If the lines of text are too long you can fix the problem with these instructions.
back to homepage
This article is about self instruction in simple social ballroom dancing (and country-western dancing ). With this article you can teach yourself how to do ballroom dancing with easy ballroom dance lessons using dance step diagrams contained in this article. An example diagram is shown here. This diagram will will be repeated later after the explanation necessary for you to understand it.
There are 31 step diagrams in this article and the associated waltz article. At various places where appropriate certain psychological, sociological, cultural and historical aspects of ballroom dancing are mentioned. Though this article does not teach competition ballroom dancing, it references books that do for those who are interested. Even if your final goal is competition dancing, social dancing is a good place to start. This article will show the differences and similarities between competition ballroom dancing and social ballroom dancing by making frequent references to specific pages in the most important book in the history of competition ballroom dancing.
Social ballroom dancing is the most civilized, decent, respectable, wholesome form of social dancing yet invented. That seems to be precisely why it is the form of social dancing most strenuously opposed by the adversaries of dance, who seem to be afraid that it will compete commercially with their own civilized, decent, respectable, wholesome activities.
Many beginners fear that they lack aptitude for dancing, they have "two left feet". Most good dancers had two left feet before they learned to dance. If you can walk normally you can learn this kind of dancing. Do not worry if you seem to have no rhythm or coordination in the beginning; these will come with practice. Do not worry about stepping on each other's feet; if you use the proper hold, described later, this will not happen. The thing that is most likely to prevent you from learning to dance using this article is not two left feet, it is lack of the patience necessary to read and study this entire article, and lack of diligence necessary to practice what you have learned until you get good at it. Do not assume that you already know the proper ballroom hold; in America it is taught incorrectly more often than it is taught correctly.
This article is intended to impart a fairly thorough understanding of a subject that is more complex than most novices imagine. This article does not assume that you have ever danced before or have any technical knowledge about dancing. Do not worry if you get confused on some points as you read. You may have to read the whole article twice to understand it all.
A dance competition is an exhibition; a social dance is not. Competition dancing involves a few people who are dedicated dance enthusiasts, music with a few standardized combinations of rhythm and tempo, and many different dance figures or maneuvers. The type of social dancing described here involves many people of the general public who are not really dance enthusiasts but more interested in a social event, music with the many combinations of rhythm and tempo found in the wide range of popular music, and only a few dance figures, so it is practical for many people to learn them. This article teaches a very finite set of dance figures, or maneuvers, that are ideal for casual social dancing. The ballroom dancing steps presented are suitable for weddings, country club dances, civic center dances, church dances, proms, formal balls, night clubs, and honky-tonks. It is about ballroom dancing, not the swing and latin dancing that is sometimes erroneously called ballroom dancing. But it is about dancing to any kind of music with constant rhythm and tempo and an audible beat: ballroom, swing, latin, country, rap or none of the above, not just ballroom dancing music.
Lest prospective ballroom dancers worry that my explanation of ballroom dancing might be less than legitimate, the book I use here is the most respected book in the world of competition ballroom dancing. Links are provided within this article to step diagrams of figures that are used in social dancing. Most social figures are also competition figures, but some are not. Most of my diagrams are also found in the book. My diagrams are not exact copies of his diagrams, but based on my own steps doing the same figures, with obvious difference in style in some cases. In addition to step diagrams, the book gives fine points about each figure that are not given in this web page. You can learn to dance using only this webpage without the book, but if your want to be the smoothest dancers on the floor you will need the book.
This article is based on considerable experience social dancing with many ladies who had a wide range of experience, from no experience to decades of experience. It will be of interest to people who would like to learn, and wonder what they should learn. The information given will make it possible for a determined couple to teach themselves without a teacher. It will also be possible for a group of interested people without a teacher to successfully form their own dance club, and teach themselves. People know the alphabet before they try to become proficient keyboard typists. Practice, not learning, is what makes them typists. The information presented here teaches the alphabet of dancing; practice is needed to become proficient dancers. Your fact memory is a separate system in your brain from your habit memory. You must learn about rhythm and movement with your fact memory, then with practice transfer this to your habit memory. Only then can you really dance.
The problem of "two left feet" is best understood by an extreme, rare example. A 60 year old individual found it almost hopelessly difficult to learn the simplest most basic steps. It is extremely rare to find someone of this age who had this much difficulty. But the individual persisted and eventually learned the basic figures. After about 3 years of weekly social dancing, proficiency was achieved. Then the individual decided to learn an advanced, difficult figure. The difficult figure was learned easily and quickly. What does this mean? The part of the brain involved in learning movements had apparently atrophied before any dancing was learned. By the time the difficult figure was attempted that part of the brain had become as strong as that of any other good dancer.
Elementary figures in the following dances fulfill the requirements of social ballroom dancing: (1) the most popular style of social ballroom dancing, the family of dances social foxtrot, twostep, quickstep, which have a few elementary figures in common; (2) the easiest form of social ballroom dancing, onestep; (3) the form of waltz usable over the widest range of tempos, the original old fashioned waltz, known technically as the international style Viennese waltz; (4) not essential, but to add spice, what I argue later in this article is the closest thing to the version of tango that made tango famous, known technically as international style tango. If, for instance, disco music is playing, it is possible to dance all four of these kinds of ballroom dancing to a single piece of music. In the case of the waltz, a special technique described in that section is required. With another kind of music only one or two of these dances might work. But if the rhythm and tempo are constant and the beat is audible, and if anyone else can dance anything else to the music, at least one of the dances onestep, twostep, waltz, will work.
back to top
A ballroom dance is a couple dance, not a solo dance. A belly dance is a solo dance. It was popular in middle eastern culture because in that culture a man could dance or a woman could dance, but they could not both dance at the same time at opposite ends of the same room . A ballroom dance is a couple dance, not a group dance. Group dances are also sometimes called set dances. Some examples of group dances are line dances, square dances, contra dances, quadrilles, and even military marches. Military marches are used because they have the effect of teaching obedience and subservience whether the troops like it or not. It seems likely that other group dances have the same effect. This effect is entirely appropriate in a military context, but perhaps less so in a civilian context. In some couple dances the partners do not touch each other, such as rock and roll, twist, and flamenco. Because of its cultural heritage (Spain and Portugal had a Middle Eastern culture from approximately 700 A.D. to 1400 A.D.) flamenco has an obvious similarity to belly dancing with the added feature of stomping shoes and clicking castanets, but a man and a woman can do it at the same time, or it can be done solo. Couple dances with touching can be divided into ballroom dances and latin dances. The word latin as used here means Hispanic, not Italian. Not all dances classed as latin originated in Hispanic culture, but most of them did. Examples of latin dances are the various kinds of swing, disco (also called hustle), and dances of latin origin (rumba, cha-cha, samba, paso doble, mambo, salsa, and many, many more, which have been mostly forgotten). Most latin figures would best be described as having a hand lead. In contrast to the latin dances, in ballroom dancing, the man leads the lady with movements of his body, with body contact at the waist. Ballroom dances can be danced without body contact, since the man's hands and arms should provide a frame rigidly fixed to his body that moves precisely as his body moves. It is slightly awkward and clumsy to lead ballroom dances without body contact. For me, at least, ballroom dancing seems more like the man and the lady are sharing the same experience together. In ballroom dances, the step patterns are designed to make it easy to dance close to a partner. In latin dances the step patterns are designed to make it difficult to dance close to a partner. The style of dancing known as "American smooth" blurs the distinction between ballroom and latin because it includes many latin figures and a few ballroom figures within the same style of dancing. If you wish to understand the mysterious origins of latin dancing see the history of tango.
In north america the term "swing dance" is most often used to mean a subset of latin dances including the jive and other dances related to the jive that are danced only in north america. Since this website is created in north america, this is the meaning used here. Outside north america "swing dance" often means ballroom dances, not latin dances, that include a graceful pendulum swing of the body when danced properly. This would not include ballroom tango as it has no pendulum swing.
In America the figures recommended in this article are called "ballroom dancing" or "country-western dancing" when done without a caller, so each couple is independent of other couples. A caller is someone, usually not dancing, who calls out to all dancers present which figure to do next, like a drill sergeant commanding marching troops. When done with a caller, the very same figures are called "round dancing". (This is the modern definition; before about 1950 round dancing meant couple dancing with no caller implied . The term was used to distinguish it from square dancing, which did use a caller.) Thus, modern round dancing is a form of group dancing, not couple dancing, even though the hold and steps are the same as ballroom dancing. Round dancers run the risk of becoming dependent on a caller, and being helpless without a caller. This article is about ballroom dancing. In ballroom dancing, the man must learn to lead the lady so that she will do each figure correctly even though she does not know which figure the man is going to do next. She is following her man, not the caller. The steps in ballroom dancing are not arbitrary. There might be steps that she could follow with a caller that she could not follow without a caller. Only steps that she can follow without a caller are included in ballroom dancing.
In ballroom dancing, the more skillful and technically correct a couple's dancing is, the more satisfying and enjoyable it will be. This is not because it looks better, which it does, but because it feels more comfortable and coordinated.
Texas style country-western dancing includes, by other names, versions of the ballroom dances social foxtrot, onestep and Viennese waltz. The figures of Texas twostep are the same as the basic figures of social foxtrot, except for the forward basic. Ballroom dancing differs from country-western dancing by including other dances and more advanced figures in each dance. The more skillfully the figures of country-western dancing are done, the more they look like everyone expects ballroom dancing to look; the less skillfully they are done the more they look like everyone expects country-western dancing to look. Many country-western dancers do not know the ballroom hold, and use a variety of loose approximations of the best hold. Some country-western dancers do not know about the right-left offset and are forced to dance at arms length. Many country-western dancers dance in rubber soled shoes on powdered floors which tends to make their dancing clumsier and less skillful. In the early days in poor rural areas in the American south floors were soft pine, not hardwood, and cornmeal on the floor was needed to make the floor slick enough. Unfortunately powder on the floor became a tradition that was held onto even when the availability of hardwood floors made it more detrimental than beneficial. If a slicker floor than bare hardwood is desired, a good wax that dries to a uniform hard finish is a much better solution than powder. Some country-western dancers with rubber soled shoes are under the mistaken impression that a good floor is too sticky, but in fact their rubber shoe soles are too sticky. They should have leather soles; suede leather can be glued on rubber soles very inexpensively.
In addition to the traditional country-western dancing that is true ballroom dancing, recently there is a newer form of country-western dancing that is latin dancing. Most people like dancing close to their partner and like ballroom dancing. But a few people find it distasteful to dance close to a person of the opposite gender and prefer latin dancing. They would like to eliminate the ballroom twostep and replace it with the latin twostep. The old ballroom versions of twostep work best with partners close to each other. The new latin version of twostep works best with partners well separated from each other. The most fundamental difference between the ballroom twostep and the latin twostep occurs when the couple must turn to avoid another couple or to round the corner at the end of the dance floor. In the ballroom twostep both partners turn the same amount in the same direction at the same time so that they remain facing each other throughout the turn. In the latin twostep the couple start the turn by turning in opposite directions, so they do not face each other during the turn. This requires different step patterns during the turns from the ballroom step patterns. Most people who finish a class in the latin twostep never want to dance the latin twostep again. This is not the only example of a term in dancing being redefined so as to capitalize on the fame of the old, while surreptitiously replacing it with the new. This attempt to replace ballroom twostep with latin twostep suggests that the forces behind it are attempting to "latinize" American culture the same way the corresponding forces did in Argentina, as described later in the history of tango.
With regard to ballroom dancing, some comments on the basics of leading are in order; exercises to improve skills in leading and following will be described below in the next to the last paragraph in the foxtrot section. The man leads the lady. He creates the motion, and she goes with him. A primary concern is that the lady feel taken care of, and not feel that she is being handled roughly. She will tolerate much more force forward and backward than she will sideways. The dance figures are designed so that little or no sideways force need be applied even to lead the lady to the side in a chasse. The lady does not step forward or backward in response to the man's foot stepping forward or backward. She steps forward or backward in response to the man attempting to move her forward or backward. It is possible for a man who does not understand this to kick the lady in the shin with his foot. He must be sure which foot her weight is on before he attempts to move her forward or backward, so he will know in advance which foot she will move when she takes a step. This knowledge and control of the lady's side to side balance before the couple starts moving is easier with body contact than without, but is possible either way. Once the lady senses the movement, she moves with the man. She does not require the man to provide the effort of moving her.
I have had many ladies worry that they might be trying to lead, instead of just following. In no case could I detect any tendency for them to try to lead. But their boy friend or ex-husband had complained about this. I can think of three reasons why he might have complained. First, possibly the man had such a weak lead that she was trying to guess at what he wanted her to do. If she guessed wrong, he felt she was trying to lead. Plenty of solo practice by the man before dancing with a partner should prevent this problem. The man's lead must be fully committed, determined and confidant, not weak, unsure and tentative. At the same time it must be smooth, firm and considerate, not rough, harsh, jerky and inconsiderate. A second reason the man might think the lady is trying to lead is that she has poor balance, and is trying to lean backward against his hold, which feels to him like she is trying to pull away from him. The hold section has a paragraph about proper balance. There is a third reason the man might have complained about the lady leading. The man must lead each figure correctly. He should study and practice the figures as given in this website, and not attempt large modifications of them until he has mastered them as presented. If he attempts to lead in a manner that no lady could possibly follow, she will attempt to do something that she can actually do, not the impossible thing he is trying to get her to do, and he may think she is trying to lead. After both have learned the dance, when the lady makes a mistake in following in easy dances like onestep, foxtrot/twostep or tango, ninety percent of the time it is because the man made a mistake in leading. That is why this article puts so much emphasis on explaining the man's steps. So much of the responsibility falls on the man it is no wonder that women are usually more enthusiastic about learning to dance. Even if the man's steps are correct, the lady cannot be expected to follow correctly if both are not using the proper position and hold.
I prefer my description of the ballroom posture, position, hold and balance to Alex Moore's. Mine is given in Appendix B of "The Viennese Waltz" at this website. Read the hold section that describes the posture, position, hold and balance. The hold and position are easy, and are necessary for beginners. When a beginner is learning at a social dance, and not in a class, it is difficult to achieve good posture and balance in the beginning. As noted later, it is not absolutely necessary in the easier dances at slow tempo, but becomes necessary later when it is desired to learn a fast waltz. You need to practice stepping forward and backward using the ballroom hold before you start learning any specific dance. If you have a slow internet connection you will have to wait about 10 seconds as the other article downloads before your browser will jump to the hold section. The hold section includes 12 paragraphs. Read until you see "this is the end of the hold section". After you read the hold section be sure to click the "back" button on your browser to get back here or you will get lost in the other article. To see the hold section click here
back to top
Why do social ballroom dancing? Fish swim, birds fly, and ballroom dancing offers the nearest equivalent satisfaction for humans. Furthermore, it is easier to get people together to meet and socialize when there is something this enjoyable to do.
Human beings are psychologically constructed so as to achieve fulfillment and satisfaction in being a couple. They like to socialize and have fun as a couple. Ballroom dancing provides a way to socialize and have fun as a couple. Even single people are grateful for the opportunity to be a couple with one other person even if for only one dance. The steps of ballroom dancing can be done alone or with a partner. It is not very satisfying to do the steps alone, but is very satisfying to do the same steps with a partner. This is true for both the man and the lady, even though the experience is very different for the man and lady since one is leading and the other is following.
Social dancing must match the mood of the social occasion. The mood of an evening out at a restaurant is different than the mood of a boxing match, a ball game or a wild party. In America in the 1930's and before, large restaurants often had dance floors, and diners danced. Social ballroom dancing matched this mood very well, and was popular in such environments. Swing and latin dancing have a mood more commensurate with a wild party or an exhibition, and were destructive of the calm friendly mood that the public expected of an evening at a restaurant. As swing and latin dancing came in, dancing in restaurants went out, and the popularity of social dancing declined until today it is a small fraction of what it was then. Quite understandably, it would take very few swing dancers to convince the majority of customers that they would rather have a leisurely conversation over dinner at a restaurant that did NOT have a dance floor. This trend of cultural degeneration sank even below swing and latin. Today in some parts of the country the only real social couple dancing left outside of the artificial environment of a dance school is confined to a minority of exhibitionist extroverts doing barbaric dancing in a few raucous night clubs.
In some environments it seems appropriate for social dancing to only be at moderate speeds, but this is not always the case. Moving fast around the floor can be thrilling. In some environments it is appropriate when the crowd is thin to dance very fast. Fast ballroom dancing is not as showy as swing and latin dancing, but it is much more thrilling to do. I once met a 25 year old mother of two small children whose husband had liked to motorcycle for thrills. He had killed himself in a motorcycle accident six months before I met her at a dance. He had always been afraid to attempt dancing. How sad that he did not pursue his thrill seeking on the dance floor rather than on the motorcycle. I have never been a motorcycler, but weaving through a thin crowd with a partner at high speed seems as thrilling to me as I imagine motorcycling would be.
