After trying to explain the difference between hunters and Saddlebreds (no, they are not Saddle Horses because they wear a saddle) to my non-horse dance friends, it occurred to me that I ought to explain the different styles of competition ballroom dance to my non-dance horse friends!
There are four distinct styles of dance in the US. American Smooth, American Rhythm, International Standard and International Latin. Pots and kettles you say? No.
The International styles are danced all over the world. International Standard (also called Modern Ballroom) consists of five dances: waltz, tango, Viennese Waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. Waltz is a 3-beat, three-quarter time dance, slow and dreamy (when done correctly). Tango is march tempo, very staccato. Foxtrot is four-beat, campy and linear. Quickstep is foxtrot on amphetamines, and Viennese waltz (my favorite) is rotary, fancy footwork and very, very fast six-eight tempo.
In International Standard (or just Standard) the couple never separates. They remain in dance hold the entire length of the dance. There is a set syllabus (federation-approved steps) and most people at the upper levels do modest variations on the syllabus steps.
Latin is exactly that. There are five dances in this category: cha cha, rumba, samba, paso doble and jive. Cha cha is a show-off dance, lots of spins and turns and opportunity for the lady to strut her stuff. Rumba is called the courtship dance. It’s slow, sensual, and if done well is lovely to watch. Samba originated in Brazil (watch Mardi Gras in Rio and you’ll see samba). Paso doble is the man’s display dance. The theory is that the woman is the cape, and the man is the matador. In reality, women may choose to dance either as the cape or as the bull. In fact, the current world champion in Latin can do a very graceful and impressive bull, rather than a cape. But it’s the man’s turn to display his machismo to the world. Well done, it leaves you panting. And jive is a cross between the Charleston and the Lindy Hop, fast and furious. A dance for the young.
The two American styles evolved out of the film industry. American Smooth is essentially what Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire did in their series of films. There are lots of tricks, lifts, and separate work, it’s flashy, and there are four dances in the program: waltz, tango, foxtrot and American Viennese Waltz (don’t worry – that sounds as silly to me as it does to you). American Viennese is basically running in circles (you may have guessed it’s not my favorite). It loses a lot of the grace and graciousness shown in the true Viennese waltz.
American style rhythm, cha cha, rumba, swing, bolero and mambo, are Carribean-influenced, except for swing. The timing is a bit different than Latin, and bolero and mambo are unique to the Americas. Bolero is a sort of a cross between rumba and waltz; it covers more ground than the rumba (which is a spot-dance), and is a bit more floaty. Mambo is mambo … relative of salsa, only salsa holds on the last beat, mambo on the first. Wanna get confused?
Anyway, that’s my attempt at a definitive essay. If you’re interested, come to a comp and I’ll talk you through it. Or better yet, give it a try yourself!