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A step-by-step guide to ballroom dances

USA Dance Chapter 2024 (Reprinted in part with the permission of the USA Dance Ohio Chapter 2024 web site.)

A step-by-step guide to ballroom dances

Reprinted in part with the permission of the USA Dance Ohio Chapter 2024 web site.

What's that dance?

Ballroom dance is grouped into two main styles: American and International. Many of the same dances are included in both categories but International style is stricter. In American style, the couple does not have to remain in closed position at all times and can separate, while International style requires the couple to stay in closed position.

There are two subsets of each main style:


Dances in American style include those with Cuban and African roots emerging in the 1800's, 18th century European dances and those originating in the United States in the 1900's.

This style is often seen at weddings. It is mostly used in social, informal dancing but is also seen in competitions in the United States. American style includes:

American Rhythm:

This style embodies the faster American style dances, such as the swing and salsa. There is a lot of what is called open work, meaning that the partners are often separate from each other. Dancers often do tricks to catch the audience's attention, such as when a male dancer releases the woman, and then twirls her back into his embrace. Many of the dances are "spot dances," where the couple uses a small area on the dance floor.

Examples are Cha-cha, East Coast swing, mambo, meringue, hustle, polka, samba, West Coast swing.

American Smooth:

This style requires dancers to move around the entire ballroom. It includes a lot of open work like the rhythm dances, but the dances are slower. This style is similar to International standard, except there is often room for embellishment and self-expression.

Examples are Waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, fox trot.


Dances in International style include those originating in Vienna in the late 1700's., Buenos Aires in the 1800's and the United States in the early 1900's. This is the main style used during competition over the globe and depicted in movies. International includes:

International Standard:

These dances are always in closed position. During competition there must be a very exact performance, following the syllabus that is provided. It is the slower of the international styles and is most similar to American Smooth.

Examples are Waltz, fox trot, Viennese waltz, tango and quickstep.

International Latin:

This is the faster of the international styles and is most like American Rhythm. For example, the jive in international Latin was based on American Rhythm's swing. This style of dancing is very staccato, sharp, animated and exact.

Examples are Cha-cha, rumba, samba, jive, Paso doble.