Social ballroom dances are more fun to do but less showy and spectacular than some other dances. People want to learn some dances primarily because they are showy and spectacular. The only reason a couple would want to do these dances in a room by themselves would be to prove to themselves that they could do something so glamorous. Once having proved it, there would be no point in continuing to do so in a room by themselves. They will enjoy doing it longer in front of other people, but for most people even that will wear thin after a short while. Swing, latin and American smooth dances tend to fall in this category. True ballroom dances in the strictest sense of the word are less showy, but more fun to do for their own sake. People are more likely to want to continue to do them for the rest of their lives. Social ballroom dancing is not a performing art. Quite the contrary, since it evolved to please the participants and not the observers, it is a non-performing art. If it were taught in a college department of performing arts, it would quickly be transformed into something else. The psychology department would be a better home for it.
Rulers and leaders tend to treat ordinary people as subjects. A capitalist democracy expects people to be citizens responsible for their own choices, not subjects. People like a chance to attend a social event in the role of adult citizens, not subjects. Meetings and concerts are social events where people attend as subjects and observers, not participants and citizens. People at a large shopping mall are attending as citizens, but it does not feel like a social event. A dance can be a large social event where people can attend as citizens and participants, not subjects. At a dance people participate as couples, not as individuals. Ballroom dancing seems adult and civilized and feels like real dancing. Swing and latin seem more juvenile and feel as much like calisthenics as like dancing; furthermore, while you may be dancing in collaboration with each other, you are no longer dancing so much together as a couple. The dances typically done to rock, hip hop etc. seem infantile and uncivilized. Group dances reduce people to being subjects, not citizens; some people find them degrading and humiliating.
There are rare moments in social ballroom dancing so thrilling that both partners will remember and talk about them years later.
Many people will not get enough exercise unless the exercise is recreational. Ballroom dancing appeals to many people who do not find other forms of exercise appealing.
Social ballroom dancing can provide a recreation that husband and wife can share together, instead of having separate sources of recreation.
Social ballroom dancing can overcome excessive shyness among single people who have difficulty making the acquaintance of other single people. However, this benefit cannot be obtained without some effort. Many, perhaps most, single people do not have the courage to attempt social ballroom dancing if they do not already know how to dance. Instruction in ballroom dancing, either in writing or in person, and practice is required before they can participate in social ballroom dancing.
back to top
First a group class in competition dancing will be described, then a less exacting procedure that might be preferred by a couple teaching themselves casual social dancing.
This description applies to group classes in standard ballroom, which in America is called international standard; American smooth classes tend to be less formal and vary more with each teacher. The teacher shows the men first how to do their part of a single figure. While the men are left to practice, the teacher shows the women how to do their part. Men usually need more time to practice than women, because the men have to lead. When the instructor shows the man's or woman's part of the figure, the instructor steps slowly through the figure several times. As each step is taken slowly, the instructor calls out a parameter listed in the book to describe the step. The terms used here are defined in the book. In successive demonstrations of the figure the instructor will call out feet positions relative to the body, alignment relative to the line of dance, amount of turn from the previous step, rise and fall, toe-heel footwork, C.B.M. (contrary body movement) and sway. Alignment is expressed relative to the line of dance only for clarity in describing the figure. When dancing, the entire figure could be rotated relative to this standardized way of describing it. Finally, the instructor dances the figure at normal speed calling out the rhythm in slows and quicks. Each time the instructor takes a step, the students are to take the same step, trying to concentrate their attention on getting the parameters right. While the men are practicing by themselves, the instructor shows the women their steps using the same procedure. The students must concentrate on the details until they repeat the figure enough to get the feel of the figure. Then they can do the figure automatically without thinking about the details. When both men and women have had enough practice, the men and women get together and do the figure as couples. When they get the feel of doing it together as a couple, they will have learned the figure, and can use it at will. In a group class, all single ladies are shifted to the next single man every few minutes.
Obviously, a couple teaching themselves with the book can use a similar procedure. But most social dancers who intend to teach themselves will ignore some of the technical details and be content to use only the diagrams. Even they will need to read the general instructions in this website. The diagrams contain all the technical details except for rise and fall, toe-heel footwork, C.B.M. and sway. Learning solely from the diagrams will work to a degree that will be satisfactory for most casual social dancers, except in the case of the waltz, where closer attention to other details specific to waltz provided in this website is essential.
The steps recommended in this article are so easy that, with the possible exception of the waltz, it will not be absolutely necessary for the lady to learn her steps before dancing with the man. The man can learn his steps and lead the lady. The man should learn to do the steps by himself without a partner before he attempts to lead the lady. Teaching both the man and the lady their steps makes the class go faster. If only the man is taught then at first the lady will be completely passive in her following. As they get more advanced with larger steps and faster tempos ladies will have to learn to be more active and energetic, and not completely passive in their following. A technique to produce this result is given at the end of the foxtrot section. This article shows diagrams only for the man for all dances except the waltz, where the diagrams are the same for man and lady. The book shows diagrams for both the man and the lady in all figures where diagrams are shown. There are important differences in terminology. This article uses social dancing terminology, the book uses competition dancing terminology. What this website calls the waltz, the book calls the Viennese waltz. What the book calls the waltz this article calls the slow waltz. What the book calls the quickstep this article calls the social foxtrot or twostep. What the book calls the foxtrot this article calls the slow foxtrot. The social foxtrot is an entirely different dance than the slow foxtrot, and the Viennese waltz is an entirely different dance than the slow waltz. The waltz, or what the book calls the Viennese waltz, is not at the beginning level, and it is advisable for ladies to learn waltz steps separately at the same time as the men.
Probably the chief advantage of teaching both the man and the lady their steps is that the dance can be taught at a faster tempo, provided they have leather soled shoes. If the dance is taught at slow tempo, the class must slowly work their way up to fast tempo. Some can work their way up to faster tempo much faster than others. This makes it difficult to play music at a speed that is suitable for the whole class. If the dance is taught at fast tempo, the class can easily dance at slow tempo. This is most important in the case of the foxtrot/twostep dance, and the waltz. Using the standard teaching technique in quickstep chapter in the book, foxtrot/twostep can be taught successfully at the speed of competition quickstep, 50 bars per minute. If, however, only the men are taught, the ladies will have to learn dancing with the men at 30 bars per minute, the easiest tempo, and work their way up with practice to 50 bars per minute. Similarly, starting with the "kitchen exercises" in the "individual practice" section of the waltz instructions at this website, waltz can be taught at the competition speed of 60 bars per minute. After learning at 60 bars per minute, slower tempos will be easy. In waltz and twostep, a few ladies will never get out of the need for the man to drag them around the floor at faster tempos unless the ladies are taught their steps separately at fast tempo. Ladies enjoy their dancing more if the man does not have to drag them. In tango there is not much tempo advantage of teaching both the man and the lady since the tempo range is so limited. However, the lady would certainly learn faster if she were taught her steps. Onestep is so easy there would be no advantage of teaching both the man and the lady.
A couple teaching themselves need not read further in this section. The remainder is for teachers of group classes and administrators contemplating adding dance classes to their curriculum.
When teaching a very large class, not everyone can see the teacher's feet. In this case the class should be drilled in the movements illustrated in the two pictures in the book "Position of Steps in Relation to the Body" on p. 37 and "Directions of Steps or Positions of Body in Relation to the Room" on p. 38. These are so simple they can be understood from descriptions without being seen. Then the class can obey commands of the teacher and trace out the steps of a figure without actually seeing the teacher's feet. The other technical parameters can also be explained and followed without being seen. If one student gets confused, he can look at the other students for clarification. In theory the teacher could be disabled in a wheelchair and still teach.
An extended college class taught for credit probably should require the men to just once have the experience of measuring floor friction. Then they will have the proper background to help select a floor finish if they ever need to. Both men and women should be taught to count tempo of music using their wristwatch.
Speaking of college classes, one might wonder why there are so few of them. In Europe, there are no college classes because the students who want to take ballroom dance class take it while they are in high school, before they enter college. In America classes are not held for high schoolers, so college is the earliest level where classes could be offered in the educational system. The Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo Utah teaches a course in social ballroom dance for credit that has some overlap with what is recommended here. About one in five of their students take the class. A similar fraction would participate at any American university. Most other universities have no such class for credit. Most of the universities that have ballroom dance instruction on campus do not offer it for credit, they emphasize swing and latin much more than ballroom, it is an extracurricular after hours club activity, and far fewer students participate. Another way participation is limited is by teaching competitive dancing, which requires more time and more talent than most students have who might be interested to learn social dancing.
Probably a combination of factors explains why most American universities do not offer a "for credit" course in ballroom dancing. The most obvious departments to offer such a course are the ballet department or the physical education department. Unfortunately, the dance floor in the ballet department is likely to be covered with rubber, and is therefore unsuitable for ballroom dancing. So few people take ballet that the floor is likely to be too small for the the number of people who would want to take ballroom dancing. The basketball gym owned by the physical education department will have a floor large enough to be more suitable for a ballroom dance class. However, sometimes these floors are too sticky for ballroom dancing. Furthermore, the physical education department faculty is inclined to prefer same gender classes. Many of them would probably not have felt comfortable in a ballroom dance class at any time in their lives, and have little sympathy for young people who would prefer such a class. They are more likely to offer a class in polo, as far fetched as that may seem. Furthermore, being the least intellectual of the departments, they are the most likely to yield to pressure from the traditional adversaries of dance.
This raises the question of who in a university would be the most in favor, or the least opposed, to a ballroom dance class? To the extent that there are ideologically pure leftists on the faculty, they could be expected to be opposed to balls, and therefore to ballroom dancing. The city of Budapest, Hungary, is now trying to rebuild their traditional ball culture after it was prohibited by leftist domination during the cold war. There is leftist anti-ball propaganda in America. The book "Dance, A Very Social History" by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986, on p. 11 seems to define a ball as a very exclusive event: "Of course, because a ball is exclusive,...". "People still want to be invited but are not;...". There are plenty of real balls with real ballroom dancing in America and in Vienna that are open to the public and reasonably priced. The author might argue that even these balls are exclusive because they have a dress code. The dress code can be met by a $100 department store tuxedo and a $100 department store prom dress which can be amortized over many balls before they wear out. Even honky-tonks have a dress code. Some leftists seem to go past their traditional glorification of the proletariat to a point where they would deny the proletariat a chance to dress up. Presumably this is because the left fears that the proletariat will not be able to maintain a downtrodden, oppressed leftist mind-set if they are dressed up and dancing to beautiful music in a well lighted environment. Better for the proletariat to spend much more money on gambling, which the left in America seems not so strenuously opposed to. Perhaps some leftists feel compelled to manufacture straw symbols of class warfare, of oppression by "the man", that they can joust against. The entertaining movie "True Lies" depicts a ball as an exclusive, forbidding event with armed guards and dogs outside, and Middle Eastern terrorists among those inside. I have never heard of a ball with armed guards and dogs, and devout Middle Eastern terrorists would consider suicide before consenting to do real ballroom dancing with a woman. Certainly "grubby chic" is more in keeping with the "workers of the world unite" spirit of the hammer and sickle than is formal wear. Formal wear is not used in a ballroom dance class, nor in most weekly social ballroom dances. If leftists insist on a proletarian bias, they can teach the same dance course as country-western dancing using country-western music. (Pardon this outburst dear reader, sometimes grapeshot is necessary).
There are some who will object to the existence of a class in ballroom dancing, and some others who might not want to be in the class if they knew what they were getting into. If an objector to ballroom dance also objects to the teaching of evolution, the doctrinal basis of the objection may be as described later in the section on the history of tango. Otherwise, the objector may find close contact with the opposite gender distasteful because of innate orientation or traumatic history. Indeed, some such individuals experience uncontrollable panic attacks with such contact, whereas most people find it pleasant and comforting. Some such individuals will protest loudly. If there is enough demand, people who prefer to dance with their own gender could form separate groups within the same large group class where other people are dancing with the opposite gender. Some people have math phobia, yet courses in calculus are still taught. Some people cannot carry a tune, yet choral singing is still taught. The simple exercise of walking with a partner as described in the hold section should serve to identify individuals who lack the aptitude for ballroom dancing. They should walk forward and backward with one hand behind their back, switching between several different partners. This is more a test of psychological aptitude than of physical skill. It is possible that an accomplished dancer in some other form of dancing, such as swing or American smooth, could fail this test, whereas a normal person who had never danced could pass it with ease. The teacher should not accept into a college class individuals who cannot pass this test. People too squeamish to bump into other people are not allowed in football class. Presumably many ballet dancers would fall into this category. People who refuse to wear ballet slippers and go on point are refused participation in ballet class. Presumably many football players would fall into this category. It could be said that real ballroom dancing is ideal for football players, engineers and most ordinary people, but American smooth is ideal for ballet dancers and students of theology. People who do not qualify for this class should not be disparaged, just as people who do not qualify for any other class should not be disparaged. Normal people may experience arousal when first exposed to ballroom dancing until they get used to the ballroom hold, but unlike the initial shock of immersion in cool water, this will not be repeated each time the experience is repeated. When they get used to the ballroom hold the problem will go away. Most of the class will experience brief spells of mild motion sickness when learning the waltz. This will not be a serious problem if they are not pushed too hard, and they will get over it in time like new sailors do. The students should be warned to expect this before they are signed up for the class. They should also be warned that they may experience episodes of frustration and embarrassment, and that there is even a small chance that they may fall down.
After it is determined who has the aptitude to be in the class, everyone should be told to bring shoes that can be converted to dance shoes. For safety, the shoes should have completely enclosed toes and should not have high heels. So that the shoes will be securely fastened to the foot, they should either be lace-up, have a covered arch, or a strap over the arch and the heel should be enclosed. The shoes do not need to be new; old shoes with a hole worn in the bottom will be satisfactory. The next step would be a shoe sole gluing party to get everyone's shoes ready for dancing. This should be done before any dance steps are taught.
Since many Europeans are permitted such a class in high school, it should be possible to admit college freshman to such a class, and not make them wait until they are seniors. Some have even proposed that classes be conducted in elementary school. I am strenuously opposed to this. It would be too early to function as a "rite of passage", and would run counter to normal psychological development.
It should be remembered that a class is not a social dance. Pairing of single people is voluntary by mutual consent at a social dance. Pairing of single people in a class should not be encouraged by the teacher. The risk is that one member of the pair may consider it merely a convenience for learning to dance, but the other may consider it a romantic involvement. The heartbreak and bitterness that could result from this would reflect very badly on the reputation of the class. If a practice dance for the class is added after several class sessions, the single men should be encouraged to ask as many different single women to dance as possible.
back to top
Sources of recorded dance music are given in Appendix I of "The Viennese Waltz " at this website. The strict tempo dance music is recorded for use in competitions. Strict tempo music has the specific combinations of rhythm and tempo required in competitions. This is acceptable for class use, but more variety is preferred for social dancing. For class use, ask for a series of strict tempo CD's that have only one kind of dance with one combination of rhythm and tempo on each CD. Music such as this recorded especially for dancing is best for initial learning. For social dancing some competition music is a good idea, but there should also be popular music that does not meet the requirements for competition music. Popular music is available from websites specializing in it, and from local music stores. Those who do not want to spend money on music to practice by should know that there are drum sequencing programs that can run on your computer and make any rhythm and tempo you want, without melody. You could burn your own CD's to practice by.
back to top
Leather, not rubber, soles and heels are ideal on bare hardwood floors and other traditional ballroom dance floors. Preferably chrome tanned leather, but vegetable tanned leather will also work. Before the last third of the 20th century vegetable tanned leather was used to make the soles of all street shoes, though heels had been rubber for quite some time before that. Leather heels are not absolutely necessary, but are certainly desirable. Some steps are easiest with a heel pivot, and will have to be done with a toe pivot instead if the heels are rubber. Today nearly all street shoes have rubber soles and heels. Today some street shoes have soles that appear to be vegetable tanned leather, but are a synthetic material with unsatisfactory frictional properties. Rubber soles make dancing unnecessarily difficult, awkward and unpleasant. For a discussion of ballroom floor friction requirements see Appendix F of "The Viennese Waltz " at this website. The appendix tells how to glue various soles to the bottom of rubber soled shoes, and to change shoe soles to get the proper friction if you cannot change the floor. Dancing places stresses on the foot that walking does not. Too much dancing in rubber soled shoes can cause foot soreness and even permanent injury in a few individuals. Proper shoes are more important for ballroom dancing than for basketball or tennis. The only activities where special footwear is more important are skating and skiing. A few honky-tonks have so very much cornmeal spread evenly on the floor that urethane rubber soles are the best solution to a less than ideal situation. I think that urethane rubber is the kind most commonly provided on rubber soled shoes.
