Latin Vs Ballroom Dancing

A Comparative Analysis

By Tyler Kane

Ballroom dance refers to partner dances which originated in the Western world and are danced in both social and competitive contexts. Under the heading of ballroom dance are the ten competitive dances of International Standard (which is what most people refer to as ballroom dance) and International Latin dance. The International Standard dances are the Slow Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, and Quickstep. International Latin dances are the Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble, and Jive.

Latin Dance refers to dances which originated in or are derived from Latin American dances. Compared to typical ballroom dance, the Latin category includes dances that are faster-paced, more sensual, and have greater rhythmic expression. The time is usually 4/4. Couple stand face to face in the basic Latin Dance position. Music is variable – either traditional Latin American music or contemporary popular songs.

In all Latin dances, steps should be taken with the ball of the foot contacting the floor first, then the heel lowering when the weight is fully transferred. Latin hip movement is achieved though the alternate bending and straightening of the knees, or, in International Latin style, by making the weighted leg straight and bending the free leg. This allows the hips to settle in the direction of the weighted leg. Latin dance also uses different shoes than standard ballroom dance. Open toed sandals are common for women. It is common to take very small steps in Latin dance, unless the music is very slow, such as Bolero or Rumba. Men lead almost exclusively in Latin dance, with the female partner following. Erect stance and adequate tension in the body are also important for formal Latin dance.

The Cha Cha (originally cha-cha-cha) was created when a UK dance teacher, Pierre Lavelle, visited Cuba in 1952. Dancers were dancing the mambo with a triple step. This eventually became the modern Cha Cha. The Samba is of Brazilian origin, danced in 2/4 time. It has three steps to every bar of music, and is danced with a slight downward bouncing action created through the bending and straightening of the knees.

The Rumba is a very sensual Latin dance, done quite slowly. The only dance done more slowly is the Bolero, which some consider to be a subset of Rumba. In its original form, this Afro-Caribbean dance featured a lot of hip movement, simulating sexual activity. The modern formalized form of the dance is more sedate. The hip movement in this case is created solely by the bending and straightening of the dancers’ knees.

The fourth dance in the International Latin category is the Paso Doble. Unlike the other dances in this set, it originated in France. It is, however, modeled after the movement and drama of the Spanish and Latin American bullfight. The name is Spanish, meaning “two step.” Like other dances in the Latin category, forward steps are taken with the heel lead. Traditional Paso Doble music is written with breaks in fixed positions in the song. The dances are choreographed to match these breaks. This causes the dance to be almost exclusively danced competitively.

Last in the International Latin group of dances is Jive, which has its ancestry in swing dancing. This dance does not have obviously Latin American influences, but it does have the same sort of foot work, and the same emphasis on a steady upper body. It is the fastest of the group, known for quick leg action and triple steps.

International Standard, or ballroom dancing, the head, chest, hips and legs are held in an upright manner. These dances are characterized by smooth movements, in comparison to the very beat-oriented Latin dances. International Standard dances all progress on the dance floor. All such dances move counter clockwise around the room. The weight is carried on the ball of the foot.
The modern Slow Waltz, or simply Waltz, is performed in 3/4 time at a tempo of 84-90 beats per minute. Advanced figures may have four to six steps per measure, but basic figures have only a single step per beat. The Tango originated in Argentina. It was codified in 1922 to be danced at 120 beats per minute. The ballroom Tango can include staccato movements and head snaps.

The Viennese Waltz was the original form of the Waltz. It is danced at approximately 180 beats per minute. The dancers are constantly turning in a clockwise or counter clockwise direction. The music of the Viennese Waltz is very fast compared to other Waltzes, but maintains a slow harmonic pace and simple harmonies. It is danced in a closed position, and the figures are limited to turns and change steps.

Foxtrot, the fourth dance in the International Standard category, was invented by a vaudeville actor called Harry Fox to replace the two-step. The dance premiered in 1914 and was standardized by Arthur Murray. At its inception, the Foxtrot was danced to ragtime music, but is now normally danced to big band music in the same way as swing. The Foxtrot is the slower of two related dances. The other is the Quickstep, the last in the International Standard category. The latter dance is much the same as the Foxtrot, but time has given it techniques and patterns which are unique to itself.

The Latin dances are often considered the most romantic dances, but this is a matter of the dancers and the tension between them. While many Latin dances evolved from a tradition full of sensual implication, the Waltz and Tango have just as much potential to be performed romantically. What matters is the connection between the partners and their ability to communicate it to their audience. The major difference between ballroom and Latin dances is the conventions of each style. The Latin hip movement and leading with the heel distinguish Latin dance from Standard. Both types are performed almost exclusively as couple dances and are performed in competitive circumstances. Both Latin and Standard dances can be easily enjoyed and learned by anyone.