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Ballroom Dance Styles - Waltz, Foxtrot, Merengue, Salsa, Rumba

Ballroom dance as a style constitutes a number of different sub styles, each with unique attributes, mood and skill sets. These dances have one defining move in common which is the Cuban motion- the swaying of the hips and bending and straightening one leg. Here we explore some of these and how they contribute to ballroom dance culture. The two main sub categories are known as the 10 dances and International Latin. The category of ballroom dance is incredibly fluid, therefore perspectives on what constitutes ballroom dance depend upon perspective.


The waltz first gained popularity in the late 1700s in European nations. Its formation took place primarily within the upper middle class and circles seeking social mobility and status. The original waltz of this time was much slower in motion then contemporary styles. The basis of the dance is a one-two-three beat, often considered to be one of the most famous dance moves known.

The beginning of the popularity of waltz was surrounded with controversy. The proximity of the dance pairs and the romantic mood it creates was seen as a moral thread to the conservative values of the majority of upper class Europeans.

Contemporary waltz is called Viennese Waltz or the slow waltz. It is considered a classic formal dance and is incorporated in many dance routines. Its formality and gentrification is interestingly reflected in the fact that throughout modern history, admirers and participators have attempted to grant the waltz a proper noun grammar status.


The foxtrot as a formally recognized dance genre emerged in 1913, named after Harry Fox, a dancer in New York who captured the imagination of the dance world with his new style. It is literally described as a trot and although has evolved culturally and artistically, it maintains much of its original style and form. Its contemporary form is based upon smooth soft movements. The description "Rolls Royce of the dances" is used colloquially to encapsulate the ease and smoothness of movement that dancers aspire to.

It is perceived as one of the easiest dances to begin with due to the relative simplicity of the more basic moves. Like all dance styles in the ballroom genre, the skill required is very sophisticated at the competition end of the performance scale.

The Foxtrot originated from the waltz and the latter is universally proposed to be one of its underpinning influences. One difference is that the foxtrot moves to a 4/4 beat whereas the waltz us 3/4 beat.


The merengue is the easiest of all ballroom dance styles to begin with. It is based upon a number of straight line side steps, to which dancers can add flair and interpretation. It is perceived by many as an amalgamation of the French and African Minuet, making the colonial history from which it developed highly visible and unquestionable.

The colonial setting which we explore is from the late 1700s onwards. An explanatory narrative which most social historians agree upon is that the African American slaves took to some of the dance moves upon watching the dance hall celebrations of the European colonists. The dance moves were integrated into their own celebrations, often in a subversive manner. Despite the overt subversion and mockery posed by their dances, it nonetheless integrated into the African American dance styles.

The merengue is a joyful energetic upbeat dance, involving its participators in fun and flirtation. Based upon a 4 beat time frame to which you move in every beat, it is highly energetic.

The Dominican republic and Haiti to a lesser extent have embraced the merengue as their national dance, reflecting the extent to which this dance obtained popularity and cultural significance as a teller of history and celebration.


Salsa is poignant to the genre and history of ballroom dance. Since the 1970s, during which it became known in New York as a formalized dance genre, it has been a melting pot of derivative dance influences. It is historically based upon earlier 20th century Cuban styles of dance such as cha cha, mambo and Son and other Afro-Caribbean and Latin regions.

It is particularly adored for its free form and creative execution. Participants may interpret the music and style without too much concern for rigid form requirements. Engaging with this dance is possible for participants whether or not they have had lessons, partly why it is still so popular and accessible. The commonalities with other ballroom, Hispanic and Latin dances, including the Mambo with its 6 steps over 8 music beats, make its historical roots evident.

Colonial history has shaped salsa dance in that Cuban, Spanish and Afro-Cuban styles were mixed in ways that were not privy to more traditional dance, from the late 18th century onwards. The appropriation of regional dance by Western culture in the 20th century continued to shift the genre's style.


The Rumba also originated in Cuba and the Caribbean region. Afro-Cuban heritage has informed many ballroom dances with the "Cuban Motion"- that is, the very expressive hip circle motion. The Son is central in its elevation to a global phenomenon. This dance is renowned for its sensual, expressive movements and mood. Being relatively slow, it is indeed sensuality in motion. It is based upon a dichotomy of fast and slow movements, creating an air of mystery, suspense and anticipation. It is by definition a sub text for flirtation and social connection.