You should be able to find a shoe repair shop willing to glue chrome tanned leather soles on your rubber soled shoes if you do not want to mess with it yourself. Even if a shop glues the leather on, you will need some of the glue yourself, because it will probably come unglued at some spot around the edge and need a small amount of glue to fix it. Probably the best solution for most people is to cut the leather and glue the soles on themselves. An old worn out pair of rubber soled shoes works better than a new pair because the pattern in the sole is worn smooth, and because the sole is thinner. People who work in shoe repair shops often do not know the meaning of the technical terms "chrome tanned leather" and "vegetable tanned leather". If you ask for "suede leather", you will get chrome tanned leather. Suede leather feels sticky at first and takes about three hours of dancing to get broken in to its normal slickness. An alternative that is typically thicker and will last longer than suede leather is chrome tanned grain leather with the smooth side glued to the sole and the suede side on the floor. Adequate shoes can be very inexpensive. One lady bought black canvas flat shoes with rubber soles in a style called loafers for five dollars, then had chrome tanned leather glued on the soles. Lady beginners do much better in flats than in heels. Commercial ballroom dance shoes are another option.
The most stress on the foot in dancing comes from pivoting with all of the wieght on the ball of one foot. In a very few individuals even leather soles are not enough to prevent blisters or bruising of the ball of the foot. The problem is that the sock does not slip on the skin or on the inside of the shoe. Stress is transmitted to the skin and flesh. It may be helpful to wear two thin socks on each foot instead of one thick sock. One sock will slide on the other sock and prevent the stess being transmitted to the skin.
Floor friction requirements are similar for all ballroom dances, and are generally similar to those for latin and swing dances. A bare hardwood floor that has never been wet and has been worn shiny smooth is satisfactory, very different from the rubber floors often found in ballet studios. Most social dancers prefer a floor a bit slicker than a bare hardwood floor. A coat of wax that dries to a solid finish can help. A less easily ruined vinyl tile floor with the right mop-on finish or paste wax is another way to get the right friction. Recently synthetic laminate floors have become popular that look like wood. Some of these may have the right friction for dancing; samples can be tested easily by the slope method. Other options for floors are described here.
Powder on the floor is not a good solution because when first applied it is too spotty: some parts of the floor are slick while others are sticky. If the powder cannot be crushed and smeared, the floor will never have uniform slickness. The best kinds of powder can be crushed and smeared on the floor. After the powder has been trampled on long enough, it gets crushed and smeared uniformly around the floor. After a bit longer enough of the powder has been tracked off the floor that it is no longer slick, and more powder is needed. If powder is going to be used, it should be applied when the floor is most crowded, so it will be smeared to a uniform slickness as quickly as possible. It takes hours to smear it with only a few dancers on the floor. Some commercial powdered dance floor wax is slick enough that rubber soles are best to dance on it.
Some banquet halls have urethane varnish finishes that are too sticky for good dancing. The managers are reluctant to change to a urethane finish on their floor that is slick enough for good dancing, because the floor is primarily used for other events. They should not worry, because many supermarkets have floors that are too slick for good dancing. They would never claim that a supermarket floor is too slick for any non-dancing events they have in mind. Differences in slickness that seem unimportant to a non-dancer are important to a dancer. A non-dancer might describe 40% friction as sticky, and 20% friction as slick. A dancer would describe 34% as too sticky and 27% as too slick. A non-dancer would barely notice the difference. Even an experienced dancer cannot reliably assess a floor just by walking on it. A dancer would need to either dance on it or measure it to evaluate it. Fortunately, some of the best known floor finishes fall within the range for good dancing. They were not made this way for dancing, but because they are comfortable for walking. Social dancers prefer floors that are almost too slick for good dancing, 28% being ideal. A floor that is good for dancing is good for other events too. Of course, the adversaries of dance will use their influence to get a carpet on the floor of the banquet hall, so dancing will be impossible.
back to top
The man will need to practice the twostep/foxtrot by himself before he attempts it with a lady. If he is teaching himself, and not in a class, he is probably better off practicing by himself at home, in solitude, without music, until he learns the figures and how to join them, as described in the join section. Then he is ready to practice with a lady as a couple.
An individual couple teaching themselves will need to look for a place to practice. If you are teaching yourself it is not a good idea to try to learn your first steps in a crowded social dance. You might be able to practice some individual figures on a hard floor in your home, such as your kitchen. Many night clubs that have weekly dancing open as much as two hours before most people come to dance. The dance floor is empty and available for practice at this time. Some dance schools may rent floor time. A gym or community center may be useable. A wearable music player and a "Y" adapter with his and hers head phones can be used if you want your own music, and do not want to bother others with your music. Some shopping malls open early for people to exercise before the stores open, and might be a suitable place to practice.
back to top
When the foot is moving over the floor, it should just be barely above the floor. High stepping is not appropriate. High stepping is sometimes used in marching, but not in ballroom dancing or in latin dancing.
A backward step is taken mainly by swinging the leg back from the hip, not mainly by bending the knee. This is so the backward stepping partner's knee will not block the knee of the forward stepping partner.
Stepping backward in dancing is done in a special way for smooth movement. When a backward step touches the floor, the weight should be on the toe or ball of the foot, not the flat foot. The heel should not lower to the floor until the moving foot has moved back even with the standing foot. When I was learning, this was impossible for me when I first tried it. A week later, without any practice, it was easy. Apparently you can learn in your sleep.
Special technique is also needed for stepping to the side. The step is called a chasse. It is done by stepping to the side with the leading foot, then closing the trailing foot against the leading foot, and stepping to the side again with the leading foot. While this is easy to do slowly, it is difficult to do quickly. If someone in your group can do it much faster than you, then you need more practice. Another thing that could slow you down in this is sticky rubber shoe soles, rather than proper leather shoe soles. In actual dancing in twostep you will not do more than one chasse at a time, but the best way to learn the chasse is to do a lot of them at one time. The students should practice the chasse for many steps to left and many steps to the right without a partner and without music as fast as they can. THIS IS MERELY AN EXERCISE, NOT A DANCE. In ballroom dancing, most often the the man does chasse steps to the left as shown, and the lady does them to the right. In the latin dance known as the cha cha, both the man and the lady do chasse steps both to the left and to the right. When done with a partner and with music, doing a repeated series of chasse steps is a ballroom dance called the galop, but that is not what we want here. Here we want to chasse as fast as we can without music and without a partner. To print the diagram click here.
It will be made much easier by keeping the knees slightly bent and the heels off the floor. Some dances that use this step, such as the galop, do it with a hopping motion, but in quickstep and cha cha it is done with a smooth motion. Our primary interest in this step is dances where it is done smoothly. Be smooth, with no tendency to hop or bounce. It is essential that you bring your feet nearly together as shown in the diagram. Football players are taught to move to the side with their feet kept wide apart; that is football, not dancing. I can cover 26 feet (7.92 m) in 7 seconds with this exercise.
The information in this web site is adequate for most social dancers. But the book has more detailed recommendations for toe-heel footwork in each step of each figure. The toe-heel footwork given in the book is optimal for smooth dancing when both partners have good balance as described in the hold section. In social dancing, you will often have a partner with bad balance, leaning too far forward or more likely too far backward. In this case you cannot use the proper toe-heel footwork given in the book. You will have to make substantial changes to your footwork to accommodate your partner's bad balance. The toe-heel footwork in the book is optimal at the tempos used in competition. In social dancing at radically different tempos the optimal toe-heel footwork is different in some cases.
The terminology sometimes used to describe toe-heel footwork needs some explanation. A forward step where the heel touches down first is called a step with "heel lead". The book uses abbreviations for toe-heel footwork. A forward step where the heel touches, first, but you step off on the toe, will be abreviated "HT". A more complicated step where the weight is first on the toe, then the heel, then the toe again will be abbreviated "THT". A step where only the toe touches down will be abbreviated "T". A normal backward step where the toe touches first then you step off backward on the heel will be abbreviated "TH".
back to top
This website contains enough details for self instruction for the average social dancer. The average dancer does not need the book. A few more fine points are provided in the book for those who want to put out the effort. You should not refer to the book until you have read this article in its entirety, or you will get lost in the many figures available for competition dancing, most of which are not applicable to social dancing. Furthermore, the book assumes you already know many of the mundane details covered in this web site about shoes, floors, rhythm etc.
The most detailed instructional materials are for competition dancing, not social dancing. The social dancer is forced to read materials for competition dancing if he wants the clearest, fullest descriptions and explanations. However, the non-dancer will not know how to use a book on competition dancing to teach himself simple social dancing, a deficiency that this web page remedies. In America competition dancing comes in two styles, American style and international style. There is some overlap between American style and international style, they have some figures in common. The term figure here is synonymous with maneuver. Where international and American styles diverge, the difference is in the preference for leadable figures in international style and a preference for showy figures in American style. Since leadability is especially important for social dancing, international style is a better basis for social dancing. International competition ballroom dancing includes five dances; two fast: quickstep, which is fast social foxtrot, and Viennese waltz, which is the original waltz; and three slow: slow waltz, slow foxtrot and tango. The fast dances can be adapted to a wide range of tempos; the slow dances only work at slow tempos. Since social dancing encompasses a wide range of tempos, the fast dances have more applicability to social dancing. The only one of these slow dances which was at one time very successful as a social dance was tango, and it is the only one recommended in this web page. Instead of slow foxtrot, this web page recommends onestep, which is not covered in the book but which has a vague similarity to slow foxtrot. Onestep is much easier and is useable over a wider range of tempos. In the early 1920's onestep was a popular social dance in America as well as a competition dance in England, but was dropped from competition because it was too simple and easy and therefore monotonous for advanced dancers [3, p.65].
A good book for international style is Alex Moore's "Ballroom Dancing". This book was a major factor in the spread of international style ballroom dancing around the world. It shows step diagram pictures for most, but not all, figures, and word descriptions for all of them except the forward basic, which is not used in international competition dancing. It shows separate diagrams for man and lady, whereas this website only shows diagrams for the man, except in the case of the waltz, where the diagram is the same for man and lady. This book is mainly about competition dancing, but is also good for social dancing. I am not aware of any similarly good book on American style, and to make matters worse, the various American style books call the same figure by different names. As the book is for the competition dancer, the social dancer will only use a small part of the book. This article indicates what parts of the book are useful for social dancing, and provides background information not found in the book. The book has a small section on social dancing, but I consider it inadequate; this article is much more extensive and more fully addresses the broad range of information needed by the social dancer.
A beginner may doubt his ability to figure out the dance steps with only the book and no teacher. He should not. Do not worry that the book does not show diagrams for a few of the most elementary figures. This article includes links to diagrams for all figures recommended here. The book gives only a word definition of a term, C.B.M., extensively used in the book. The term is not used in this article. The important part of C.B.M. is a small rotation of the body, but it is easiest to illustrate with a foot diagram. To print the diagram that illustrates the meaning, click here.
When a couple is taking a step with C.B.M. one is stepping forward and the other stepping backward, and they both rotate together. Note that the directions of rotation indicated in the illustration are compatible with both partners rotating the same way at the same time.
The book "Ballroom Dancing" by Alex Moore was originally published in 1936 and went through nine editions during his lifetime. The book has never been out of print since 1936, even though some people in the book distribution industry who are opposed to ballroom dancing have listed it as being out of print. The book gives exhaustive treatment of all the standard competition ballroom dances except the Viennese waltz. The Viennese waltz was added as an afterthought, and is given a sketchy and inaccurate treatment. An accurate treatment of the Viennese waltz is given elsewhere in this website. The ninth edition of the book was 1986. After his death, the ISTD changed the official definitions of some of the figures. They split some of Alex Moore's long figures into two short figures. Finally, in 2002, Moore's book was revised to a tenth edition to bring it into line with the new official definitions. This article refers initially to the tenth edition; an appendix at the end of this article gives corresponding references to the ninth edition, in case that is the edition you have. The tenth edition is currently available from http://www.routledge.com. The best way to find the book at this site is to enter "ballroom dancing" in the search window at the site. It is also available at http://www.bn.com. The best way to find it at this site is to enter, "moore alex" in the search window at the site. As of 12-19-03 they both show a picture of the cover of the ninth edition, even though they sell the 10th edition. There are other sources, which may or may not yet have converted from the ninth edition to the tenth edition. It is usually available from http://www.dancevision.com 800-851-2813 or 702-256-3830. On this last website you must enter "alex moore" in the search window to find the book at the website. It is always available at the ISTD. To see a paragraph that tells how to navigate the ISTD website go to the section in this article titled "misconceptions about ballroom dancing" or click here. You should be able to find it in stock for delivery in about a week from one of these sources. There is no need to place an order from a source that does not have it in stock. In the descriptions of dances to follow, references are made to specific pages in the 10th edition; if you have the 9th edition, the corresponding page references are listed in the appendix at the end of this article.
back to top
When dancing to music with an even beat, some ballroom dances express rhythm in "slow" and "quick". The step is "taken" when the foot is put down and stops sliding. If a step is quick, the next step will be on the next beat of music. If a step is slow the next step will be on the beat after the next beat. The weight is on the foot twice as long on a slow as on a quick. The rhythm "slow, slow, quick, quick" can be expressed in print as "sxsxqq" where a step is taken on each "s" or "q", but not on each "x", and each letter x, s, or q represents a beat of the music. The book adopts the more abbreviated convention of not showing the x's and using capital letters. Thus the same rhythm would be expressed SSQQ. A way to say the rhythm out loud and get the timing right is to say "slow and slow and quick quick". Note that each slow is "sx", not "xs". An "S" would follow a "Q" on the next beat, "qsx", but a "Q" would follow an "S" on the second following beat, "sxq". This description of step timing is good enough to get started; a more precise description that covers ambiguous situations is given in Appendix B of "The Viennese Waltz " at this website.
The rhythm of music written for different dances differs from dance to dance. If music is in 4/4 time, that means each bar is expressed in quarter notes, and there are four beats to the bar. That would be typical of music for foxtrot, twostep, quickstep, onestep or tango. The beats in a bar would be expressed simply as 1234, though some beats might be emphasized more than others. The only way the listener can identify a bar is that he has heard four beats. Waltz music is in 3/4 time, three quarter notes per bar: 123, with the first emphasized. Here, the notes are really third notes, but they are drawn on a sheet of music with the symbol for a quarter note, and are therefore called quarter notes. The emphasis of the first beat makes it easy to identify a bar.
Some very danceable rhythms have beats missing in every bar. Rumba music is in 4/4 time, but the second beat is dropped: 1x34. This pattern is often made with low pitched percussion instruments, but higher pitched percussion instruments are sometimes used to add a confusing patter of complicated rhythms purely for decoration, to be ignored by the dancer. More complicated rhythms must be expressed in eighth or sixteenth notes. Very early tango music was in 8/8 time, but only expressed four beats per bar: 1xx45x7x.
No matter what the rhythm or tempo of popular music is, if both are constant and the beat is audible, at least one of the dances in this article should work with the music. While it is possible to contrive an undanceable combination, one almost never hears one in popular music. Some music with constant rhythm and tempo has no audible rhythmic beat, and is not danceable for that reason. Occasionally one hears popular music completely lacking in a constant rhythm, the beats occur at random intervals. This kind of music is not danceable by the techniques presented here.
Dancers describe the tempo of music in bars per minute, whereas musicians describe tempo in beats per minute. The musical terms bar and measure are used interchangeably, though bar means the symbol used to mark the beginning of a measure, and a measure is the notes after the bar symbol before the next bar symbol. Competition cha cha music is in 8/8 time, 32 bars per minute. In the basic cha cha figure the steps are on 1x3x567x in the eight beat bar, though in the music all eight beats will typically be expressed: 12345678. The number of beats per minute is the same as 4/4 time music at 64 bars per minute. This is near the upper limit of what is possible when dancing the twostep, and a goal to which you should aspire before declaring yourself an expert twostepper.
For an example of how to count tempo with your wristwatch click here.
back to top
Now the recommended dance steps will be presented. Onestep, foxtrot/twostep, and waltz is the simplest assortment of popular dance steps that can be used to dance to practically any kind of music with constant rhythm and tempo and an audible beat. Tango is also presented. From easiest to most difficult the dances are onestep, foxtrot/twostep, tango, and waltz. In a class the dances could be learned in this order. However, a small amount of time should be devoted to men and women learning the waltz without a partner as the other dances are learned because it takes time to overcome the problem of dizziness with the waltz, and because the lady will never be a really good waltzer if she cannot do the steps by herself. If waltz is taught, part of the waltz instruction should include the old waltz version of the twostep, which is described in the waltz section of this article. If there is not time to learn all of these dances, tango is not essential and onestep is less essential than the remaining two.
Diagrams are only shown in this website for the man for the dances where the lady can easily follow. For the exception, the waltz, the steps are the same for the man and the lady. The right foot is shown in black, the left in white. When either is shown as a white dashed outline, that is where that foot is when the next step is taken by the other foot. To print the diagram that illustrates this click here.
