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English Ballroom Dance

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English Ballroom Dance

by Benjamin Secino

English Ballroom Dance
Ballroom Final.jpg
Senior (Over 35) Ballroom Championship Waltz Final, 2017 Blackpool Dance Festival
Photo Credit: Benjamin Secino

Abstract


This milestone explores modern English Ballroom Dance styles, techniques, and histories. Specifically, the objective of this milestone is to provide a historical background and modern context for International Waltz, to experience this and other International styles through classes, and to generate a video demonstration of a modern International Waltz routine.

Prior to embarking on this milestone, Benjamin Secino took over one hundred hours of Ballroom classes at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, learning International Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep, American Waltz, Foxtrot, International Cha Cha, Rumba, Jive, Mambo, Bolero, Samba, American Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, and Lindy Hop. Benjamin has competed in four collegiate Ballroom competitions, winning five ribbons. Benjamin is also the Treasurer of the WPI Ballroom Dance Team.

Introduction


This project outlines the history of English Ballroom Dance by following the evolution of the Waltz from the early 1800s to the present day. Studying the history of dance gives us a unique perspective on the ways in which cultures have shifted over time. Studies of social dancing also show how major historical events, such as the First and Second World Wars, shaped the ways in which people socialize and interact. Several histories of dance already exist, but this project differentiates itself by generating a sphere of knowledge that allows readers to come to the topic of Ballroom Dance with no prior information, leaving with a broad understanding of the essence of this social sport.

On a personal note, I came to this project without ever having created a comprehensive guide to a topic that is anything similar to what I've attempted here. The experience of filling out the branches of information surrounding the central trunk of English Ballroom Dance and the Waltz has been refreshing and informative.

Section 1: Background


Starting in the Middle Ages, Ballroom Dance evolved in Europe as a series of court dances. Although these dances were highly formal in nature, and were most often performed facing the throne, they owed many of their steps to folk dances[1]. Indeed, besides location and atmosphere, very little distinction existed between court and folk dancing[2]. In both cases, lines of dancers moved around the floor in squares or circles, joining together and moving apart as a group[3]. One reason behind this style of movement was the constraint put upon dancers by the rooms they occupied. In the Middle Ages, it was common for rooms to have a central hearth, completely blocking that section of the floor[4]. This forced dancers to move in lines around the periphery of the floor, or to dance in compact arrangements, such as in a tight square. Even when chimneys and hearths began to move to the sides of dance floors, the contra dance style remained dominant[5].

Within the overarching contra dance style, new variations were constantly being introduced[6]. Each of these dances needed to be learned and memorized before they could be performed on the dance floor. Learning these dances required either a dedicated instructor or the study of a dance manuel. One of the earliest dance manuels was written by John Playford in 1651, and featured instructions and music for one hundred fifty dances. Many of these dances were created to commemorate special occasions, such as a royal wedding or a military victory, and were given names such as "Flowers of Edinburgh" or "The Downfall of Paris"[7]. For the next several hundred years, the only major developments in social dancing were these ever-changing variations, with introductions of new variations occurring each season. But while these variations allowed for social dance to take on different characteristics and flavors, they stopped short of delivering anything fundamentally new. This revolution would have to wait until 1812, the year that Waltz entered into the repertoire of English Ballroom dance[8].

Read More about Contra Dance

Waltz: Dancing to a New Tune


Waltz differed from all previous English ballroom dances in several fundamental ways. Waltz introduced body contact, a sustained close hold, and a great deal of rapid spinning, all of which came as a shock to English culture[9]. Waltz first entered England in 1812 through an elite dance club in London called Almack's Assembly Rooms[10]. At the time, Almack's served as a "marriage market" for debutantes, a place where aspiring young men and women could search for a socially-advantageous match[11]. The dance quickly gained popularity in this atmosphere, while also garnering a less-than-savory reputation. Lord Byron was among the early skeptics, releasing a poem in 1813 titled, "Waltz: An Apostrophic Hymn," an excerpt of which appears below[12].

Waltz—Waltz—alone both legs and arms demands,
Liberal of feet—and lavish of her hands;
Hands which may freely range in public sight,
Where ne’er before—but—pray ‘put out the light.’
Methinks the glare of yonder chandelier
Shines much too far—or I am much too near;
And true, though strange—Waltz whispers this remark;
'My slippery steps are safest in the dark!' [13]

Unphased by this critique, the popularity of Waltz quickly spread through the city and even gained a foothold with the Royal Family. Waltz was included in the 1816 royal ball, the Regent's Fête[14]. In reaction to its appearance at the ball, the London Times published an editorial decrying the "voluptuous[15]" dance, stating:

So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so foul a contagion.[16]

Despite these strong words (or perhaps because of them), Waltz became one of the favorite dances of the working and middle classes, who would practice at public dance halls[17]. Such outcry also failed to stop the diffusion of Waltz through the highest ranks of English society. It is reported that Queen Victoria herself was an admirer of the dance, and received extensive private lessons. To her regret, though, Queen Victoria could seldom practice the Waltz in public because it was considered "undignified for the Sovereign to dance in the arms of a subject[18]."

Waltz continued to grow in popularity through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, gaining in both legitimacy and formality[19]. Waltz had become the primary social dance in England by the mid-19th century, and retained this honor until World War I[20]. It wasn't until the introduction of dances even more salacious than the Waltz in the 1910s that its popularity began to wane[21].

Read More about the Waltz

American Influence on English Ballroom Dance


Starting in the early 20th century, America began to have a significant impact on the popular dance styles in England and Europe[22]. The first challenger to Waltz's dominance came just before the start of World War I. Foxtrot "crept in, like a cat, from America[23]" when exhibition dancers Vernon and Irene Castle gave a well-recieved original performance[24]. Foxtrot became more popular than the Waltz during World War I, and remained a crowd favorite for many years after[25].

