Ballroom dancing has gained in popularity lately. Many couples are taking ballroom dance lessons imitating their favorite stars on the popular show, ‘Dancing with the Stars’. Dancing has proven to be a great way to stay in shape and to bond with your spouse. So how did ballroom dancing get its start? What’s the history behind this popular activity?
The term ballroom dancing refers to types of partner dances. Today the term encompasses dancesport, and the dances included in ballroom dancing are more tightly controlled. Historically, however, ballroom dancing meant any form of formal social dancing.
The term stems from the Latin word ballare which means ‘to dance’. From its inception, ballroom dancing was differentiated from folk dancing, which was reserved for the lower social classes. However, many ballroom dances were actually nothing more than refined folk dances.
Historically, ballroom dances referred to the Minuet, Quadrille, Mazurka, Polonaise, Pas de Gras and other such dances. The Minuet or menuet originated in France and was designed for two people in ¾ time. The word itself stems form the French menuet which means small and delicate. During its heyday, the dance was slow and graceful. A more spirited form of the Minuet developed later on. The Quadrille is a dance of French origin and is performed by four couples in square formation. It is said to be a precursor of square dancing. The term quadrille initially refered to a formation of four horsemen. The Mazurka is a dance of Polish origin. It is performed in triple meter and the tempo is upbeat with an accent on the third beat. The Mazurka became popular in Europe during the nineteenth century. The Polonaise is another dance which stems from Poland. In contrast to the upbeat Mazurka, the Polonaise is a slow dance. The Pas de gras originated in France. These dances are all considered historical ballroom dances.
Today, the term ballroom dance refers to any dance involving two people, one a leader, the other the follower. Generally, the male leads and the lady follows. The man, is thus responsible for the choreography and the direction of travel. The female must follow the male’s lead while making the dance look effortless and graceful. The dancers are described as a frame, the male and picture, the female.
Modern ballroom dance has changed substantially. With the passing of the two world wars, American ragtime music influenced dance moves; its syncopated rhythms inspired the Foxtrot and Shimmy. Later on in the 1920’s came the popular flapper dance as well as the Charleston. In the 1930’s and 1940’s the Jitterbug became popular as Swing made its mark in the music scene. The fifties saw the emergence of rock and roll, and dancing changed forever.
However, ballroom dancing today has become a competitive sport. It encompasses a variety of different styles and steps and movements are subject to inspection. During a competition, everything form a performer’s frame, posture, speed and alignment are judged.
Today many couples are taking ballroom dance lessons. While they may not compete professionally, ballroom dance lessons give them a chance to socialize and get fit too.