When a step is labeled "S" or "Q", that means slow or quick as explained in the previous section. As in the book, the squares in the diagrams in this website are 2 feet (60.96 cm) on a side. Diagrams alone are not enough to define the dances, see the hold section.
The book shows all steps as danced with a partner, and that is the way the steps are normally shown in a class. In most cases there is no difference between how a figure would be practiced with and without a partner. For some figures, however, what feels natural with a partner feels awkward and unnatural without a partner, and slight modifications of the figure are necessary for the figure to be easy to practice without a partner. The diagrams in this website that include in the caption the words "when practiced without a partner" are the exceptions. After these figures are learned without a partner, the adjustments made when dancing with a partner will in most cases be automatic and unconscious.
Both in the book and in this article the steps are shown as they would be danced if both the man and the lady have good posture and balance. The man's feet are shown standing together side by side some of the time. This is the way he should practice the steps when practicing by himself. But untrained lady partners that the man will meet at social dances will not have good posture and balance, and it will not be possible for the man to bring his feet together as shown, the lady's right foot will be between his two feet. This will require a slight modification of the steps that will not require any conscious effort. This will not present any problems for the easier dances at slow tempo, but it will for the waltz at fast tempo. The waltz is the most advanced dance presented here and hopefully the posture and balance of both the man and the lady will have improved by the time they are ready to learn the waltz at fast tempo.
For beginners teaching themselves, the temptation to bounce or lurch to keep time with the music should be avoided. Many self taught social dancers keep this bad habit for decades. If they ever learned to be comfortable with smooth dancing, they would never want to go back to bouncing. Smooth dancing is much more pleasant and satisfying. Some ladies may need a hint from the man about which foot to step on or when to close her feet together. The sway mentioned in the book accomplishes this. It occurs during a certain step of a turn, and is not done incessantly in time to the music. Some people who have done lots of hip-hop, line dancing or twist are tempted to wiggle, shimmy or shake while dancing, which is not appropriate for this kind of dancing.
Initial practice in onestep, twostep and waltz will take place with small timid steps. As you get more sure footed practice should rapidly advance toward the largest, most energetic steps you can manage. Even if you do not plan to dance socially with such large steps, learning to do so will improve your skill and confidence.
This section presents eight diagrams of the figures in this dance. The main diagrams are slow forward basic, fast forward basic, reverse pivot turn, natural pivot turn, quarter turns, and the chasse reverse turn. Of these figures, the ones that I use most in my dancing when I am dancing with a skilled lady on a crowded floor are the fast forward basic, the natural pivot turn, and the chasse reverse turn. These and other figures are described in more detail in what follows. A later section describes how to join the figures together and how to begin your practice.
This section presents the modern twostep which is the currently popular version. As noted in the waltz section, the old twostep presented there is probably better as a social dance.
The turns listed here are common to all three dances social foxtrot, twostep, quickstep, but the straight line figures are not. This family of dances is easy enough, and should form the basis of any social dancing curriculum. The turns recommended here are the ones most commonly danced in social foxtrot and in country-western twostep, and are the easiest part of quickstep. Unlike competition quickstep, no steps outside partner are included, as they are not really appropriate for social dancing. As noted in the section on classes, if both men and women are taught their steps this dance can be taught at 50 bars per minute. If only the men are taught their steps this dance should be initially taught at slow foxtrot tempo, 30 bars per minute, but after a little practice it will be easy for beginners to dance at tempos up to the speed of jive, 44 bars/m. The sources of recorded dance music recommended earlier can supply recordings with specified tempo. It should not be just barely taught, it should be drilled and practiced at various tempos so that it will be retained to a useful extent. The class should practice until the they can dance it at the speed of quickstep, 50 bars per minute. If a student has trouble dancing fast, the most likely cause of the problem is either rubber soled shoes or insufficient practice at the chasse exercise. They should be given a chance to try the dance to competition cha cha music, which is 32 bars per minute when dancing cha cha, but 64 bars per minute when doing this dance. Some experienced dancers enjoy dancing every figure in this dance as fast as 70 bars per minute.
The foxtrot began in America in 1914 in an ill-defined form. It was studied, refined and polished in England and split into fast and slow versions. It evolved further in America with the American invention of the forward basic figure.
Social foxtrot is essentially a simplified, slowed down version of international quickstep. Perhaps it would be historically more accurate to say international quickstep is an elaborated, refined version of social foxtrot. Quickstep was originally called "quicktime foxtrot", then the name was shortened to quickstep [3, p.67]. Social foxtrot is not at all similar to competition foxtrot, also called slow foxtrot, which is the subject of the chapter on foxtrot in Alex Moore's book. Even he admits slow foxtrot is not suitable for social dancing. The most basic rhythm in quickstep is SSQQ, the dancer's own two feet stand together side by side on nearly every second "Q", and the competition music is 50-52 bars per minute. The most basic rhythm in slow foxtrot is SQQ, the dancer's two feet almost never stand together, and the competition music is 30 bars per minute. Advanced figures in both dances have other rhythms. International style classes in quickstep use competition quickstep music; American style classes in social foxtrot use competition slow foxtrot music, even though social foxtrot is almost the same dance as quickstep at the beginning level that is used for social dancing. Slow foxtrot is much more difficult than quickstep/social foxtrot, especially on a crowded floor. Slow foxtrot is almost onestep modified to have slows and quicks, but onestep is much easier. We will be using his quickstep chapter for our social foxtrot and twostep, as well as his rhythm dancing chapter and figures in this article.
In the American forward basic, the man does left foot forward, right foot forward, left foot diagonally forward, close right foot to left foot, slow, slow, quick, quick and the lady does the natural opposite. See p. 37 in Alex Moore to see what this means. To print the diagram click here.
The sidestep helps a lady who is learning to dance to feel the SSQQ rhythm. This figure is repeated to move in the direction of the line of dance. This form of forward basic is used in social foxtrot. It is less common in country-western twostep; more about this in the next paragraph. It is not used in quickstep. The earliest description of this figure that I have found is in the book "The Art of Social Dancing", by Lawrence A. Hostetler, New York, 1930, p.93.
The form of forward basic given in the previous paragraph is the easiest for the lady to follow at the slow tempos usually used in social foxtrot. This gets clumsy at faster tempos. Country-western twostep also includes medium and fast tempos where a different form of forward basic is more appropriate. The only difference is that all steps are forward, none are diagonally forward. Even at slow tempos most country-western dancers dance the version compatible with fast tempos. To print the diagram click here.
The slow, slow, quick, quick rhythm is the same as for social foxtrot. The position of step 4 relative to step 3 shown in the figure is not critical. Step 4 may be slightly ahead, beside, or slightly behind step 3 depending on the speed of the dance and which partner you are dancing with. When this figure is danced repeatedly at fast tempo, the man's only heel lead is step 2, the slow on the right foot. The slow form of forward basic is not necessary when a man is leading a lady beginner on her first dance if he will call out the "slow, slow, quick, quick" rhythm to her for the first couple of minutes of dancing while she gets used to it. This avoids the very real difficulty of shifting from the slow form of forward basic to the fast form as beginners advance to faster tempos.
In Lloyd Shaw's 1939 book "Cowboy Dances", he refers to couple dances as round dances to distinguish them from square dances, and says on p.70 "But the round dance today is usually a one-step, or fox trot, or some modern dance". Thus, this form of twostep was already popular among country western dancers by 1939. This form of twostep is mainly danced in Texas and adjacent states where it is known simply as "twostep". In states where it is not danced much it is known as "Texas twostep". This form of twostep has been common for decades, but Lloyd Shaw's 1948 book "The Round Dance Book" makes clear that it was not used in the early 1900's, instead four other dances were called twostep in different places. One of the dances was waltz steps to 4/4 time music, described in the second paragraph of the waltz section of this article. I danced with a lady who had learned twostep in rural Texas in 1942. At that time she had learned both the old version and the new version as presented here. She followed me easily and comfortably on both. She said I danced both just the way she had originally learned them. She said that in 1942 most people danced them with body contact.
Quickstep does not include forward basic as a syllabus figure. Perhaps this is because quickstep was standardized as a competition dance in England before the forward basic was invented for social dancing in America. However, on p.41 Moore says "The foundation of the quickstep is the walk and the chasse...". With the very broad definition of chasse given on p.30 this would include the forward basic. So presumably Moore would have accepted the forward basic as a legitimate part of quickstep, even though it was never included in the syllabus. There is a tendency for beginners to use only forward basic in their dancing. This is monotonous. Beginners should put out the effort to master the various turns presented here. The turns are useful for the maneuvering necessary to thread your way through a crowd, and make the dance more interesting and enjoyable. One should try to limit forward basic to less than half the dance.
The left turn popular in American social foxtrot is given on p. 279 of Alex Moore's book as the reverse pivot turn. To print the diagram click here.
In this figure, the feet start together, followed by step 1 on the left foot. The right foot never completely leaves the floor during the entire figure, and there is always some weight on the right foot. Step 2 is merely a shift of weight from the left foot back to the right foot, which has never left its starting position. As the body rotates from step 2 to step 3, there is a heel pivot on the right foot, which works best if there is leather glued to the bottom of the rubber heels of the shoes. When weight is put on the left foot in step 3, the right foot is already in the position of step 4. Step 4 is just a shift of weight back to the right foot. This figure will look as shown when danced with a partner. If the same effort is exerted without a partner, the steps will not overlap as shown, and will be quite separated. This figure could follow a forward basic. It is easy at slow tempo. It is impossible for the lady to follow this figure at fast tempo unless the man holds her close. Unlike the other turns in this section, this one is not usually taught at 50 bars per minute, even when both man and lady are taught the steps. It is probably best to learn it at 30 bars per minute, and work up to fast tempos. At medium and fast tempos the next turn given, the natural pivot turn, is much easier. As shown, they both accomplish a 90 degree turn to the left, but the natural pivot turn does so in a much more indirect way.
The natural pivot turn is shown on p. 52. To print the diagram click here.
This diagram shows the natural pivot turn rotated through 270 degrees as it would be danced with a partner. It feels natural to dance the figure this way with a partner. Notice that step 4 is not in line with steps 1, 2 and 3. But if the man practices the figure without a partner it will feel more natural to him to dance it with step 4 in line with steps 1, 2 and 3, but that is not how it should be danced with a partner for a 270 degree turn. The natural pivot turn has a pivot on the toe of the left foot on step 4. During this pivot the right foot can be held directly in line with and out in front of the left foot. This does not get in the way of the lady. The natural pivot turn is a favorite among country-western dancers, but I have never met one who knew that name for it. It is also essential for social ballroom dancers. The diagram is rotated to follow the end of the next three diagrams in this section. If the diagram were rotated to line up with the forward basic, it would follow the first "slow" of a forward basic. The natural pivot turn as shown is a 270 degree turn; it can be overturned to a complete 360 degree turn. To accomplish this with a partner the position of step 4 will be in line with steps 1, 2 and 3, and the man will need to lean back on step 4. There are other variations of this figure. With practice, this figure can be modified so that it can be repeated to spin in one spot.
A little easier than forward basic for some lady beginners to follow, and harder for the man beginner to learn, is the quarter turn to right followed by a quarter turn to the left. Even if the quarter turns are not popular in your area, they are still worth learning. They are the best exercise to learn leading and following, and the best way to learn the heel pivot, which is also a very valuable ending for the chasse reverse turn at fast tempos. If men and women are being separately taught their steps using the book, this should be the first figure taught, even before the forward basic. The book shows the quarter turn to the right followed by the quarter turn to the left on p. 45. Just like the forward basic, this can be repeated to move down the line of dance. To print the figure click here.
The first group of four steps is the quarter turn to the right; the second group of four steps is the quarter turn to the left. Steps 1,2 and 3 of the quarter turn to the left shown here are the same as steps 2,3 and 4 of the reverse pivot turn shown above. It is easier to lead the quarter turn to the left at fast tempos than the reverse pivot turn because the sudden reversal of direction on step 1 of the reverse pivot turn is missing. This quarter turn to the left is more appropriate for social dancing than the progressive chasse given on p.46 of the book because the progressive chasse requires a step outside partner, which is not appropriate for social dancing. Even though the quarter turn to the left is easy for the man to lead, some ladies at some tempos express a marked preference for the man to do a heel pivot. The lady's step will remain the same as before. To print the figure click here.
The man beginner will not be able to do this right away, but should aspire to learn it if he wants to be a really smooth dancer. The 1S2Q3Q timing shown on the heel pivot refers to the timing of the lady's steps while the man is taking his one step. The use of the man's left foot during his heel pivot on the right foot will depend on the tempo. At tempos considerably slower than quickstep the left foot will be used freely as shown in this figure. At tempos considerably faster than quickstep the left foot will be nestled beside the right foot as described in the book. In the 1993 revision of the standards the ISTD "ballroom technique" book substituted a toe pivot on the right foot called a "reverse pivot", described on p.64, for the heel pivot on the right foot shown here. I am skeptical that the toe pivot will be as practical at tempos faster than quickstep. However, I find the toe pivot sometimes more appropriate than the heel pivot for tempos slower than quickstep, depending on which lady I am dancing with. The man's left turn has apparently been a troublesome figure, so many different versions have been proposed. The lady's steps are the same for all these variations of the man's steps.
A final figure is worth adding, consisting of the chasse reverse turn shown on p.58 followed by the quarter turn to the left. Even though the chasse reverse turn is actually only the first half, the two are nearly always combined and the combination often referred to as the chasse reverse turn. To print the diagram click here.
This last figure may be hard for the lady to follow if she has not been taught it, because the rhythm is different on this figure: SQQSQQS. The best way to get used to this figure in the beginning is to repeat it to go around a large circle, in which case the last S and the first S are the same step, and the rhythm SQQ is repeated several times to get around the circle. A man who is teaching a lady to do this should repeat out loud "slow quick quick" as he leads the lady around the circle, otherwise she may not understand what is expected of her. The man should first lead the lady at very slow tempo or it may be too difficult for her. Once she makes it work she can rapidly progress to faster tempos. A single invocation of this complete figure can be overturned to a complete 360 degree rotation while moving in a straight line. This figure can be overturned well beyond 360 degrees so as to curve to the left in a circle. This is thrilling to do at fast tempos. It requires the man to bend his knees, lower his body slightly and lean backward slightly to lead it successfully. I only learned to do this left circle after doing it with the reverse turn in the waltz, and I use similar foot crossing. Very advanced dancers can modify this figure enough to spin in one spot, similar to the reverse fleckerl in the waltz.
As with the quarter turn to the right, sometimes the heel pivot is a better ending for the chasse reverse turn than the quarter turn to the left.
This completes the list of figures needed for this dance. This collection of steps works for a wide range of tempos, and provides enough variety to make a reasonably interesting dance. I can take a lady with no previous dance experience and, at 30 bars per minute, lead her through all these figures except the chasse reverse turn, provided I start off with the quarter turns to get her used to the slow, slow, quick, quick rhythm before I launch into the other figures. This dance can be danced with endless repetition of the rhythm "slow, slow, quick, quick" except when the chasse reverse turn is danced. The change of rhythm in the chasse reverse turn is quite easy to get used to, and without the chasse reverse turn the dance seems incomplete or unbalanced.
The last step of a quarter turn to the left, where the man steps forward on his left foot, would become the first step of a forward basic which would follow. This sounds more complicated than it is; we will show you how to sort this out in a later section on how to join figures and begin your practice.
This dance is a good dance to use to teach the basics of leading and following. This exercise should be done at the tempo of quickstep, 50 bars per minute, but it might be necessary to start slower. A repeated series of the quarter turn to right followed by the quarter turn to the left should be practiced by a couple until the lady can maintain her position relative to the man even though the ballroom hold is broken by the man having his right hand behind his back, and the lady having her left hand behind her back. This will only be possible if the man leads in a smooth and predictable manner, and the lady uses her feet to stay with the man, not expecting him to drag her with him.
Once the man learns to lead smoothly and the lady learns to follow properly, the lady should feel that she is treated gently and considerately through every figure in this dance. The man should concentrate on making it possible for her to smoothly follow every figure without the slightest stumble, without even an instant of momentary mild awkwardness. Fortunately, this is an easy dance, and with practice this level of perfection is within reach of every man and lady.
There is another beginning level ballroom dance that is not as essential as social foxtrot/twostep, but should be included if time permits, namely onestep. If there is time to include onestep, it should be taught first, since it is the easiest dance. It is the most appropriate dance for 4/4 time music slower than 30 bars per minute. If music is too slow for twostep, do onestep to the "quicks"; if music is too fast for twostep, do onestep to the "slows". As compared with twostep, onestep to "quicks" moves faster, onestep to "slows" moves slower. Shifting between twostep and onestep is a way to "shift gears" by shifting dances.
