Dancing Styles

Click on the titles to view a video of that dance style. All videos are from the Tenth Annual Terrier Dancesport Competition, held at Boston University on February 13, 2011. Videos were taken and uploaded by the UConn ballroom team.

Click here for an ISTD syllabus.

American Rhythm:


Swing music has an infectious accent on the upbeat and makes even non-dancers tap their feet, and snap their fingers. The most elemental definition of Swing dancing is any style of dancing to Swing music, and there are hundreds of styles. Swing dancing is usually characterized by its bounce and energy as well as lots of spins or under arm turns.


Originally called the Cha-cha-cha, this dance evolved from the Mambo and the Rumba on Cuban dance floors in the 1950’s. It is danced to Latin music with strong African and Cuban rhythms. The Cha-cha has a 4/4 syncopation where 5 steps are danced in 4 beats of music. Its unmistakable counting “one, two, cha-cha-cha” requires that the dancers use small steps. Hip movements and bending and straightening of the knees give the Cha-cha the classic Cuban motion.


Sometimes called the Grandfather of the Latin dances, the Rumba made its way from Cuba to the United States in the early 1920’s. Rumba music is in 4/4 time and there are four beats in each measure. Two measures of music are required for a full basic step. In four beats of music, three steps are taken. Essential to Rumba is the Cuban motion achieved through knee-straightening, figure-eight hip rolls and swiveling action of the feet. Strong and direct walks lead by the ball of the foot are also characteristic of the Rumba.


Bolero is a smooth, sophisticated, sentimental ballroom dance that originated in Spain in the late 18th century. The emphasis is on smoothness, grace and communication between partners. Bolero has the same Afro-Cuban roots as the Rumba and is thought to have originated in Cuba. The American Style Bolero is a unique dance style combining the patterns of Rumba with the rise and fall technique and character of Waltz and Foxtrot. The music is 4/4 time, and is danced to the slowest rhythms of the Latin ballroom dances.


Originally from Cuba, the Mambo is enjoyed throughout the world at both the social and competitive dance levels. The mambo is a favorite of ballroom audiences because of its high energy level and infectious rhythms. The feel of the Mambo is based mostly on forward and backward movements. The basic components of the dance include rock steps and side steps, with occasional points, kicks and flicks of the feet. Important to Mambo is the distinctive hip movement, hence the meaning of the word mambo: “shake it.”

American Smooth:


American Waltz is a sub style of waltz that can be recognized by its prominent use of the open position. Waltz is a smooth progressive dance characterized by long, flowing movements, continuous turns, and rise & fall. Graceful and elegant, Waltz dancers glide around the floor almost effortlessly. The American style is punctuated with lavish open movements, underarm turns, and solo spins.


Foxtrot is a smooth progressive dance characterized by long, continuous flowing movements across the dance floor. The American style version of the Foxtrot takes many forms: The Bronze level Foxtrot, truest to the original Harry Fox version, is a simple combination of walks and chasses ideal for social dancing. Silver American Foxtrot adds continuity, taking on the quality of its International counterpart. And with the possibility of open, apart, and side by side movements, the Gold level Foxtrot resembles the signature styles of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.


Tango is earthy and dramatic. Movements are sometimes slow and slithery, and other times sharp and stacatto, such as a quick foot flick or a sharp head snap to promenade position. Tango has the same counter clockwise flow of movement around the dance floor, but with a lesser sense of urgency in comparison to the smoother and more continuous ballroom dances. American Style Tango, especially at highly-developed skill levels, makes great use of open and alternate dance positions to further showcase Tango’s dramatic nature.

Viennese Waltz

Danced much slower than the International dance by the same name, the American Viennese Waltz follows the rules of all American dances and lets the partnership separate during the dance to have free spins and other moves you cannot do in regular closed hold. The music of the Viennese Waltz is elegant and full of passion. The dance is beautiful and it is a real pleasure to watch the dancing pairs.

International Latin:


Jive is a dance style that originated among African Americans in the early 1940s. It is a lively and uninhibited variation of the Jitterbug that belongs to the Swing dance group. Modern Jive, sometimes called French Jive is a dance style that originated in the 1980s. It derives from Swing, Lindy Hop and may include Rock ‘n’ Roll and others, the main innovation being simplification of footwork.The most distinctive feature of the dance is that the man leads the lady in dancing the turning and spinning figures.


