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Short Descriptions/History of Selected Ballroom Dances

Rhythm and Latin Dances


American Cha-Cha
Cha-cha is a Latin dance that started as a variation of the Mambo in Cuba.  Dancers first replaced the long SLOW count of Mambo with a triple hip undulation, and this evolved into a full triple-step.  This new version of Mambo, called the “Triple Mambo” was then danced to syncopated Latin music that contained the now-familiar “cha-cha-cha” rhythmic pattern.  The name “Cha-cha” comes from the name of a small rattle made from the seed pods (called cha-cha, tcha-tcha or kwa-kwa, depending on the island) of certain plants in the West Indies.  Originally called “Cha-cha-cha”, the official ballroom name of the dance is now “Cha-Cha;” it first came to the United States in 1954 and remains a favorite of the Latin dances.

American Rumba
 American Rumba owes its origin to dances from Cuba and other West Indian Islands.  It is the second slowest of the American Rhythm dances (the slowest being Bolero, which is danced to similar, but slower music).    It is characterized by a rolling hip movement referred to as Cuban Hip Motion which is achieved through the transfer of weight from one leg to another with the alternate bending and straightening of the knees.  It is one of the easier ballroom dances to learn and many of the beginning step patterns are the same as in the American Waltz

Known as the Cuban “Dance of Love”, the Bolero is the slowest of the American Rhythm dances, danced to music that sounds like very slow Rumba music.  Bolero is the only American Rhythm dance with no Cuban motion; instead it is characterized by body rise-and-fall with long, slow sweeping movements, punctuated by snappy turns.  The step patterns are similar to those found in Rumba, but the rise-and-fall and turns make it reminiscent of American Waltz. 

East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing was codified as an American Ballroom Rhythm Dance in the 1940’s.  It was derived from various street dances, most notable the Lindy Hop (which was named in honor of Charles Lindberg after his famous nonstop flight across the Atlantic.)  It was given the name of East Coast Swing to help distinguish it from West Coast Swing, a slot dance developed in California.  There are several variations of East Coast Swing, but the most commonly taught one is the triple-step.  The Triple Step Swing is a so-called spot dance (danced in more-or-less one place on the dance floor) characterized by turns, quick footwork, defined hip movement and lots of energy and fun.  There is an emphasis on the one count, and most patterns are based on a 6-count framework while the music to which it is danced is 4/4 count.  East Coast Swing is one of the first dances taught to ballroom dance students in most schools, and is easy and fun to learn.

Many of the steps in Jive resemble those in the East Coast Swing; the basic steps in both contain a Rock step and two Triple Steps. Jive is characterized by lots of energy, knee-lifting, and feet flicks and kicks.  Music for Jive is similar to music for other forms of Swing dancing, but is faster.   Jive originated with African-Americans in the 1940’s and was imported to Europe by American soldiers during World War II.  It was adopted as the fifth and fastest International Latin Dance in 1968 and is always danced last in 5-Dance International Latin Competitions. 

Mambo is one of the five American Rhythm dances recognized by the USISTD (United States Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing).  It is full of small quick steps with a prominent HOLD on the one count. “Mambo” means “conversation with the Gods” in Yoruba, the language spoken by the Africans brought to Cuba and other Caribbean Islands as slaves.  The combination of African rhythms, which used specific drum and bell patterns from religious ceremonies that called upon the gods, combined with Cuban music, became the music and dance known as Mambo. It first became popular in the United States in the 1950’s.  Today’s Mambo shares many step patterns with Rumba, Cha-Cha and East Coast Swing; it is its distinctive rhythmic pattern that makes Mambo unique. 

Paso Doble
Many ballroom dancers in the United States are not familiar with Paso Doble as a social dance and are surprised to learn that there are easy, basic steps in Paso Doble just as in any ballroom dance; it is a popular social dance in many countries, notably Spain, France, Vietnam and Germany.  Contrary to popular belief, the dance originated in France, but has acquired many Spanish movements over the years, as the steps were based on the movements performed by the matadors during Spanish bull fights.  In this dance the man is the matador, and the lady is the cape; i.e. the man’s movements are strong, while the lady’s movements are sharp, but flowing. The music for Paso Doble is Spanish march-like music, typical of the music played during the bullfighters’ entrance to the ring. 

Samba is a Brazilian dance of African origin. There are many versions of Samba today, and in Brazil, it is more popularly danced as a Single’s dance, not a Couple’s dance.  The Ballroom Couple’s dance version that is popular in the United States today is derived from the “Carioca Samba”, a carnival dance named for a small river in Rio de Janiero.  The dance is characterized by simultaneous latin hip movement paired with an up-and-down lilt. It is danced competitively as one of the International Latin dances, and has grown in popularity in recent years due to its exposure through popular television shows such as “Dancing with the Stars”.  The basic steps are easy to learn; the technique takes a bit longer!  It is an exciting dance, and should be danced with a Carnival-style fun attitude!