Dances in our Curriculum
American Swing dancing is a group of dances that developed with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920's–1940's, with the origins of each dance predating the popular "swing era". During the swing era, there were hundreds of styles of swing dancing, but the most popular are those we teach in our curriculum.
This category includes the East Coast Swing, Carolina Shag, Jitterbug (or Lindy Hop), Hustle, and West Coast Swing.
East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing is a Rhythm Dance developed in the 1940's and has been known by many names over the length of its existence. Some of the more common include Eastern Swing, Jitterbug, American Swing, East Coast Lindy, Lindy (not to be confused with Lindy Hop), and Triple Step Swing. It can be said that there is no right or wrong way to dance it; however, certain styles of the dance are considered correct "form" within the technical elements documented and governed by the National Dance Council of America. East Coast Swing is considered by most professional dance teachers to be the base for swing dancing due to its flexibility and easy learning curve.
The Carolina Shag is thought to have originated along the strands between Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina, during the 1940's. The Carolina Shag, like all swing dance styles, is a direct descendant of Jitterbug, known in today's dancing circles as Lindy Hop. Due to this relation, Carolina Shag can be danced with 4, 6 or 8 steps as part of the standard basic step.
Jitterbug, an exuberant ballroom dance popular in the 1930's and 1940's, originating in the United States and spread internationally by U.S. armed forces during World War II. Its original freewheeling acrobatic swings and lifts were modified for more conservative ballroom versions. Couples did most versions while holding one or both hands. Step patterns varied widely and included such dances as the lindy hop and the jive.
The couple dance form of hustle is usually called "New York Hustle" but frequently referred to by other names including "la hustle" or "latin hustle". It has some resemblance to, and steps in common with, swing and salsa dancing. As in the Latin dances, couples tend to move within a "spot" on the dance floor, as opposed to following a line of dance as in foxtrot, or as opposed to tracking within a slot as in West Coast Swing or LA Hustle. One similarity between hustle and swing is that the lead takes the back-forward steps from his left foot; however it is not exactly a rock step (there is no rocking action because of speed) and if the dance is taught by counting, the steps happen at the beginning of the count – "and-one, two, three" rather than at the end of the count as in swing – "left, right, rock-step".
West Coast Swing
West Coast Swing, as the name implies, was the regional form of Swing dancing in California and the west coast of the United States. It is the smother, sexier version of the swing dance family. West Coast Swing seems to have been born during the late 1930s through early 1950's, the same time-frame of many of the other forms of Swing: East Coast Swing, Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Balboa, Shag, DC Hand Dancing, TX Push etc. From the late 1980's through present dance, West Coast Swing has become recognized as one of the most versatile dance forms. Dance events specifically featuring this dance from 1980 to 2000 helped to expose dancers around the country to a dance that can be enjoyed to traditional swing, blues, R&B, some cha-cha, some samba, and a lot of popular/contemporary music.
The American Smooth category includes dances considered to be the "backbone" of the dance floor, while also including popular modern variations. The steps learned in this group of dances provide the foundation for other dances in our curriculum.
The American Waltz often involves an almost complete loss of contact between dance partners during some of the movements whereas International Standard Waltz does not permit leaving closed position. The age and popularity of the waltz and the fact that it features a closed position, allows the waltz to serve as the foundation for several ballroom dances. The earliest sources describe the waltz as a sliding or gliding dance from the 16th century.
The Viennese waltz is a rotary dance where the dancers are constantly turning either in a clockwise ("natural") or anti-clockwise ("reverse") direction interspersed with non-rotating change steps to switch between the direction of rotation. A true Viennese waltz consists only of turns and change steps. Other moves such as the fleckerls, American-style figures and side sway or underarm turns are modern inventions.
The Foxtrot premiered in 1914, but gained popularity through the efforts of Vernon and Irene Castle, a husband-and-wife team of ballroom dancers and dance teachers who appeared on Broadway and in silent films early in the 20th century. The Castles are credited with giving the Foxtrot its signature grace and style, but it was dancer Arthur Murray who introduced the more modern version of the Foxtrot which imitates the positions of Tango. At its inception, the Foxtrot was originally danced to ragtime music. Today, the dance is customarily accompanied by the same big band music to which swing is also danced.
As with many dances, the Two Step was an evolution of a variety of dances, most notably the American Foxtrot and the Two Beat Waltz. Today, the Two Step is known as a traveling dance that combines a variety of complex patterns with lots of turning, and people are no longer confined to dancing it in one straight line.
American Tango, commonly referred to as Ballroom Tango, is a ballroom dance that has its roots based in Argentina, but branched away from its original Argentine roots by allowing European, American, Hollywood, and competitive influences into the style and execution of the dance. The present day ballroom tango is divided into two disciplines: American Style and International Style. Both styles may be found in social and competitive dances, but the International version is more globally accepted as a competitive style. Both styles share a common closed dance position, but the American style allows its practitioners to separate from closed position to execute open moves, like underarm turns, alternate hand holds, dancing apart, and side-by-side choreography.
