be a subset
of Rumba. In its original form, this Afro-Caribbean dance featured a lot
of hip movement, simulating sexual activity. The modern formalized form
of the dance is more sedate. The hip movement in this case is created
solely by the bending and straightening of the dancers’ knees.
The fourth dance in the International Latin category is the Paso Doble.
Unlike the other dances in this set, it originated in France. It is,
however, modeled after the movement and drama of the Spanish and Latin
American bullfight. The name is Spanish, meaning “two step.” Like other
dances in the Latin category, forward steps are taken with the heel
lead. Traditional Paso Doble music is written with breaks in fixed
positions in the song. The dances are choreographed to match these
breaks. This causes the dance to be almost exclusively danced
Last in the International Latin group of dances is Jive, which has its
ancestry in swing dancing. This dance does not have obviously Latin
American influences, but it does have the same sort of foot work, and
the same emphasis on a steady upper body. It is the fastest of the
group, known for quick leg action and triple steps.
International Standard, or ballroom dancing, the head, chest, hips and
legs are held in an upright manner. These dances are characterized by
smooth movements, in comparison to the very beat-oriented Latin dances.
International Standard dances all progress on the dance floor. All such
dances move counter clockwise around the room. The weight is carried on
the ball of the foot.
The modern Slow Waltz, or simply Waltz, is performed in 3/4 time at a
tempo of 84-90 beats per minute. Advanced figures may have four to six
steps per measure, but basic figures have only a single step per beat.
The Tango originated in Argentina. It was codified in 1922 to be danced
at 120 beats per minute. The ballroom Tango can include staccato
movements and head snaps.
The Viennese Waltz was the original form of the Waltz. It is danced at
approximately 180 beats per minute. The dancers are constantly turning
in a clockwise or counter clockwise direction. The music of the Viennese
Waltz is very fast compared to other Waltzes, but maintains a slow
harmonic pace and simple harmonies. It is danced in a closed position,
and the figures are limited to turns and change steps.
Foxtrot, the fourth dance in the International Standard category, was
invented by a vaudeville actor called Harry Fox to replace the two-step.
The dance premiered in 1914 and was standardized by Arthur Murray. At
its inception, the Foxtrot was danced to ragtime music, but is now
normally danced to big band music in the same way as swing. The Foxtrot
is the slower of two related dances. The other is the Quickstep, the
last in the International Standard category. The latter dance is much
the same as the Foxtrot, but time has given it techniques and patterns
which are unique to itself.
The Latin dances are often considered the most romantic dances, but this
is a matter of the dancers and the tension between them. While many
Latin dances evolved from a tradition full of sensual implication, the
Waltz and Tango have just as much potential to be performed
romantically. What matters is the connection between the partners and
their ability to communicate it to their audience. The major difference
between ballroom and Latin dances is the conventions of each style. The
Latin hip movement and leading with the heel distinguish Latin dance
from Standard. Both types are performed almost exclusively as couple
dances and are performed in competitive circumstances. Both Latin and
Standard dances can be easily enjoyed and learned by anyone.