For some tempos, nothing else will do for a gentleman who wishes to ask a very inexperienced lady to dance. It helps that she has known the step since she was two years old, since the step is just a walk. A lady who has never danced before will probably be able to follow onestep with ease the first time. Onestep was popular among ballroom dancers in America in the 1910's to the 1940's. It can be seen in ballroom dance scenes in movies from this period. Dance teachers could not be expected to like it for the obvious reason that it is too easy and can be taught too quickly: they cannot make much money teaching it. It is still done occasionally by a small minority at country-western dances, and is resurrected at a few annual rag-time festivals. Many people do onestep without being aware of it, as it is usually the easiest way to do slow dancing to very slow music. Some country-western dancers do onestep to waltz music, though others do a real waltz.
Onestep has gone by a confusing assortment of names. It is also called the rag presumably because of its popularity in the ragtime era, and the Castle walk after Vernon and Irene Castle who toured America demonstrating it before WWI. Irene Castle's book "Castles in the Air", 1958 on p.113 says it was also called the Turkey Trot, the Grizzly Bear and the Bunny Hug. Some country western dancers call it the shuffle. Hostetler on p.92 of his book says it originated in America in 1911. In any case, it is a good dance if done skillfully and deserves more popularity than it currently has in America.
The basic step is simply walking forward or backward using the ballroom hold. There are no slows and quicks. Below 80 steps per minute it feels like slow dancing. At 100 steps per minute it is a gentle and graceful dance. A medium tempo is 120 steps per minute, and 140 is fast. A military march is 120 steps per minute. These step counts can be achieved by dancing to the "quicks" of slow music or to the "slows" of fast music. Thus, the "slows" of competition quickstep music would be 100 steps per minute, the "quicks" of competition slow foxtrot music would be 120 steps per minute. Some ballroom dance CD's have tracks labeled "blues" that are good for 80 to 100 steps per minute on the quicks.
The walk in onestep is not stiff legged. It is more like the prowl of a cat. There should be no tendency to bounce in time to the music. Most of the time heels should be slightly off the floor and knees slightly bent to achieve a smooth and surefooted dance, especially at faster tempos. This is the only dance where heels should be kept off the floor most of the time. If done wrong it will have a plodding, lumbering or bouncing feel; if done right it will have a floating, gliding feel at slow and medium tempos, and a sailing, flying feel at fast tempos.
Steps 1 to 3 of the natural turn from international slow foxtrot on p. 169 in Alex Moore's book can be used for turning around to the right when the man is moving forward.
When the man is moving backward a figure a little different from the closed impetus, which I choose to call the impetus swivel, is useful. It can rotate through 270 degrees and be used to turn a corner. To print the diagram click here.
The combination of quickstep figures chasse reverse turn followed by the quarter turn to the left works even when the lady has not been taught it, which it does not with the more complicated rhythm of the twostep, social foxtrot or quickstep. Another way to turn left when the man is moving forward is steps 1 through 4 of the reverse turn from Viennese waltz.
Here, unlike in the waltz, he would start facing the line of dance, end backing the line of dance. To make a 180 degree turn when the man is moving backward, a backward reverse turn consists of steps 4561 from the reverse turn in the Viennese waltz.
Other turns will occur to the experienced dancer, but these are enough to get started.
Onestep can be adapted to several kinds of music: slow foxtrot, samba, west coast swing, merengue, mambo, polka, hustle and some country-western twostep. I have successfully led a lady beginner in onestep to 4/4 time music at 70 bars per minute, dancing to the slows at 140 steps per minute.
Onestep when danced socially is always done in ballroom hold. But it can be done in promenade hold. The promenade hold is described in the tango section of this article. In quickstep competitions onestep to the quicks in promenade hold is often added for speed. Onestep in promenade hold is simply running in promenade hold.
back to top
The original, old fashioned waltz, which dates from the mid 1700's, probably as early as 1750, is now often called the Viennese waltz. In social dancing, waltzes are likely to be played at tempos ranging from the standard 30 bars per minute for competition slow waltz, up to the standard 60 bars per minute for competition Viennese waltz, and any tempo in between. The slow waltz figures are danceable only near the low end of this range; the Viennese waltz figures are danceable throughout the range. Even though international style Viennese waltz is one of the styles of waltz used in competition ballroom dancing at the highest level, it is the predominant style of waltz at the most elegant formal social balls. It is also commonly seen in country-western dancing, though some country-western dancers do onestep, not waltz, to waltz music. The section named waltz in Alex Moore's book is about slow waltz; he discusses Viennese waltz in a section by that name. Since the International Standard Viennese waltz figures are so few and so simple, they are by far the most practical for social dancing. They are described with step diagrams in Appendix B if "The Viennese Waltz " at this website. If you have a dial-up connection it will take about 10 seconds before your browser jumps to Appendix B. Viennese waltz steps are easy for beginners at slow and moderate tempos. They are thrilling to do at fast tempos, but much more difficult to learn to do at fast tempos. If the steps are learned at fast tempo, they will be easy to do at slower tempo. Viennese waltz steps at fast tempos with large steps burn more energy than any so called aerobic exercise dance that I have ever seen.
Dancing Viennese waltz steps to 4/4 time music was called twostep before the modern twostep was invented. From the evidence of social dancing scenes in old Hollywood movies the old twostep was much more popular in the 1920's and 1930's than the modern twostep is today. An old man who graduated from high school in America in 1938 in a rural town of 30,000 population described its popularity. The town had large dance floors in a dance hall, two hotels and a country club. The large dance hall had a dance floor that he estimated to be 80ft by 100ft (24.4m by 30.5m). It had a cover charge about equal to the wages for an hour of unskilled labor. It served no alcohol, so high school students were admitted, though the attendance was mostly adult. There was dancing 4 nights a week. On weekends more people wanted in the building than could get in. The high school had three dances every semester in a hotel. At the high school dances most of the boys dressed in coat and tie, and two lady teachers were chaperones. All forms of social dancing put together do not have this much popularity today.
I would guess, and it is only a guess, that the name twostep derived from the nature of the waltz change figure. One takes two normal steps. Then instead of taking a third full step, one takes a partial step by simply bringing the feet together. It was not called waltz because the music was 4/4 time music, not 3/4 time waltz music. If the music was waltz music, the very same steps would have been called waltz. It was more complicated than onestep, and like onestep, it was danced to 4/4 time music. Then when the social foxtrot came to be danced to 4/4 time music, it was also called twostep because it was more complicated than onestep, and it was danced to 4/4 time music.
The the modern twostep is easier to get started in than the old twostep, but harder to get proficient in. It is harder for the lady novice to learn to follow change figures of the old twostep than the forward basic of the modern twostep. But change figures are all the man must learn in the old twostep to do all the maneuvering he needs. The change figures in the old twostep are much more flexible and easily bent than the forward basic in the modern twostep. In the modern twostep he must learn a few figures other than the forward basic to achieve good maneuverability, which most men never do. If the woman can follow the forward basic of the modern twostep she will probably not have to learn anything to follow other figures of the modern twostep until she gets to the chasse reverse turn, which most dancers never do. So in the modern twostep the man, not the lady, must do most of the learning. In the old twostep the burden of learning was more evenly distributed between the man and the lady. Change figures of the old twostep are simple enough that they can be learned from friends, with no need of dance classes or written instruction. Classes or written instruction are necessary for the man to learn the other figures beyond the forward basic in the modern twostep. The modern twostep in the form of quickstep and social foxtrot without forward basic was danced in England in the early 1920's. The modern twostep was first published in America in 1930 with the forward basic, and did not start getting popular in America until the 1940's. Dance teachers in America taught the modern twostep and latin dancing instead of the old twostep, and the popularity of social dancing declined.
When dancers get more practiced, so they are not beginners anymore, they will be able to do the modern twostep at tempos faster than quickstep, 50 bars per minute. They will welcome more variety in their dancing than just social foxtrot or modern twostep. Dancing to 4/4 time music, it is more satisfactory to use onestep for tempos below 30 bars per minute, tango for tempos from 30 to 33, the old waltz twostep for medium tempos, and social foxtrot/modern twostep steps for the fastest tempos. The old twostep is not merely a useable dance, it is a better dance than the modern twostep at slower tempos. The modern twostep is a better dance at faster tempos. When dancing with most good partners I prefer the old twostep at tempos slower than 50 bars per minute, and the modern twostep at tempos faster than 50 bars per minute. If both partners are comfortable with this dance at 60 bars per minute, it is more fun than the modern twostep.
If the class already knows the waltz, this old waltz version of twostep is easy to learn. This dance has a rhythm of SQQ, like slow foxtrot, not the SSQQ rhythm of social foxtrot/modern twostep. Unlike slow foxtrot, most of the time the feet stand together on the second Q, making the old twostep a much easier dance than slow foxtrot.
To dance the waltz steps of the old twostep to 4/4 time music the steps are taken on beats 1, 3 and 4 of each measure. The step pattern on the rotations will quite naturally differ slightly from what they are for 3/4 time music. More change steps than rotations will be used on crowded floors. A series of alternate left and right foot change figures will be used. Change figures are easier to lead and follow if they are not straight. As an example of how to use this in social dancing, suppose a slow foxtrot or a jive is playing. Before you start, count to your self 1,..,3,4 to each measure, then start dancing on those counts. In this example all three steps of a bar are on a musical beat. For some rhythms the third step of a bar will not be on a musical beat. The fundamental difference between this dance and a fast waltz is that the first and second step of every bar is on a musical beat; in a fast waltz only the first step of every bar must be on a musical beat. This dance is particularly suited to music written for west coast swing and for samba, and to habanera rhythm at similar tempo. It will work for fast dancing to disco music, and for slow or fast dancing to slow foxtrot music. It is also perfect for rumba rhythm over a wide range of tempos. Sometimes you can hear more than one way to apply it to a complicated rhythm, and one way will work, but the other will not. Rap or hip hop music often has a complicated rhythm that will work with this dance, but no other dance presented in this article. This dance will work on a wider variety of rhythms than any other social ballroom dance.
The old twostep is less likely to be danced with rise and fall than the waltz, but waltz toe-heel footwork should be used. The toe-heel footwork should be used to achieve perfectly smooth motion. To achieve perfect balance with the zigzag motion of a series of change figures, the feet will execute more of a zigzag than the upper body. This wonderful dance cannot be fully appreciated until perfect smoothness and perfect balance are achieved.
As a couple gets more experienced the foxtrot/twostep dance may seem boring at tempos below 34 bars per minute. The easiest way to make slow foxtrot music more exciting is to do onestep to the quicks. As an alternative, a couple might want to teach themselves the tango for slower tempos. There are five different kinds of tango. The kind currently called "Argentine tango" apparently did not achieve any popularity in Buenos Aires until the latter half of the 20th century. The one we present here is international tango, which is closer to the style popular in Buenos Aires in the early 20th century and which made tango famous.
International tango can be thought of as "Argentine twostep". However, tango feels different from twostep; it feels even more different from twostep as you get more familiar with it. The danger is that the novice will give up on the dance as awkward and pointless before understanding the firm, aggressive, deliberate feel of the dance, and the fun of the various closed finishes and the natural promenade turn. The walk and promenade are like a cat stalking its prey; the promenade turn is like the cat whirling round to follow an evading prey, and the closed finishes are like the cat pouncing on its prey. The word pounce is not an exact description since there is not the slightest bit of up and down motion of the body. After you learn the steps it takes a while to get the tight, precise, controlled feel of tango, then it no longer feels awkward. When you finally get the feel of this dance, it will feel very, very different from the trio of dances onestep, twostep and waltz.
Tango only works over a narrow range of tempos. Most of the recorded music for ballroom tango is from 27 to 33 bars per minute. It is easiest at 30, but more fun at 33, which is the standard for competition. Some experienced dancers enjoy it as fast as 40 bars per minute. While some of the figures can be performed faster than 40 bars per minute, there is no point in doing so because the special deliberate, firmly grounded, determined, forceful feel of tango is lost at tempos faster than 40 and the feeling changes into a flying feeling which is more easily experienced with twostep/quickstep or waltz.
The most basic steps are the walk p. 223 and p. 228, progressive sidestep p. 230. Progressive sidestep and walk steps can be combined to form a forward basic figure for tango with a slow, slow, quick, quick rhythm like the forward basic of a two-step, even though the step pattern is different. To print the diagram click here.
At the beginning and end of this diagram the man's weight is on his right foot. This diagram looks peculiar because it does not begin with a standing start, but with the end of a previous figure just like the one depicted. The diagram shows that the tango version of forward basic can be danced on a much smaller floor than the other dances in this article. It can be danced around in a small circle. In fact, it can be danced in such a small circle that it ceases to be a progressive dance, and is danced in place. Perhaps it was devised for use in taverns or parlors with small floors. To appreciate the special nature of the tango this figure should be danced in a very small circle in a tense, crouching prowl. As you get more comfortable with this figure you will usually dance it in a smaller circle than shown in the figure. This is international style tango. American tango would add a closing step to the end of this basic figure which completely changes the character of the figure, making it more of a straight line stand-up figure like the forward basic in the social foxtrot/twostep danced in America but with a different step pattern, instead of a crouching curve like international tango. Even though this basic figure has a slow, slow, quick, quick rhythm like twostep, the rest of the figures do not.
The hold for tango is a little more compact than the normal ballroom hold with the man's right hand a little further around the lady and lower down her back; the man's left hand not as far out to the left, nor as high up. See p. 222. Because of the compact hold the lady's left hand will not be on top of the man's upper arm, instead her left arm will be over his right arm, and her left hand hand will reach under his arm to his back. Both the man and the lady will have their bodies rotated slightly to the left relative to the direction that their feet are pointing. Thus, when the man steps forward, his right shoulder will be slightly in advance of his left shoulder. While onestep, twostep and waltz can be almost satisfactory without body contact, tango cannot. Firm body contact is required for a satisfactory tango except when promenade hold is used.
The tango is danced in a slight crouch, with the knees bent, and there is no rise and fall. The man's crouch is not style, but necessity; otherwise it is difficult to lead at faster tempos. When standing, as at the end of the back corte, both the man and the lady should have the feet staggered with the ball of the right foot even with the arch of the left foot. Some experts recommend a two inch (5 cm) separation between the dancer's own two feet when standing. The next figure to learn would probably be the back corte, because it simply a closed finish from a standing start. Once the difficulties of the closed finish are mastered, the rest of the dance should fall into place quickly for someone who already knows social foxtrot or twostep, though the tango should feel very different. Once both the man and the lady get the feel of the closed finish, they should be able to do it in a strong muscular movement that snaps around like the crack of a whip. Both the man and the lady should try to accomplish as much rotation as possible while the weight is on step 2 of the back corte.
The back corte back corte p. 242, is a simple, basic, important figure but difficult to master. Read the next paragraph before you start to practice the back corte.
The last step of the closed finishes described above and below, and of the closed promenade described below, is taken as a slow. As described in the rhythm section above, a slow is "sx", not "xs". The last two steps of a closed finish are taken on successive beats. Some people get confused about the last step being a slow and think there is an extra beat between the last two steps of a closed finish, which there is not. If the last step of a figure is a slow, this means wait one beat before the first step of the next figure is taken. For many people one beat is not long enough to wait. It is easier to do this dance if you stop for a bar of music after each closed finish and closed promenade. While it is possible to dance this style of tango correctly without any stops, it is more difficult. Sometimes without a stop before a back corte, the man is likely to do a reverse pivot turn from social foxtrot rather than the back corte from tango. This temporarily destroys the feel of the dance. If the lady is not given a stop after the end of a closed promenade, she may anticipate the next figure rather than waiting to see what the next figure is. According to Victor Sylvester's "Modern Ballroom Dancing", 1990 edition, p.22, this dance was called "baile con corte" literally "dance with cut" which he translates as "dance with a stop" before it was called tango. I also have a 1942 edition of Sylvester's book which lacks the historical introduction. The historical introduction was adapted from his earlier book, "The Art of the Ballroom". It would be best to end the closed promenade and all figures that end with a closed finish with the timing "slow, quick, quick, stop". The last three steps, "quick, quick, stop" would be taken on three successive beats of music, with no extra beat between quick and stop.
Following the first two "slows" of a basic figure one could do the open reverse turn lady in line p. 246. This figure is a way to end a forward basic with a closed finish by turning to the left. The transition from step 1 to step 2 is not a lunge forward, it is more a matter of turning quickly to face in a different direction.
Following the first "slow" of the basic figure one could do the rock turn p. 233. This is a way to end a forward basic with a closed finish by turning to the right.
Both the reverse turn and the rock turn end with a closed finish and could be followed moving forward with another basic figure or moving backward with a back corte which is just another closed finish.
The rock turn is shown here as it might be practiced by the man without a partner. With a partner, step 3 will be where the dashed outline of step 1 is after the pivot, so step 3 will be danced in place.
Since tango walks curve to the left, a basic figure alternating with a reverse turn is necessary if it is desired to keep moving down the line of dance on a large rectangular dance floor. Unlike other ballroom dances, tango is inherently a small floor or small area dance, and moving down the line of dance on a large floor is not the ideal way to dance it.
