What is the difference between American Style and International Style of Ballroom Dance?

A commonly asked question is what is the difference between American Style and International Style of Ballroom Dance? If you are looking to try Dance Vision‘s #dancevisionondemand subscriptions, you will want to know the differences between the two before you begin your journey.

American Style is most popular in the United States, whereas the International Style, which is also known as the English Style, is danced throughout the rest of the world. The American Style Smooth dances, Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango and Viennese Waltz, experience more freedom and expression. They may be danced in closed or open position, allowing for additional innovative tricks and creative arm and hand styling.

The International Style Standard Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Quickstep, and Viennese Waltz are danced only in closed position. The technique for both styles is similar. The American Style Rhythm dances, which are Cha Cha, Rumba, Swing, Samba, Mambo, Bolero and Merengue have a greater variety of patterns and are more suited for social dancing. The International Style Latin Cha Cha, Rumba, Samba, Paso Doble and Jive are more disciplined and technical.

The technique is different between the styles and changes throughout the years. American Style dancing has always been more popular for social dancing in the United States.

American Style Rhythm

A type of ballroom dancing, which evolved from social dancing and is now a fully recognized competitive style of dance. Rhythm style consisting of Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Bolero and Mambo.

Cha Cha

An exciting, syncopated, Latin dance, which originated in the 1950s as a slowed down Mambo, the Cha Cha gathers its personality, character, rhythm, basis, and charm from two major dance sources. It is a derivation of the Mambo through its Latin music, and it is also a stepchild of the Swing, as it is danced to a 1-2-3 step rhythm. The Cha Cha gets its name and character from its distinct repetitive foot rhythm. 

Rumba

The Rumba was originally a courtship, marriage, and street dance that was African in origin. The Rumba met some opposition from society’s upper crust because of the suggestive body and hip movements. The characteristic feature is to take each step without initially placing the weight on that step. Steps are made with a slightly bent knee which, when straightened causes the hips to sway from side to side, in what has come to be known as “Cuban Motion.”

Samba

The Samba is a lively Brazilian dance which was first introduced in 1917 and was finally adopted as a ballroom dance by Brazilian society in 1930. It is sometimes referred to as a Samba, Carioca, a Baion or a Batucado. The difference is mainly in the tempo, since the steps in all four dances are very similar. The style is to bounce steadily and smoothly in 2/4 meter. They say that the Samba was introduced in the United States in 1939 by the late Carmen Miranda.

Bolero

 Originally a Spanish dance in 3/4 time, it was changed in Cuba, initially into 2/4 time, then eventually into 4/4. It is now presented as a very slow type of Rumba rhythm. The music is frequently arranged with Spanish vocals and a subtle percussion effect, usually using Congas or Bongos. Originally a Spanish dance in 3/4 time, it was changed in Cuba, initially into 2/4 time, then eventually into 4/4. It is now presented as a very slow type of Rumba rhythm. The music is frequently arranged with Spanish vocals and a subtle percussion effect, usually using Congas or Bongos.

Mambo

The spicy Mambo as we now know it grew out of the Danzon (national music of Cuba), and grasped the imagination of the American dance scene at the close of World War II. Later, fast Swing-Jazz and upbeat Latin music joined in to form the updated and uninhibited Mambo. The Mambo is a spot dance and the steps are quite compact.

East Coast Swing

This dance is frequently referred to as Triple Step swing due to the rhythm of the basic triple step. This dance consists of six and eight count patterns, which require a rock step back by both man and woman to begin. It is a circular dance that is danced with a bounce and is very 
grounded and not high in the legs. This bounce requires the dancer to stay very smooth and not jump around much. East Coast swing is the base for all swing dances.

West Coast Swing

This dance consists of six and eight count patterns, which are done in a slot. The woman no longer rocks back as in East Coast swing, but instead she always walks forward on count one. This dance is usually done to medium tempo swing music, frequently slower than East Coast swing. However, those who achieve a high skill level in this dance can and do dance it to faster tempo music. This dance has no bounce and a very smooth feel. Rarely will you see high kicks or moves which require the dancer to leave the floor.

Merengue

The Merengue is a popular dance of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and is a truly lively Latin dance. There is an old tale about a very brave and famous military officer who was wounded in battle and developed a limp. A celebration dance was given for the great hero returning from the war. Rather than embarrass their hero, who limped on his wounded leg while dancing, all the men present favored their leg as well, & thus the Merengue was born.

American Style Smooth

A type of ballroom dancing, which evolved from social dancing and is now a fully recognized competitive style of dance. The Smooth style allows the dancers to be in open positions allowing for a very “Fred and Ginger” style.

Waltz

The Waltz appeared as a fashionable dance in Bohemia, Austria, Bavaria and other parts of Europe in the late 1700’s. Danced in 3/4 timing, the recurring, even beats of music send the dancers whirling around the floor enjoying the thrill of the Waltz movement.

Tango

The American Style Tango is a progressive moving along the line of dance using body movement. A staccato movement of the feet and flexed knees highlight the dramatic style of the Tango.

