So You Want to Know About Ballroom

With shows like So You Think You Can DanceDancing With the Stars, and Strictly Come Dancing, the field of ballroom dance is quickly growing. Not only is it a great way to get moving, it’s a fantastic way to meet people and learn to dance.

As you may know, ballroom is a bit more complex than two people dancing together. Ballroom is the umbrella term for numerous competitive dances as well as social dances. Competitive dances are divvied up between International and American. As the name implies, American styles are almost exclusive the the U.S. while International is worldwide. At Bates, we focus on American styles with some attention to International.

International is further divided into Standard and Latin. Standard dances are characterized by graceful, flowing movement similar to a natural walking movement.  In contrast, Latin is generally made up of sharper movement with a lot of hip and foot action.

Standard Dances: Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep

Latin Dances: Cha cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doblé, Jive

American is divided into Smooth and Rhythm. Smooth dances are much like standard: graceful and flowing with motion similar to walking. The main difference from Standard is that partners are not in a closed position; they can separate (See the Twinkle Lock and Spin in Silver Waltz and Foxtrot).

The other American style is Rhythm. Like Latin, Rhythm features a lot of hip action and sharper movement than Smooth. The big difference between Rhythm and Latin styles is that hip motion differs. In American styles, one steps on a bent leg while in Latin the leg is straight.

Smooth Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz

Rhythm Dances: Cha cha, Rumba, Swing, Bolero, Mambo

At competitions, participants compete against couples at the same level. At early levels, participants must move up after a certain number of competition semesters. After those levels, participants must place out of that level. This is determined by the YCN point system (See here for more information). These levels are divided as follows:

  • Newcomer/Pre-Bronze (1 semester)
  • Bronze/Beginner (3 semesters)
  • Silver/Intermediate
  • Gold/Advanced
  • Novice
  • Pre-Champ
  • Champ

For more information on dances, syllabi, and music tempos, I recommend For the official DanceSport Syllabus, see DanceSport Resources. This also features a more detailed guide to the Proficiency Point system.


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