In addition to the normal hold, tango has a promenade hold used in the promenade figures. If the couple can be considered two halves of a closed book in the normal hold, the book is opened in the promenade hold on the side where they are holding hands, with their bodies still contacting on the other side. The angle between the bodies should be small, no more than 45 degrees. If the angle is too great the lady beginner may be tempted to take the first step of the closed promenade on the left foot. She should take the first step of the closed promenade on the right foot. The progressive link p. 235, serves to get from the normal hold to the promenade hold. It could be done from a standing start, or it could be substituted for the last two quicks of a forward basic.
The closed promenade p. 237, and the natural promenade turn p. 260. are both entered in promenade hold.
The man closes the lady from promenade hold to normal hold during the third step of the closed promenade. The lady's moving foot moves in front of her standing foot on step 2, and behind on step 3, the same as the man's does. The closed promenade can be followed by a basic figure or by a back corte. When dancing with a partner the man will not be able to turn around quite as much as shown for the natural promenade turn, but initial practice without a partner as shown will help to get the feel of the figure. The natural promenade turn can be followed by another promenade figure or by the rock turn.
The figures presented are leadable and easy enough for social dancing with different partners. If a couple desires more variety in their tango, the book has many more figures, most of which are not as leadable and require more effort to learn than most social dancers can justify. The next easy figure to learn would be the progressive side step reverse turn on p.253. Note that the diagram in the book only illustrates a portion of the figure described in the text.
The tango recordings that have been most popular in motion pictures since 1980 are on a CD called "the tango project".
The term "slow" in dancing can have two different meanings. It could mean at the slow end of the normal spectrum of tempos, like 30 bars per minute, or it could mean distinctly slower than the normal spectrum of tempos. This latter meaning is what we describe here. The tempo might be 20 bars per minute or slower. The steps could be taken from onestep, twostep or waltz, depending on the rhythm or the preferences of the dancers. The technique is different from the normal spectrum of tempos. In the normal range of tempos onestep is the only dance with heels kept off the floor. But in slow dancing it is best to keep heels slightly off the floor in all three dances. The heels might barely touch the floor, but no weight would be put on them. This is the easiest way to achieve a floating feeling in the dance.
When the tempo is slow, but fast enough that large steps can be taken, then normal toe/heel footwork should be used in twostep/foxtrot and in waltz so that smooth motion can be achieved with large steps.
Now that the dances have been introduced, a word about leadability is in order. In ballroom dancing the man must always be trained. In the most leadable dances, the lady needs little or no training. In the least leadable, the lady may need as much training as the man.
The onestep is the most leadable. If the lady has already learned the ballroom hold, all she needs to be told about the dance is to step in time with the music, keep her heels slightly off the floor, be smooth and do not bounce.
The foxtrot/twostep does not require heels off the floor, but it does require more complicated rhythm, which the lady might need explained to her. The man should call out "slow, slow, quick, quick" as he leads the lady beginner through the basic figures. The chasse reverse turn should not be attempted until she has mastered the basic figures. Foxtrot/twostep is quite leadable, but less so than the onestep. For a lady beginner who has not been shown the steps it is only leadable at slow tempo, 30 bars per minute; medium and fast tempos can only be achieved after becoming familiar with the dance at slow tempo. If the lady has already been exposed to the chasse reverse turn in the onestep, she may be able to follow it in the foxtrot/twostep with no instruction. If she has not been exposed to it in the onestep, she will not be able to do it in the social foxtrot unless the unusual rhythm of the figure is explained to her.
The lady who has already mastered the foxtrot/twostep will have little difficulty following the tango if the man first repeats the back corte while calling out the slows and quicks until the lady is proficient doing it. Tango is a little more demanding of proficiency on the part of the man than the foxtrot/twostep. Merely being able to follow the tango is not enough to enable the lady to appreciate the dance. It will take longer for the lady to get the feel of the tango, which should be very, very different from twostep/foxtrot.
The waltz is not as leadable as the other dances. If the lady does not already know how to do rotations in a straight line the man cannot lead the lady directly into them. First the lady must be able to follow a series of change figures. Then the man can lead the lady gradually into rotations. He can lead her in rotations performed in a small circle in the opposite direction from the rotations. This has the effect of unwinding the rotations so they do not seem like rotations, and seem more like simple change figures. Natural turns rotate clockwise. If he performs natural turns while moving in a small counterclockwise circle the lady will be able to follow. Similarly if he performs reverse turns while moving in a small clockwise circle she will be able to follow. If he gradually increases the diameter of the circles she will learn how to do rotations while moving in a straight line. In the reverse turn, she will not learn to cross her feet on the third step unless he points this out to her. Leading the lady into learning the waltz rotations should only be used as a last resort. It is not safe at a fast tempo like 60 bars per minute; it is much safer at slow to medium tempos like 30 to 45 bars per minute. There is risk that the lady will trip over her own feet and fall. The risk is even higher if the floor is sticky. It is much safer for the lady to learn the waltz rotations by herself without a partner before she attempts them with a partner.
It is widely appreciated that a single lady must accommodate herself to different styles of leading by different single men. It is also true that single men should adjust their style of leading to what the lady they are leading seems comfortable with.
If music with an even beat is too fast to do onestep to the "quicks", ignore every other beat and do it to the "slows". If music with an even beat is too slow for foxtrot/twostep, imagine that each beat is a "slow" and imagine "quicks" in between the real beats. This is called "double timing" the music. Waltz can be adapted to 4/4 time music by dancing 1x34 to every bar. But this would be too slow with some 4/4 time music. If we write imaginary beats in parentheses, we can double time waltz to music with an even beat as 1(x)3(4). Sometimes the rhythm contains beats that are not needed. Thus if doing onestep or foxtrot to the constant rhythm pattern 1xx45x7x, beats 4 and 7 could be ignored. If the music has a random pattern of beats added to a constant pattern of beats, ignore the random pattern. If there is no constant pattern, the music is undanceable.
back to top
Most people who find this article searching for "country western step diagrams" refuse to read it. If the title of the article were "country western dancing", they would find it more acceptable. They take a dim view of anyone who would use a highfalutin word like ballroom. That such a person could have more experience country-western dancing than any of their friends is inconceivable to them. If they knew more about the history of country western dancing they would not be so offended by the title. Country-western dancers in Texas do twostep, onestep, and waltz, which are described in this article. In country western dancehalls in most other parts of America the adversaries of dance have been successful at stamping it out or preventing it from getting there in the first place, so they do swing dancing or line dancing instead. European born Argentine cowpokes used to do the particular version of tango described here, so if you stretch your definition, it is also country-western. Many country-western dancers only dance the twostep, and in the twostep they only dance the fast forward basic, not the slow forward basic, and the natural pivot turn, not the reverse pivot turn. The very most advanced country-western dancers dance every figure given in this website except the fleckerl in the waltz, and the tango figures. It is extremely rare to find a country-western dancer who dances the chasse reverse turn who did not learn it in a class called "ballroom dancing", but I have found a very few. This is unfortunate, because the chasse reverse turn adds a lot to the dance. The dance is really incomplete without it. It is a bit too complicated for most twosteppers who keep their dancing a simple as possible. Country-western dancers typically differ from ballroom dancers in philosophy, attitude, dress, and style of dancing, so why are the steps mostly the same? Their bodies work the same, so the simplest way for a man to lead a lady around the room is the same for both. For the differences between ballroom as it is usually taught in America today and country-western read this paragraph and this paragraph.
back to top
A historical footnote to clear up some confusion might be in order. I am aware of five different versions of the tango that have achieved some success at various places around the world as social dances. These are the international, Finnish, American, Chinese and Argentine versions. These are ballroom dances except for American tango, which is part ballroom and part latin, and Argentine tango, which is a latin dance. Why the difference, and which is more authentic?
International tango is described in detail elsewhere in this article. Argentine tango is danced over a wide range of tempos. Often, different figures are done at fast tempos from those done at slow tempos. Argentine tango is an unusual latin dance. The physical relation between the partners in a typical latin dance is represented by the two sides of the letter "H", with no body contact between the partners. In a ballroom dance the relation can be represented with less accuracy by the letter "K", touching at the waist. In Argentine tango the partner relationship can either be represented by "H" or by "A", touching at the top, but very definitely not touching at or near the waist. In this unusual dance there is reaching out with the leg to touch the partner's leg. The American tango is a masterpiece of slick marketing technique: the basic figure can be counted out to the letters T-A-N-G-O. Like international tango, it is typically danced to music at 33 bars per minute. The Finnish tango is danced to music at 30 bars per minute and emphasizes dips, like the habanera figure described later. Chinese tango is slow, 27 bars per minute. It is mainly from Taiwan, not mainland China. At least one figure is unique to Chinese tango, other figures are borrowed from other kinds of tango, chosen for their compatibility with the slow tempo. This slow tempo was used in some tango scenes in Hollywood movies of the 1930's. For instance, the tango scene in the 1933 movie "Flying Down to Rio" is 26 bars per minute.
The historical accounts of the tango claim that the version invented in immigrant lower class neighborhoods in Buenos Aires was the one that found its way back to France in 1907 and made the tango famous. The tango invented by lower class non-hispanic immigrants was a ballroom dance, not a latin dance, and was therefore considered unspeakably scandalous by the hispanic upper class of Argentina. The book "The Population of Latin America" by Nicolas Sanchez-Albornoz translated by W.A.R. Richardson, Univ. Calif. Press, p.160, gives the percentages of immigrants entering Argentina in the decade 1891-1900 as Italians--65.66, Spaniards--20.31, French--3.95, Russians--2.69, Turks--1.79, others--5.60. Of these, only the Spaniards and the Turks would have had insurmountable cultural inhibitions against ballroom dance.
The root of these inhibitions is the cultural mindset that results in the so called "honor killings" of women in Middle Eastern culture. Thousands of these take place every year. Search the internet for more information about honor killings, or see the book "Murder in the Name of Honor" by Rana Husseini, 2009. Though the book does not mention honor killings, "Journey from the Land of No", by Roya Hakakian, Crown Pub. 2004, documents the scriptural justification of this attitude toward women on pages 164-167. Her account is vague, but it seems that the justification is based on a severe interpretation of the ambiguous scriptural tale of Adam and Eve that seems to blame the eviction from Eden on the fact that a woman was allowed to tempt a man. Thus girls in Iran were lectured on "the apocalypse that only you could bring upon us". Apparently if a calamity like the eviction would befall those who allow a woman to tempt a man, then it would be justified to kill any woman who was inclined to commit such temptation.
Any encyclopedia has a history of Spain and Portugal. When Spain and Portugal had switched from the Koran to the Bible by the end of the 1400's, this could remain in the culture because this scriptural tale is one of the few common to both. Probably the interpretation was mellowed to some extent with the conversion, but apparently retained much of the original flavor, because of the vast difference between Hispanic and European couple dances, in other words, between latin and ballroom dances. Thus this cultural mindset came in attenuated form to the colonies of Spain and Portugal in Latin America. Men must be protected from temptation by women. That the intention is not to protect women from men is illustrated by the latin dance known as the lambada. In the lambada the man crouches down and presents a bent knee for the lady to sit facing the man astride his knee. Women must not be allowed to get too close to men in the particular way they might with ballroom dancing. Experienced ballroom dancers will laugh at this supposed temptation.
The majority of the immigrants to Buenos Aires would have been oblivious to all this and would have been exposed to ballroom dance in their homeland. The version of tango they created was a ballroom dance, not a latin dance. This is documented among other means by a famous photo of tango dancers in Buenos Aires in 1908. The photo, being static, does not show the movement, but it does show the hold, a ballroom hold, not a latin hold. The photo is reproduced on page 148 of "Tango and the Political Economy of Passion" by Marta E. Savigliano 1995, and on page 46 of "Tango" by Simon Collier, Artemis Cooper, Maria Susana Azzi, and Richard Martin, 1997 paperback edition. Other early black and white photos in the latter book make the same point. More recent color photos show a latin hold. The concept of a latin dance is a technical one. So-called ballroom dance competitions usually have both ballroom and latin dancing. American Swing is put in the latin category in ballroom dance competitions. Of the five kinds of tango, the only one that would qualify as an exclusively latin dance is the one now called Argentine tango. This was not the only version of tango invented in Argentina, but it is the one most acceptable in the Hispanic culture of Argentina. There is absolutely nothing in common between the two kinds of tango invented in Argentina except that they are both danced to tango music. No matter what country their ancestors came from, succeeding generations of Argentinians became culturally more Hispanic, and would naturally come to prefer the ballroom tango less and the latin tango more. This cultural shift is also reflected in the music: much early tango music written in Argentina is so different from more recent tango music written in Argentina that it hardly seems appropriate to classify both styles by the same name. This is entirely appropriate, since music written for a dance tends to be a musical impression of the dance. International tango has been selected for this article for two reasons. First, it is probably closer to the version that made tango famous than most of the others. Second, it is a ballroom dance, and this article is about social ballroom dancing. The basic figures of international tango were standardized by the British in 1922 based on French tango at that time [3, p.52-54]. Other figures were added later.
A comment on the social significance this attitude toward women is in order. Women are seen as a threat to men's spiritual sanctity, a necessary evil that must be contained, controlled, and defended against. This naturally reduces the tendency to let the feminine viewpoint influence male behavior in commerce. Women are more given to cooperation, nurturing and conforming to social norms. Too little of this in commerce leads to corruption, economic inefficiency, and low prosperity, all hallmarks of societies with this attitude toward women. Demanding a bribe that you are not legally or ethically entitled to is aggressive anti-social behavior, "not nice", and more likely to be frowned upon from a feminine viewpoint. It is important to note that the attitude described here is not simply brushing women aside and making them second class citizens, but rather of seeing them as a source of temptation to evil and of no moral validity. In traditional Japanese culture in the first half of the twentieth century a wife was expected to walk behind her husband, but the Japanese have no problem with ballroom dancing with frontal body contact at the waist. Japan has more productivity and less corruption than Hispanic societies. How does this relate to dancing? In ballroom dancing the lady is the copilot in the flight through the cloud of dancing couples, occasionally warning with sudden resistance of the eminent danger of a collision that the man does not see. In both latin dancing and belly dancing, the lady is a siren temptress, reinforcing the view that created both latin dancing and belly dancing in the first place. It is also interesting to note that Argentina was more prosperous relative to other countries back when their tango was a ballroom dance than today, when it is a latin dance.
A different version of this same attitude about women being allowed to tempt men may have found its way into the Puritanism that has a strong influence in America, and a lesser influence in England. Many churches in the middle east do not allow women to attend; the rest keep men and women segregated in the church. Frances Trollope's 1832 book "The Domestic Manners of the Americans" points out that American men and women were required to sit on opposite sides of the church at that time. It seems paradoxical that churches were so restrictive at the time that balls became most popular in America. This paradox is resolved by the fact that a far smaller percentage of Americans attended church in the 1800's than today, as described in the book "The Churching of America 1776-2005" by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark. Historically Puritanism was strongly influenced by the radical writings of John Calvin (1509-1564) of Switzerland. His first name was actually Jean in French, but is often Anglicized to John. Calvin lived during the height of the witch burning era which was based on the Biblical commandment of Exodus 22:18. Nearly all of the adversaries of dance in the present time must read at least some of the wisdom of Calvin as an essential part of their education. The Bible has many references to dancing, most of them positive. But Calvin preferred certain doctrines that had formerly been mainly associated with Koranic tradition, even though I have been told that the Koran itself does not condemn dancing. The book "Adversaries of Dance" on p.27 cites Calvin's fanatical opposition to dance as an "enticement to whoredome". Why was Calvin attracted to such doctrines? Perhaps he was persuaded to the middle eastern viewpoint by refugees from Spain, who had just been expelled in large numbers and scattered in all directions to escape the brutal Spanish inquisition that was instituted to enforce the conversion from the Koran to the Bible. Some Americans who do latin dancing are reluctant to do ballroom dancing, fearful that they might fall from grace in the eyes of the adversaries of dance.
What was the original form of the ballroom version of the tango? It was said that the tango was cleaned up after it was brought to Paris. This was just after the Victorian era, and standards were strict. A likely candidate for elimination would have been a figure that still remains in Finnish tango, that they call the habanera. Even today I would not advocate including it in a tango class, though far less acceptable things are commonly seen among rap, hip-hop and reggae dancers. In the Finnish habanera the man steps back on the left, forward in place on the right, forward left, right closes to left, slow, slow, quick, quick. The first step of the Finnish habanera figure looks like the photograph on the front cover of the 10th edition of Alex Moore's book. On the first step only, the man's whole body is rotated slightly to the left and inclined forward. Apparently the publisher liked the picture and was unaware that the figure was not in the book.
I met a man who moved to America from Montevideo, Uruguay, just across the bay from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He had never learned to dance, but had watched his parents tango when he was young. I showed him a demonstration on an Elizabeth Romain instructional video of international tango, and a video of performers from Argentina doing Argentine tango. He said what he saw at social dances looked more like the international tango. He specifically remembered the rock turn figure. He had seen the Argentine tango, but only up on the stage during performances.