Foxtrot

The Foxtrot remains the most popular social dance in the world today. Little did Harry Fox realize that his trotting on a New York stage in 1913 would become an overnight success. The Foxtrot is the foundation for many of the social dances that followed. It is enjoyed by all age groups for its ease of movement and smooth style. Foxtrot music is played by most social dance orchestras and is one of the easiest dances to learn in the American Style.

Viennese Waltz

This dance originated in Mid-Europe some 400 years ago. The music is fast in tempo and sends the couples whirling around the floor–first one way and then the other.

International Style Latin 

Latin American dances are danced to a Latin American beat. “Latin” is the term for International Style, “Rhythm” is the term for the American Style.

Cha Cha

During the 1950s, the Cha Cha was made famous by many Latino bands such as Xavier Cugat and Prez Prado. Cuban in origin, the Cha Cha rhythm is found in much of today’s popular music.

Samba

The Samba originated in Brazil and, unlike the other Latin dances that are stationary, it has a traveling action around the floor with lots of spins and controlled bounces.

Rumba

The Rumba is Cuban in origin and is often referred to as the ?dance of love?. Sultry and romantic, the music is a mixture of African and Latin rhythms.

Paso Doble

The Paso Doble is a theatrical Spanish dance that characterizes the man as the matador and the lady as his cape. Based on Flamenco dancing, the character of the dance is arrogant and passionate.

Jive

The Jive is a very fast, acrobatic, lively dance made popular during World War II by the swing music of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Glen Miller.

International Style Standard 

You may hear the terms Standard, Modern and Smooth in relation to the Ballroom dances and wonder how they differ. They all represent the dances with the man holding the lady in his arms and moving around the floor. The term “Standard” has replaced “Modern” as the name for the International Style dances. 

Waltz

Danced in European courts in the mid 1700s, the romantic Slow Waltz is an offspring of the faster Viennese Waltz in 3/4 time. The rhythm was gradually slowed down over time as songwriters of ballads and love songs chose to compose in a slower and more comfortable tempo. This dance has continued to rise in popularity at anniversaries, graduations, and weddings.

Tango

The Tango originated in the bordellos of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is done in a slightly different manner than other dances. The hold is very different, with the lady’s arm under the man’s, which creates a tighter hold for a quick staccato action and stylized poses (not to be confused with Argentine Tango).

Foxtrot

The Foxtrot is one of the most deceiving dances. It looks very easy, but is one of the most difficult dances to do. The dance originated in 1913 when a vaudeville performer by the name of Harry Fox performed a little trot which appealed to the social dance teachers in New York and thus the Foxtrot was born. It has gone through many changes since that time, and is now comprised of more soft and fluid linear movements.

Viennese Waltz

The Viennese Waltz is a fast Waltz which originated in Austria. Joseph Lanner and Johann Strauss wrote the first waltzes in the early 19th century. In the middle of the 20th century, the German, Paul Krebs choreographed the Viennese Waltz style to which we dance today. The dance enjoyed a great deal of popularity not only in Europe, but also in America, and has been used in many Hollywood productions.

Quickstep

As the name implies, the Quickstep is a very quick and lively dance, comprised of hops, skips and kicks. The dance began as a quick version of Foxtrot mixed with the Charleston, and musical “Jazz” influences.

Other Popular Social Dances 

Argentine Tango

The Argentine Tango is a beautiful, improvisational social dance that has developed over the last century in the City of Buenos Aires. It is a true dance of leading and following. Many find Argentine Tango quite challenging, commanding an advanced knowledge of dance skills for partner dancing. Argentine Tango, with it’s dramatic character and use of leg and foot actions, uses slower music and progresses counter clockwise in the line of dance.

Night Club Two-Step

Night Club Two- Step, not to be confused with country two-step, is one of the most practical and versatile social dances ever conceived. It is designed to be used with contemporary soft rock (“Love Song”) music. This type of music is common just about everywhere, nightclubs, radio, etc. The rhythm of the dance is very simple and rarely changes from the 1 & 2 count. This simple romantic dance fills a gap where no other ballroom dance fits. It gives the dancer, either beginning or advanced, the opportunity to express and create without a rigid technique being required. It’s attractive, romantic, and a real asset to learn since it will be used often.

Salsa

The word Salsa means sauce, denoting a “hot” flavor, and is best distinguished from other Latin music styles by defining it as the New York sound developed by Puerto Rican musicians in New York. The dance structure is largely associated with mambo type patterns and has a particular feeling that is associated mainly with the Clave and the Montuno.

Hustle

The Hustle (Disco) is a member of the Swing family, and is like the West Coast Swing in pattern. It has a distinct flavor, utilizing Disco style music & revived partner style among nightclub dancers in the 70’s. Hustle is danced to the contemporary pop dance music of the last 20 years. It is a fast, smooth dance, with the lady spinning almost constantly, while her partner draws her close and sends her away.

Country Western

Country Western encompasses many dance forms or styles, which are typically danced to country-western music, and which are stylistically associated with American country and/or western traditions.

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