The Cha Cha Cha is a fairly recent dance that is a combination of the Rumba and the Mambo. It gained rapid popularity because of its simplicity. As a competition dance it appeared later than other Latin-American dances. Since its introduction it has been subjected to various modifications enabling dancers to perform it in several ways. The Cha-cha has a 4/4 syncopation where 5 steps are danced in 4 beats of music. Its unmistakable counting “one, two, cha-cha-cha” requires that the dancers use small steps. The Cha-cha is a very flirtatious dance filled with a catch-me-if-you-can attitude between partners. Hip movements and bending and straightening of the knees give the Cha-cha the classic Cuban motion.


The Rumba requires a good sense of rhythm and also persistence to master the technical niceties which tend to be skipped by less skilled dancers. These niceties come as a result of good balance and coordinated movement of the ankles, knees and hips. Essential to Rumba is the Cuban motion achieved through knee-straightening, figure-eight hip rolls and swiveling action of the feet. Strong and direct walks lead by the ball of the foot are also characteristic of the Rumba.


Samba is a lively, rhythmical dance of Brazilian origin in 2/4 time danced under the Samba music. The ballroom Samba is danced to music in 2/4 or 4/4 time. The basic movements are counted either 1-2 or 1-a-2, and are danced with a slight downward bouncing or dropping action. This action is created through the bending and straightening of the knees, with bending occurring on the beats of 1 and 2, and the straightening occurring on the “a”.

Paso Doble

Paso Doble originated in France, but is reminiscent of the sound, dramas and movement of the Spanish bullfight. Paso Doble means “two step” in Spanish. It is a dance for the Man, which allows him to fill the “stage” with strong three-dimensional shapes and movements danced with “Pride and Dignity”. The woman’s role varies depending on the interpretation of the dance. The woman can take the role of the matador’s cape, the bull or even the matador at different times within the dance. Characteristics of the Paso Doble are the “marching” flavor given to the steps and the cape movements creating tension between both dancers.

Video taken by the UConn ballroom team at the MIT Open Ballroom Dance Competition 2011.

International Standard:


The waltz can be traced back to the 1770’s. It originated from the dances of several different peoples in Europe but its main predecessors were the “Matenick” and a variation called the “Furiant” that were performed during rural festivals in the Czech Republic. The French dance, the “Walt”, and the Austrian “Lindler” are the most similar to the waltz among its predecessors. The waltz became popular at the beginning of the 19th century in Vienna, from where it spread all over the world. The king of dances acquired different national traits in different countries. Thus there appeared the English Waltz, the Hungarian Waltz, and the Waltz-Mazurka. The waltz cannot be rivalled in its long-lasting popularity. During the 1920’s the musical form of the waltz was further developed and new dances appeared: the Boston Waltz and the Slow Waltz. These dances were the forerunners of the modern waltz that is now performed in dance competitions.


The Foxtrot appeared in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century and reached its peak of popularity in the 20’s. The rapid growth in its popularity was due to the talented American dancers Vernon and Irene Castle. Over the years several variations of the Foxtrot have appeared, the most popular ones being the Slow Fox and the Quickstep. The Slow Foxtrot is characterised by long lines, uninterrupted and fluent progressive movements. It implies reserved strength and flight. The dance is complicated since it requires balance and constant control during every movement. To perform it graciously, the dancers, but most especially the lady, need constant training. The Slow Foxtrot requires considerable space and cannot be danced if the ballroom is crowded.


The choreographic sources of the Tango are Argentine and Spanish folk dances. In the 19th century, the Tango became wide-spread in South America, and it first appeared in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. Tango uses a modified dance hold, more compact than the normal closed position ballroom hold. Boldness and resolution, sudden pauses and unexpected poses, and changes of directions are characteristic of Tango.


The Quickstep is a light, lively, cheerful dance, crammed with jumps, hops, right, left and back turns. Apparently there are several levels of interpretation: a sparkling dance for youthful dancers, a more refined nobility for middle-aged dancers, and a more reserved, choice choreography for older dancers. English in origin, it replaced the Foxtrot which was a quick dance popular in the 1930’s. The lively rhythm of the Quickstep requires lightness and mobility from the dancers.

Viennese Waltz

The Viennese Waltz is a rotary dance where the dancers are constantly turning either toward the leader’s right or toward the leader’s left, interspersed with non-rotating change steps to switch between the direction of rotation. A true Viennese waltz consists only of turns and change steps. Other moves such as the fleckerls, American-style figures and side sway or underarm turns are modern inventions and are not normally danced at the annual balls in Vienna. Furthermore, in a properly danced Viennese Waltz, couples do not pass, but turn continuously left and right while travelling counterclockwise around the floor following each other.