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Ballroom Dancing - The Rise of a Love Affair

Ballroom dancing draws its history from a massive array of time periods and cultural spheres. This exploration shall focus upon modern ballroom dancing and its development from the 20th Century. The style is based upon people dancing in pairs to the beat of music. There is Smooth ballroom dance, which uses a whole room to move around in anti-clockwise. They are often called, or compared to waltzes. The other style is Latin style ballroom dance. Couples do not use the entire room but focus on one area of the dance floor- examples include the swing, samba, and Cha Cha. The language that is used in modern ballroom dance tells much about its history. The description "ballroom dancing" comes from the Latin term ballare, literally meaning "to dance". The style we are interested in here is more related to the latter.

The genres of dance were becoming increasingly broad and interconnected during the twentieth century, largely due to the cultural effects of early globalization and colonialism. The popularity and participation of different dance styles were less separated by class differentiation and cultural group separation. Modern ballroom dancing is an excellent example of this and can be seen as an example of globalization of dance- and democratization of culture. That is- modern ballroom dancing is no longer defined by the participation of any particular social class or cultural group- it is loved and enjoyed by people of all spheres of the social and geographical world. The eventuation of modern ballroom dance is fascinating and an inspiring window of social history.

The culture of ballroom dancing during the early 20th century (and beyond) presented a progressive, massive shift from traditional (mostly European and North American) dancing which, until then, largely defined dancing by means of class based segregation and etiquette. The ruling and privileged classes engaged in dance as a formal activity, separating genders and using it as a means to relate to others, display status and impress contemporaries with their skill, rich attire and manners. The less privileged working class danced in less formal ways, mixed gender groups more- and were less focused on the social hierarchy of the art. Folk dance can be loosely defined to describe this. Ethnic identity as a vehicle for social segregation was also greatly challenged through the emergence of ballroom dance. Aside from the cultural mix of styles, people came together more and more, despite cultural differences.

The culture of ballroom dancing in the twentieth century was primarily founded upon Spanish and Argentinean dances. This cultural influence further dismantled the segregated class and ethic based social rules of 19th century dance culture.

Ballroom dance became popular in the early twentieth century as a social activity in which people could largely forget rigid social rules of dance and enjoy the freedom it brought. Couples on the dance floor no longer had to dance in sequence to other couples on the floor as was the case with traditional Waltzes. This allowed experimentation, personal creativity and greater individual focus on the experience.

Jazz, African American, Latino, Spanish and Cuban styles of music and performance were gaining mainstream popularity as ethnic-minority groups in the west gained cultural space in which to participate and share music more freely with other cultural spheres. Music has always underpinned the evolving of dance styles, therefore the shifts and democratization in music creation and engagement, particularly from the 1930s on, greatly increased the democratization and diversification of what lead up to modern ballroom dancing.

Although much of modern ballroom dancing, particularly in the west began as an informal arena, there were some institutions, people and bodies that accompanied its growth. Dancers including Victor Silvester, Arthur Murray, Vernon and Irene Castle developed a following and in some instances, schools, that developed ballroom dance as a formalized modern institution. The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing proved pivotal in modern ballroom dance becoming a formalized entity, as did the competitive arena of Dancesport championships. Although these people and establishments helped develop modern ballroom dancing, the essence of its growth came from- and continue to come from the cultural waves of creativity, change and inspiration among grassroots people and groups seeking to enrich their ways of being, development of self and expression and engagement with the social world in a meaningful, pleasurable way.