Before about 1918 the tango was often danced to a rhythm named habanera, in 8/8 time, with four beats per bar like this: 1xx45x7x [3, p.53]. One example is the famous piece "Tango" written by the Spanish composer Albeniz in 1890, Op.165 No.2. I have heard old recordings from 1913 of a tango quartet in Buenos Aires who played other tunes with habanera rhythm. In these the "slows" of tango were represented by beats 1 and 5, and the "quicks" were left to the dancer's imagination. Alex Moore's chapter on tango says tango music has two beats to the bar, and quicks are half a beat, meaning that there are four half beats to the bar. This is confusing as each beat is expressed as two half beats. Modern competition dance recordings have tempo marked as though the tango music has four beats to the bar, and the quicks are a full beat. Both habanera and modern music have two slows to a bar. The tango that I timed on the 1913 recording was 34.5 bars/minute, and the others sounded similar. On the 1913 recording, a guitar strummed the habanera rhythm. Collier's book, on p.60 says a typical trio was bandoneon, violin, guitar. A flute was added for a quartet. These instruments could easily be moved from location to location. On p.62 he says a larger orchestra consisted of two bandoneons, two violins, a piano and a double-bass.
In my opinion the feeling of old tango music can be captured by the original instrumentation, or by a string orchestra, but not by a swing band, which is no more appropriate for tango than a pipe organ would be.
Since Albeniz' 1890 piece was named tango, one might jump to the conclusion that the name referred to the dance. This would be wrong. In Isaac Albeniz, Portrait of a Romantic, by Walter Aaron Clarke, Oxford University Press 1999, p.97, he quotes Felip Pedrell's "Diccionario tecnico de la musica" from Spain in 1894, as describing tango as a genre of folk music in Spain, Mexico and Cuba, not a dance. Similarly, the book by Simon Collier et.al. referred to above on p.42 says the name meant a form of popular song before it meant a dance.
back to top
The box step is danced by using a forward and backward pair of change figures to step on the four corners of a square. Where did it come from? The book "Dancing" by Marguerite Wilson, Philadelphia 1899 on page 109 describes what she calls the waltz, and what is today called the natural turn in the Viennese waltz, using ballet terminology. On the following page she says "Before attempting to turn, these steps should be practiced forward and backward in an imaginary square, as indicated in the following diagram:...". The diagram shows the box step, though she does not call it by that name. Thus, she is introducing the box step as a preliminary practice step to build coordination before learning the natural turn. She describes the method of turning on p.110. She is not describing what is now known as the "turning box", she is describing the natural turn in the Viennese waltz. She describes the reverse turn on p.113. What we now call change steps she calls the pursuit, and she prefers the man to go backward during change steps. The box step was invented to be an exercise, not a dance. It does not look like or feel like a dance, and should not be promoted as being a dance. The box step is not the waltz step. The waltz step is quite different. The box step is so often represented to be the waltz step, that this misconception should be corrected. To print the diagram of the waltz click here.
How did the box step go from merely an exercise to being considered by uninformed teachers to be the waltz step? I do not know. Some teachers may have looked at the diagram and not read the book, thus honestly fooling themselves into thinking the box step was the waltz step. So as not to perpetuate this error, as a public service I do not show the diagram of the box step. Showing a different diagram than the one that the reader was looking for had a profound effect in Mrs. Wilson's book; hopefully it will have a similar effect in my article.
back to top
The books published by the ISTD that define ballroom and latin dancing as they are danced in competitions over most of the world serve as useful definitions of the terms "ballroom" and "latin", not as particular dances but as categories of dances. To order these books and associated DVD's go to http://shop.istd.org/shop/ and click on the links "modern ballroom" and "latin american". The books are found at "examination specifications". The DVD's are found at "Technique on DVD-Ballroom/Latin American Dancing". The beginning level DVD's are at the "associate" level. The particular dances danced in international ballroom competitions are very specific and very different. What they have in common implies a definition for the term "ballroom dancing". Namely, couple dancing based on body lead with frontal body contact at the waist. Similarly, what the latin dances danced in international competitions have in common implies a definition for the term "latin dancing". Namely, couple dancing which avoids frontal body contact at the waist and is based mainly, though not exclusively, on hand lead. These implied definitions are very broad and could include many dances not actually danced in international competitions.
These categories are broader than some might think. Some would say, "we do swing or country, not ballroom or latin". But they would be wrong. These categories are broad enough that swing is included in latin, and old fashioned country couple dancing is included in ballroom.
The historical reason that ballroom and latin dancing originated in different cultures is apparently because of different interpretations of the meaning of the religious tale of Adam and Eve, as explained in the section on the history of tango. Within a tolerant culture, preference for latin dancing over ballroom dancing might be based on a misunderstanding of the ballroom hold. This arises because dance teachers who, for their own reasons, are opposed to ballroom dances but pretend to teach them anyway usually teach the ballroom hold very differently than teachers who are in favor of ballroom dancing.
Some Americans are opposed to ballroom dancing and would like to discourage or prohibit ballroom dancing. They prefer to re-define ballroom dancing to mean latin dancing, the category of dancing that they are not opposed to. Since I like ballroom dancing, I am opposed to these efforts to define it out of existence. Some "social ballroom dance" classes in America include only latin dancing, absolutely no ballroom dancing. This article illustrates what social, as opposed to competitive, ballroom, as opposed to latin, dancing is.
There are two very different kinds of professional dance teachers known as ballroom dance teachers. What I would call "pure ballroom" teachers teach a style of competition dancing known as "standard ballroom", which in America is called "international standard" and are found only in small numbers mostly in the largest metropolitan areas. What I would call "mostly latin" teachers teach a style of competition dancing known as "American smooth" and are numerous throughout the country. For more on the difference click here. It should be pointed out that "international style", which consists of both "international standard" and "international latin", refers to the same assortment of dances competed by the same rules around the world. Suppose you wanted to learn the particular dances competed in international style, not just any dances that might fall in to the broad categories of ballroom or latin. Occasionally a class will claim to teach "international" dances, where completely different dances are taught and "international" seems to mean that some of the dances are of foreign origin. Thus, a class of "international or latin" consisted of salsa and the box step waltz, neither of which is included in "international standard" or "international latin".
In America most professional ballroom dance teachers teach competition ballroom dancing, not social ballroom dancing. Dance schools do not make money from social dancing outside of dance schools, and do not feel motivated to teach such dancing. They do make money from dance competitions and show dance recitals, so that is the kind of dancing they teach. Most professional dance teachers have little or no experience in social dancing outside of a dance school.
How do I know what social ballroom dancing is? Am I just making it up? Now competition ballroom dancing is more prevalent than social ballroom dancing. But there was a time when it was the other way around. In the 1920's and 1930's onestep, twostep and waltz were popular in America as social dances among adults in restaurants, night clubs and country clubs. This is illustrated by social dancing scenes in American movies of the period, and in books describing the history of dancing. Since that kind of dancing is no longer taught, ballroom dancing in those kinds of social environments is rare today. Some would like to claim that this is because other forms of dancing are more popular today. But this is an empty claim, because dancing of all kinds put together is much less popular today in these social environments than social ballroom dancing was then. Today, if a professional dance teacher were asked to teach this kind of dancing, the teacher would know nothing about it and would teach something entirely different and entirely inappropriate for that kind of social environment. Prissy flourishes from ballet, "show off" dancing, "blow off steam" dancing and "let it all hang out" dancing are not appropriate, and will never be popular in such environments. What is appropriate is nimble, agile, smooth, graceful maneuvering through the crowd on the dance floor, no matter what rhythm and tempo is playing. There are dancehalls in Texas where social ballroom dancing is still the predominant form of dancing, though they prefer to call it country-western dancing, not ballroom dancing. I have studied the dances, and practiced them extensively where they are still danced. Even in Texas, there are those who are fiercely opposed to ballroom dancing and promote a newer kind of country-western dancing that is really latin dancing. Professional dance teachers in America are under pressure from the adversaries of dance to teach either show dancing, group dancing or latin dancing instead of social ballroom dancing. It is my impression that the American expression "could lead to dancing" refers to social ballroom dancing, not the other kinds. Social ballroom dancing at the places where it is still done is taught by parents or friends, not by professional dance teachers. It persists for generations in spite of heroic efforts of dance teachers to substitute stationary or travelling swing dances. This suggests that when swing became popular among young people in much of the rest of the country in the late 1930's and 1940's, it was due more to the efforts of the dance teachers than the preferences of the public.
Social dancing requires an assortment of dances that can work with any rhythm and tempo, because there is no telling what the disk jockey will play next in many social dancing environments. In particular, the only music available for dancing may not be dance music at all, it may be any of the kinds of music recorded for listening: pop, rock, rap, hip hop, or country. In contrast, a so-called social dance in a typical dance school that teaches ballroom and latin dance will have music precisely suited to each of the dances taught in the school. If these students are confronted with a social dance where none of the music precisely suits any of the dances they have been taught, they lose confidence and do not know what dance they should do.
Average casual social dancers do not have the time to master 5 different figures for each of 15 different dances, 75 figures in all, to cope with every ballroom, latin or other dance that they might encounter. Even if they did, they do not dance often enough to stay proficient with all this complexity. Three simple traditional social ballroom dances are of such wide applicability that no matter what music is playing, ballroom, latin, or other, they can enjoy dancing at least one of the three. The assortment of figures required is small enough that they can easily retain proficiency.
There are many more competition ballroom dance figures than social ballroom dance figures. The ISTD's "Ballroom Technique" book lists 25 or more competition figures for each dance. Many social dance figures are also competition dance figures. Most social dance figures are easier than most show dance figures or competition dance figures. While the very easiest steps in ballroom dancing are social, not all easy dance figures are social, and not all social dance figures are easy. Some easy dance figures have no potential as social dance figures for the same reason that some music written in the popular style never becomes popular. This article teaches only dances that have some proven record as social dances outside of dance schools, and which I have danced socially on many occasions outside of dance schools.
Any dance, or any figure within a dance, can be used in a social dance among students within a dance school. However, not any dance can sustain a perpetual life of its own in social dancing outside of a dance school. If a school only teaches figures with no real potential in social dancing, then social dancing will only be a brief phase in a student's life, not a lifelong option.
Some well meaning teachers trained in competition dancing and show dancing but with no experience in social ballroom dancing will decide to teach the easiest figures they know and call it social ballroom dancing. Such a class will degenerate into box steps, fifth position breaks, and twinkles, none of which has anything to do with social ballroom dancing. The teacher may teach what seems to be the most fun to teach because the teacher's experience is rooted in class, and not in social dancing. Teaching is not social dancing. Experience in teaching does not lead automatically to authentic practical social dancing. The figures chosen in this article are based on years of social dancing outside of a class.
One advantage of competition ballroom dancing over social ballroom dancing is that it has been described and defined precisely. I have had lessons in competition ballroom dancing and studied the way it is defined in the books that define it. I have tried to use these same techniques of description to clarify what social ballroom dancing is. I am trying to establish a clear connection between competition ballroom dancing and social ballroom dancing.
back to top
Slow waltz and slow foxtrot are both fun to do, but are not recommended here as social dances. Why not?
The chapter in the book on "waltz" is about slow waltz. For the slow waltz to be the thrilling dance that it can be, large steps are required. The simplest slow waltz amalgamation of change figure, natural turn, change figure, reverse turn should cut a swath 15 feet (4.57 m) wide moving down the dance floor, which is clearly impractical in nearly all social dancing situations. Slow waltz with small steps appropriate for social dancing is deadly dull. It is more fun to do onestep to slow waltz music than slow waltz with small steps. Slow waltz music is 30 bars per minute. Waltz music needs to be at least 37 bars per minute before it starts to be fun with small waltz steps, and then most of the slow waltz figures no longer work, the Viennese waltz figures are more practical. Viennese waltz figures cut a much narrower swath than the slow waltz figures do. Dancing to slow waltz music on a crowded floor works better with Viennese waltz steps. Proponents of the American smooth slow waltz will be quick to point out that the box step and under-arm turn do not require much space. The box step was originally intended as, and certainly feels like, an exercise, not a dance. The under-arm turn is a latin figure, not a ballroom figure, and this article is about ballroom dancing.
The chapter in the book about "foxtrot" is about slow foxtrot. Similarly, there are problems with slow foxtrot. Slow foxtrot is probably the favorite dance of most competition ballroom dancers, so it is certainly a very good dance. However, slow foxtrot is difficult on an empty floor, and much more difficult on a crowded floor. Social foxtrot is much easier than slow foxtrot on a crowded floor. The only couple I have ever seen who could enjoy threading their way trough a crowded floor with slow foxtrot were the former champion ballroom dance couple of America. If you have to be the best couple on a continent to dance slow foxtrot socially, it is not very satisfactory as a social dance.
Slow waltz and slow foxtrot are very good as competition dances, but not as social dances.
back to top
Competition ballroom dancing applies many different figures to a few specific combinations of rhythm and tempo, whereas social ballroom dancing applies a few figures to many different combinations of rhythm and tempo. In competition dancing, each dance is taught at only one tempo. In social dancing each dance, with the exception of tango, should be taught over a wide range of tempos.
The most important difference in technique between competition ballroom dancing and social ballroom dancing is that there are no steps outside partner in social ballroom dancing. A step outside partner is an unusual forward step on the right foot that lands where a forward step on the left foot would normally land. With steps outside partner competition ballroom dancing sacrifices comfort and convenience for more energetic dancing. With regard to social ballroom dancing, within the same dance, different techniques may be recommended at different tempos. For the man in twostep: the heel pivot for fast tempos and the toe pivot for slow tempos. For the man in waltz: at slow tempos, a toe drag and all steps in time with the music, at fast tempos, no drag and all steps not in time with the music. In circumstances where rise and fall is expected in competition dancing, it is optional in social dancing.
In competitive dancing one focuses on impressing the judges with an elaborate routine. In social dancing one concentrates on maneuvering through the crowd on the dance floor
A typical dance competition with extravagant figures that take up a lot of floor space might have 360 sq.ft. (33.4 sq.m.) of dance floor space per couple on the floor, but social ballroom dancing restricted to the figures in this article will be satisfactory with as little as 44 sq.ft. (4.09 sq.m.) per couple on the floor. Eight times as many people can dance on the same floor. With a floor this crowded some stopping of individual couples to avoid collisions with other couples will be required, but most people will still enjoy the dancing. To avoid nearly all stopping 72 sq.ft. (6.69 sq.m.) is required per couple on the floor.
Competition ballroom and latin dancing as practiced around the world are known as international style, but could also be called English style, as the competitions originated in England and the dances were standardized there. America also had competitions of a different format in the early 20th century, but today even in America, the competitions follow the British format, even though they include American style competition dancing. International style ballroom dancing was originally called "modern" ballroom dancing, because it did not include Viennese waltz, which was "old" and not "modern". The continental Europeans would not accept this type of competition unless Viennese waltz was added. Sometime after Viennese waltz was added, the name was changed to "standard" ballroom dancing, since "modern" no longer accurately described it. However, because of a bias against Viennese waltz in England, it is not included even in the most prestigious ballroom competition in England, the Blackpool competition. After it was called "standard" the name has finally been changed to "ballroom", since that is what it is.
In Europe, international style ballroom competitions are sometimes held at different times and in different cities from international style latin competitions. In north America international style ballroom and latin dancing are always done in the same competition, and the competitions are called "ballroom dance" competitions, not "ballroom and latin dance" competitions. For this reason, many Americans are confused and think latin dancing is ballroom dancing. In America some "social ballroom dance" events include only latin dancing. Some say that latin is ballroom, but ballroom is not latin. This serves to define ballroom out of existence.
In north America ballroom dance competitions do not consist solely of international style ballroom and latin. They also include American style ballroom and latin. To avoid confusion, in America international style ballroom and latin are called "ballroom" and "latin", whereas American style dances are called "smooth" and "rhythm". Ballroom consists of waltz ( slow waltz), tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot (slow foxtrot), and quickstep (fast foxtrot). Latin consists of cha cha, samba, rumba, paso doble, and jive (east coast swing). Smooth consists of mainly latin figures, not ballroom figures, danced to the music of the waltz (slow waltz), tango, foxtrot (slow foxtrot) and Viennese waltz. Rhythm consists of cha cha, rumba, swing (east coast swing), bolero and mambo.