Argentine tango is danced in an embrace that can vary from very open, in which leader and follower connect at arms length, to very closed, in which the connection is chest-to-chest, or anywhere in between. Tango dance is essentially walking with a partner and the music. Dancing appropriately to the emotion and speed of a tango is extremely important to dancing tango. A good dancer is one who transmits a feeling of the music to the partner, leading them effectively throughout the dance.
The American Rhythm category includes dances that express flirtation, passion and Latin hip motion. Dances in this category are some of the most popular in our curriculum.
Salsa is a popular form of social dance that originated in the Caribbean. The movements of salsa have origins in Cuban Son, cha-cha-cha, mambo and other dance forms. The basic Salsa dance rhythm consists of taking three steps for every four beats of music. The odd number of steps creates the inherent syncopation to the Salsa dancing and ensures that it takes 8 beats of music to loop back to a new sequence of steps.
Mambo is a Latin dance of Cuba which was developed in the 1940s when the music genre of the same name became popular throughout Latin America. The original ballroom dance which emerged in Cuba and Mexico was related to the danzón, albeit faster and less rigid. In the United States, it replaced rhumba as the most fashionable Latin dance. Later on, with the advent of salsa and its more sophisticated dance, a new type of mambo dance including breaking steps was popularized in New York. This form received the name of "salsa on 2", "mambo on 2" or "modern mambo".
The cha-cha-chá, or cha-cha as it’s called in the U.S., is a dance of Cuban origin. The rhythm was developed from the danzón-mambo, which was also the fore-father of modern Mambo. In the early 1950's, Enrique Jorrín worked as a violinist and composer with the band Orquesta América, who were a traditional ensemble that plays Cuban dance music. While performing at the dance halls in Havana, Jorrín noticed that many of the dancers had difficulty with the syncopated rhythms of the danzón-mambo. To make his music more appealing to dancers, Jorrín began composing songs where the melody was marked strongly on the first downbeat and the rhythm was less syncopated. When Orquesta América performed these new compositions, it was noticed that the dancers had started improvising a shuffling triple step in their footwork producing the sound "cha-cha-cha". Thus, the new style came to be known as "cha-cha-chá" and became associated with a dance where dancers perform a triple step along with the traditional forward and back breaking steps associated with mambo.
The Rumba is a slow Latin dance originating from Cuba which uses a box step for the base of it's social dance patterns. All social dances in Cuba involve a hip-sway over the standing leg and, though this is scarcely noticeable in faster Latin dances like Salsa, it is more pronounced in the slow Rumba. In general, steps are kept compact to allow for partners to dance in closer proximity.
The Bolero is a graceful, slow dance that incorporated movements from rumba, tango and waltz. However, unlike most ballroom dances uses both Cuban hip motion and rise and fall created through the body more than the feet. Also, it uses a rotating forward or backward slip pivot. Normally, the slip pivot is left turning and contains many similar movements, patterns and techniques as rumba, cha-cha and mambo. In addition, there is a long gliding side step on the first two beats of music followed by the rotating slip pivot that uses rise and fall, and the partners dance close giving it the appearance of tango at times.
Bachata, often referred to in the west as "authentic \ Dominican" bachata, was an original social dance created in the Dominican Republic during the 1960's and was danced only in close position, like the bolero. Bachata basic steps are performed by moving within a small square (side, side, forward and then tap with your toes, then side, side, back and tap). This step was inspired by the bolero basic step, but evolved over time to include a tap and syncopations (steps in between the beats), helping dancers express the more dynamic music being commonly played. Bachata is still danced today in the Caribbean and all over the world, and has been evolving for several decades.
The Samba is considered the dance of celebration and joy at Carnival celebrations in Brazil. Lively and rhythmical, there are many types of samba dances, just like there are many types of samba music. Ballroom samba, one of the popular Latin dances in ballroom competitions, is made up of many different South American dances mixed into one. The major action of samba, known as the "samba bounce action," gives the dance its unique look and feel. The samba bounce action is a gentle, rhythmic action felt through the knees and ankles. Samba dancers must strive to make this action appear effortless and carefree. It should never be exaggerated. The bounce action is quite difficult to master and is the foundation of the overall character of the samba.
The Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic, and is also one of the standard Latin American dances. It is essentially a combination of two dances: the African and French Minuet, from the late 1700's through the early 1800's. Though its true origins are unknown, there are two popular stories circulating among the Dominican people. One is that the slaves were the ones who formed this type of dance as they cut sugar to the beat of drums while being chained together by one leg, as the other leg was forced to be dragged. The other story alleges that a hero of one of the many revolutions in the Dominican Republic was wounded by the leg and was welcomed by his village with a great celebration. The villagers participating in this celebration thus felt obliged out of sympathy to also limp and drag one foot, just as the wounded hero did. Both stories explain a characteristic of this dance, which resembles a sort of limping and dragging of one-foot movement. The original Merengue was not danced by couples as it is currently, but was a circle dance with each couple facing each other. Additionally, there was no blatant movement of the hips like in modern Merengue.