Not all of the American style competition dances have corresponding international style competition dances, but some do. The differences between corresponding "latin" and "rhythm" dances are not great, but the differences between corresponding "ballroom" and "smooth" dances are enormous. Swing is America's home grown latin dance, invented in the 1920's and becoming popular in the late 1930's. It could be said to carry over into "smooth". The easiest way to describe the "smooth" dances to someone who has never seen them would be to say that they are mostly travelling swing dances to different kinds of ballroom dance music. But they also include a few of the authentic ballroom dance figures for each dance. Swing is categorized as a latin dance. Smooth as typically danced in a competition includes about 90% latin figures and about 10% ballroom figures. It seems reasonable to suppose that smooth was created as a firebreak against or a substitute for real ballroom dancing. This supposition is reinforced by the tendency of some American teachers of smooth to insinuate to bewildered novices that a lady's virtue might be compromised if she were to learn standard with body contact rather than smooth without. As an American I resent the implication that American virtue is more easily lost than that of people elsewhere in the civilized world who can safely learn standard. As noted in the section on classes, a small fraction of people should not be expected to dance with body contact, but the reasons have nothing to do with virtue. But why would dance teachers behave this way? This may illustrate the truth of the story of "The Wizard of Oz", the wizards behind the scenes most probably being the adversaries of dance.
In America there are separate competitions that are mainly swing competitions. Swing comes in different varieties: East coast swing, west coast swing, jive, jitterbug, boogiewoogie, lindy hop, and shag. I must admit that I do not understand all the differences. Shag seems very similar to west coast swing, and the rest seem like variations on east coast swing.
For more on competition dancing click here.
back to top
Polka is very important historically as a social ballroom dance. Polka probably started in Prague in the 1830's, so it is not as old as the waltz. Most polka music was written in Vienna. Three kinds of polka music were popular in the 1800's, the fast polka (polka schnell) in 4/4 time, the medium speed French polka (polka francaise) in 4/4 time, and the slow polka mazurka (polka mazur) in 3/4 time. The music for the polka mazur is used today at the balls in Vienna only for choreographed debutante group show dances, not for social dancing the way it was used when it was popular. I do not know what steps were used for social dancing to the the two slower versions of polka. Only the fast polka is still danced socially today in Vienna. The fast polka danced in Vienna is a ballroom dance. It resembles waltz natural turns to 4/4 time music but with different steps. Some Americans do a real polka schnell, others dance to fast polka music using the hold of the varsovienne. Since only a minority of the people dance it even in the balls in Vienna, I have not put out the effort to learn it and do not present it in this website. Most of the English language descriptions of the Viennese waltz in the 1800's were unreliable. It seems unlikely that corresponding descriptions of the different kinds of polka could be relied on. One would have to be fluent in German and spend considerable time in the libraries in Vienna to get reliable accounts of the different kinds of polka.
Galop was a popular social dance in the 1800's. It is still done at some of the balls in Vienna. When danced socially the promenade hold described in the tango section is used. The man moves to his left and the lady moves to her right. They do not make sharp turns at the corners of the dance floor. They move all the way around the dance floor in a large oval pattern. The dance is very simple. A continuous series of chasse steps is danced to fast 4/4 time music. When all the couples on the dance floor do this it reminds one of a stampeding herd of cattle. After galoping around the floor the dance is ended by some couple stopping, facing each other as far apart as they can while still holding hands with each other. Their hands are as high as the lady's head to form an arch. The other couples bend down at the waist and galop under the arch. When each couple gets under the end of the arch, they stop and extend the arch. The dance is finished when the last couple has extended the arch. When danced socially the music is as fast as cha cha music or faster. It might be 4/4 time music at 75 bars per minute.
Galop is usually danced socially in promenade hold, but it can also be done in ballroom hold. It can be danced to music as slow as quickstep music. It is usually seen added to quickstep competitions more often in ballroom hold than in promenade hold. It is not unusual for a couple to do more galop than quickstep in a quickstep competition. Most dances that use the chasse step perform it with a smooth movement. Quickstep competitors do galop with a lively hopping movement because of the tempo of 50 bars per minute. But when they do a chasse in a legitimate quickstep maneuver they do it with a smooth movement. When social dancers do galop at 75 bars per minute it is too fast for hopping.
back to top
Alex Moore's book is the best to learn from, because he has diagrams and much explanatory material. This is supplemented with a smaller book, "The Ballroom Technique" by ISTD, which summarizes the figures in the form of tables, with no pictures. Most dance teachers use the smaller book because it is easier to find some small detail quickly, and the material is listed in the way it would be lectured to a class. This book was originally written by Alex Moore in 1948 under the title "Revised Technique", which was mis-named because the technique was not revised, just the way of presenting it. After his death it was revised, the authorship changed to ISTD, and the name changed to "The Ballroom Technique". This book has two deficiencies for the teacher of social dancing. In quickstep the ISTD has eliminated the quarter turn to the left. Competition dancers prefer the progressive chasse because it can be used to fly down the floor at faster speeds, but it is inappropriate for social dancing. The second deficiency is that the Viennese waltz was never included in this small book, which only has the slow waltz, which is also less appropriate for social dancing. Alex Moore wrote another book, "Popular Variations", which adds almost 60 figures for each dance to the approximately 20 given for each dance in the other two books. These extra figures are used by competition dancers trying to impress the judges.
The book should be all you need; videos are not necessary. One problem is that in quickstep the videos skip over some of the easy figures presented in this website and focus on more advanced figures. I think currently available videos show the current ISTD definitions. There are two good series of videos on this material. First, the ISTD videos at the "associate" level shown on the ISTD web page. The "associate" level is the beginning level, "licentiate" level is intermediate and the "fellowship" level is advanced. See the section in this article on "misconceptions about ballroom dancing" for the ISTD web page. Whether you need the NTSC or PAL version depends on what country you live in, and what television standard your country uses. Second, the international standard dvd's on the DanceVision web site. Remember when buying videos for the waltz presented at this website, you want "Viennese Waltz" videos, not "Waltz" videos. Dancevision has a Viennese waltz video, ISTD does not.
back to top
This refers to social ballroom dancing in America. Before 1945 social ballroom dancing was done in large restaurants that had dance floors, and in large dance halls. Before 1910 social ballroom dancing was typically done at formal balls that were very popular at the time. Today, only a negligible number of real balls are held, about 10 in the whole country each year. Today, unfortunately, what little social ballroom dancing is left is either done in the artificial environment of a dance school, at a few weekly dances in banquet halls in very large cities, or as country-western dancing in dark, loud, smoky honky-tonks.
Recorded music is generally preferable to live music. Recorded music is less expensive, making the event accessable to more people. Recorded music nearly always provides more variety and better performances than live music. But the recorded music must be chosen carefully to have a reasonable mixture of music that is easy for beginners, and music that is exciting for advanced dancers.
The social dancer should not worry about excessively loud music at some social dances. Keep earplugs with you at all times. Be prepared. You can buy a carton of 200 pairs of earplugs for about $20 at an industrial safety supply store. Ideally, music should be loud enough to be clearly heard, but not loud enough to make it difficult to converse with your partner. Unfortunately, the music is often much louder than this. Lighting should be about the color of an incandescent bulb or of candlelight, not white or blue, to provide a warm friendly atmosphere, but it should be much brighter than candlelight, at least 24 lux. If the dance is a coat and tie affair, room temperature should be cold, 69 degrees Fahrenheit (20.55 Celsius), or the dancers will get too hot. Moderate temperatures are acceptable at a more informal dance not requiring coat and tie, but the man should not wear a cotton undershirt under his shirt, or he will get too hot. He may not notice that he is too hot with the undershirt, but he will notice that he has more stamina on the dancefloor without the undershirt. Perhaps the most important environmental factor is a dance floor of adequate size. Some social dance venues, especially honky tonks, have many untrained dancers. In these it would be beneficial to either post or paint on the wall the diagrams from this web site. Another helpful posting would be a shoe repair shop that will glue suede leather on the bottom of your shoe soles.
A sound level meter, readily available from electronics stores, can be used to measure sound levels. The peak readings of the sound level of the music on the dance floor should not exceed 85 dB above audibility with an A weighted slow response measurement. Even though the ear's response matches a C weighting at loud levels, A weighted measurement makes more sense because the higher pitched sounds are more irritating at loud levels, and should be the determining factor.
It is not good to combine alcohol and driving a car. Similarly it is not good to combine alcohol and dancing, especially in establishments that cater to young people. Such places should be financed by an entry charge, not by selling drinks. Just as refrigerated drinking fountains make no sense for running athletes, they make no sense for dancers. There should be plenty of drinking fountains that serve room temperature water. The most logical places for such activity are obviously the tax supported municipal basketball gyms found in most American communities. Unfortunately, the policies governing the operation of these gyms are entirely under the control of the adversaries of dance.
Dress-up dances used to be the norm, decades ago, but now they are rare. On rare occasions a dress-up dance is added to a political event or a classical music concert, where the participants are not primarily dancers. At such an event, everyone will feel slightly intimidated, and no one will want to be first on the floor, even if they know how to dance. The organizer of such an event should plan in advance for this, and find a couple willing to be first on the floor with simple, basic dancing, not show dancing, to get the dancing started. Otherwise, people may never get on the floor.
After a few days at sea, people get their "sea legs" and can walk easily on the rocking deck of the ship. People who have not been to sea recently do not have "sea legs" and cannot as easily tolerate a sloping dance floor. A dance floor with a slope of three degrees is easy to walk accross, but dangerous to dance accross. The dancers have a tendency to loose their balance. If a water glass 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) in diameter placed on the dance floor has water 1/8 inch (3.175 mm) higher on one side than the other, the slope of the floor is about three degrees. Sometimes weddings are held in a tent on a grass lawn. If the lawn is not level, the portable dance floor should be placed on a raised flat level platform with a safety hand rail around the edge.
back to top
Now for a completely different subject, "mixers" at social dances where there are lots of single people. This is the one area where I completely disagree with Alex Moore. He recommends what he calls a "Paul Jones" mixer, with concentric circles of men and women. If the number of men and women do not exactly match, this results in some people being left out, and feeling rejected by the group. A much better mixer is known as the "waterfall". A line of men is on one side of the dance floor, a line of women on the other side. The two lines meet in the middle of one end of the dance floor. When the man and woman at the head of the two lines meet, they dance to the other end of the floor, separate, and get back in line. This way no one gets left out.
Another aspect of mixing at dances is conversation. If music is not too loud, a couple can converse while dancing. More general mixing and conversation can take place during intervals when there is no music and no dancing. This is enhanced greatly if there are no tables to sit at, and only chairs against the wall to rest when not dancing. Standing parties produce much more mixing and mingling than sitting parties. In the absence of sitting tables, shelves or tables without chairs or an attended coat check can be provided for people to deposit their belongings.
back to top
Now, how to join figures together, and determine how much overlap is between figures. This is primarily a problem in twostep, quickstep and social foxtrot, but the principles apply to any dance. The basic step in social foxtrot is forward basic, which has the rhythm slow, slow, quick, quick. We will now show how to connect this with each figure that we have recommended in this dance. Be forewarned that it sounds more complicated than it is. If the man had to think about all this while he danced he would trip over his own feet and never be able to lead the lady. The first time he tries it, before he has had time to practice, it will be very difficult. With a little practice, even a man with well below average natural aptitude can join figures without thinking about it.
The man should begin practicing by himself. While music would be nice, it is not necessary for initial practice. To practice without music, he should repeat saying "slow and slow and quick quick" while practicing the steps. He should put each foot down on a slow or quick according to the step diagrams. First, he should repeat the forward basic. Then he should transition from a forward basic into each turn, and from the turn back into a forward basic. When he can do this with ease, he is ready to start practicing with a lady, assuming they both already know the hold and position.
Each diagram should be printed out on a sheet of paper. The diagrams are drawn oriented to the line of dance in an arbitrary manner that has been used since 1936 just so that they are always described in the conventional way. You could dance them in any orientation relative to line of dance. The instructions below say that a step on one diagram is the same as a corresponding step on the next diagram; they overlap. You will have to rotate the diagram sheet in your hand so that corresponding steps do indeed overlap so that you can continue smoothly from one diagram to the next. Some of the figures, like forward basic and reverse pivot turn, start with you facing in the direction of the line of dance. The rest of the figures start and end diagonal to the line of dance. Obviously, some of these figures will have to be rotated so that one figure joins smoothly on to the next.
Suppose we want to follow a forward basic with a quarter turn to the right followed by a quarter turn to the left. The quarter turn to the right for the man starts with a slow on the right foot, followed by a quick, quick. If we follow a complete forward basic with the first step of another forward basic, a slow on the left, then we can make the next step of the forward basic, a slow on the right, be the first step of the quarter turn, which is also a slow on the right. This preserves the slow, slow, quick, quick rhythm through the forward basic and the quarter turn. Similarly, the last step of a quarter turn to the left is a slow on the left following a quick, quick. This obviously matches the first step of a forward basic, which is also a slow on the left following a quick, quick.
The natural pivot turn also starts with a slow on the right followed by a quick quick, so it could be made to follow a forward basic in the same manner as a quarter turn. The natural pivot turn ends with a slow on the left after a quick quick. In this case the slow on the left is a toe pivot. We would follow this with a slow forward on the right and a quick quick to finish up the last three steps of a forward basic.
The reverse pivot turn is the easiest of all to connect to forward basics. It has the same left right pattern of slows and quicks as a forward basic, so will join preceding and following forward basics with no overlap on either end.
The most complicated case is the chasse reverse turn followed by the quarter turn to the left. Before you enter this figure and after you leave it the rhythm will be a repeated SSQQ. But while you are in this figure the rhythm will be a repeated SQQ. The chasse reverse turn starts with a slow forward on the right followed by quick quick. We would follow this with a quarter turn to the left which ends with a slow forward on the left after quick quick. So this combination will join to preceding and following forward basics in the same way as the quarter turn to the right followed by a quarter turn to the left.
With more practice the man should be able to do an assortment of all the turns without ever doing a full forward basic. The SSQQ rhythm should be maintained without interruption until the chasse reverse turn is encountered. If you have space, and do not have to follow a crowd on the dance floor, the turns are more fun than the forward basic for both the man and the lady.
When you are ready to start practicing with a lady, make sure you read the hold section, the last three paragraphs of the section "the dances" and the last two paragraphs of the foxtrot/twostep section.
back to top
If you have the ninth edition of Alex Moore's "Ballroom Dancing", the figures and page numbers referred to above translate as follows:
The heel pivot described on pages 30-31 in vol 10 is described on pages 31-32 of vol 9.
The figure on page 37 of vol 10 is on page 38 in vol 9. The title of the figure is "position of steps in relation to the body".
The two four step quarter turns figures on p. 45 of vol 10 are give as one 8 step quarter turn figure on p. 45 of vol 9.
The reverse pivot turn on p. 279 of vol 10 is on p. 314-315 of vol. 9.
The natural pivot turn on p. 52 of vol 10 is on p. 53 of vol 9.
The 3 step chasse reverse turn on p. 58 of vol 10 given as the first three steps of single 7 step chasse reverse turn figure on p. 57 of vol. 9, where the last four steps are what are now called the quarter turn to the left.
The natural turn in international slow foxtrot shown on p. 169 of vol. 10 is shown on p. 173 of vol 9.
The closed impetus turn on p. 182 of vol 10 is named simply the impetus turn on p. 186 of vol 9.
The tango walk described on p. 223 and 228 of vol 10 is described on p. 232 and p. 238 of vol 9.
The progressive side step on p. 230 of vol 10 is on p. 240 of vol. 9.
The open reverse turn lady in line on p. 246 of vol. 10 is given as open reverse turn lady in line closed finish on p. 255 of vol 9.
The rock turn on p. 233 of vol 10 is given on p. 242 of vol. 9.
The back corte on p. 242 of vol 10 is given on p. 250 of vol. 9.
The closed promenade on p. 237 of vol 10 is given on p. 245 of vol. 9.
The natural promenade turn on p. 260 of vol 10 is given on p. 271 of vol. 9.
The tango hold on p. 222 of vol 10 is on p. 231 of vol. 9.
The four step on p. 264 of vol 10 is on p. 276 of vol. 9.
back to top
1.This prohibition was first described to me by a lady from Iran. It was later confirmed by a lady from Kazakhstan. This prohibition seems to be associated with the religion that predominates in the middle east. In modern times there are important exceptions. In the least fundamentalist places, a man and a woman can both belly dance at the same time. Israel, though it is in the middle east does not share the predominant religion or the prohibition and has ballroom and latin dancing. Malaysia has an economically powerful minority that does not share the predominant religion, and has lots of ballroom and latin dancing. Turkey is trying to appear European enough to be allowed in the European Union, and has a small amount of ballroom and latin dancing. The French occupation of Morocco ended in 1956. The influence of the French occupation has resulted in less strict restrictions on dance in Morocco than in other parts of the world with the same religion.
2.The book "Round Dancing for Fun" by Albert J Riendeau, 1983 on p.11-12 describes the beginning of modern round dancing with a caller in the 1930's, but the book "The Round Dance Book" by Lloyd Shaw, 1948, clearly refers to round dances as not being associated with a caller. Books in the 1800's refer to round dancing without the slightest thought that a caller would be involved.
3."A History of English Ballroom Dancing", Philip J.S. Richardson, 1946
back to top
back to homepage