Rag music and jazz, also popularized by the Castles, first arrived in England from America in 1911, and new dances based on these rhythms were quick to follow[26]. Before this period, popular English dances had almost exclusively come from France. With Ragtime, dances were suddenly coming from New York[27]. These dances were far less restricted than anything seen previously, appealing to the younger generation. Many of these were the Animal Dances, a category that included the Grizzly Bear, Foxtrot, the Duck Waddle, the Bunny Hug, and the Turkey Trot[28]. Dances in this category were performed by couples walking, trotting, or swaying around the dancefloor in imitation of a certain animal[29]. The majority of these dances were short-lived crazes, but they did influence later dances like the Quickstep[30].

During this period, Ballroom was democratized. The Animal Dances and their descendants were highly syncopated to the beat of the music and could be easily learned by the public at large[31]. This allowed ballroom to expand in popularity.

Read More about Vernon and Irene Castle

Competitions and Standardization


Starting in the early 1920s, dance clubs in London began to hold Ballroom Dance Competitions. These early competitions tended to each showcase a single style of dance, such as the tango, Waltz, or foxtrot. As the popularity of competitions increased, larger competitions were organized. The first competition featuring multiple styles was held in March of 1922[32]. A decade and a half later in 1936, the first World Championship took place in Bad Nauheim, Germany, bringing together competitors from fifteen nations and three continents[33].

As the popularity of competitive Ballroom grew, so did the standardization of the different styles. In the 1920s, the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing formed a Ballroom branch focused on creating standards for each of the styles[34]. These standards made it easier for judges to rank competitors on the dance floor. A major component of this standardization was the development of the Syllabus, an internationally-recognized document that contained the legal moves for each dance. The Syllabus is still in use today[35]. For the 2016 Syllabus put out by USA Dance, see this link.

Read More about Ballroom Dance Competitions

Recent History


In the latter half of the 20th century, Ballroom dancing experienced a decline in popularity. This followed the overall trend of partner dancing, which has been in decline since the early 1960s[36]. The cause of this trend is believed by many to be the growing inaccessibility to the public of partner dances, which require some foreknowledge of steps and figures[37]. The initial decrease in popularity was most likely caused by dances like the twist, which appeared in the early 1960s[38]. The twist is not danced with a partner, and requires much less training than any Ballroom dance[39]. In its most basic form, the twist is performed by simply swiveling the feet against the floor, twisting the body, and moving the arms. The twist is a loosely defined style, allowing for a large amount of improvisation. Even unskilled dancers could quickly master its essence. With such a simple dance available, interest in learning more complex ballroom dances faded[40].

Ballroom dance experienced a partial revival in the 1980s with the popularization of televised competitions[41]. Popularity again increased with the 2004 television series Strictly Come Dancing[42], and again with the ongoing television series Dancing With The Stars[43]. Today, although social Ballroom dance is still common, much of the style and culture of the sport is focused around the competitive arena, likely because of the influences of these shows[44].

Section 2: Deliverable


Additional Image

In order to gain more insight into the modern practice of and culture surrounding English Ballroom dance, I attended eighteen group dance lessons, six Ballroom socials, and received five hours of private instruction on the current style of International Waltz.

Through the group lessons and socials, I noticed several interesting contrasts between the International Ballroom style as practiced in London and the International Ballroom style I know to be practiced on the East Coast of the U.S. It should be noted that I attended all of my activities through a single dance academy, Inspiration 2 Dance, so I cannot prove that the differences I noticed were not isolated to this one school. However, because my primary instructor, Viktoriya Wilton, is an accomplished competition dancer, ranking 8th in the United Kingdom in Latin dance[45], it is my belief that her teachings are an accurate reflection of the current state of Ballroom in England.

The first difference I notice between Ballroom as practiced in London and Ballroom as practiced in the U.S. is the level of student formality. In the U.S., I've participated in lessons given to college students and lessons given to adults, and in both cases all dancers, with the exception of the instructors, wore casual sports attire. The style of dress worn to dance lessons in London seems to be much more formal, with button downs for the men, one or two of whom often wear a tie, and light dresses for the women. This style is several rungs below business casual, but is still many floors higher than the jeans, sweatpants, and t-shirts worn to lessons in the U.S. I feel that this is less a result of the International style of Ballroom than it is a direct product of London's good fashion sense. Nevertheless, formality, wherever the source, plays a role in dance. The atmosphere of lessons is changed by semi-formal attire, gaining a greater sense of confidence and professionalism.

There are also some minor differences in the execution of certain steps. I think that this surprises me most; I'd previously through that steps were fully standardized across countries, appearing the same way in London as they do in Worcester. The dances might change, but the steps within dances? Apparently so. I've noticed the following differences:

  • In International Jive, for a step called the "Stop and Go," the leader and follower perform a series of underarm turns while changing places with each other. For the version of this step that I'm familiar with, the leader places his hand on the follower's back as she performs an underarm turn from left to right, signaling that she should stop and reverse direction. Here in London, this hand on the back is removed, replaced by a variation in the way the leader holds the follower's right hand in his left.
  • In International Foxtrot, for a step called "Grapevine," the leader and follower take a series of quick sideways steps, crossing their feet in front and behind as they do so. In America, the Grapevine takes on the following rhythm: Slow, Slow, Quick Quick, Slow, Quick Quick Quick Quick Quick Quick, Slow, Quick Quick. On the first two Slows (which last twice as long as Quicks), the leader steps diagonally forward and left, starting with his left foot. He then steps sideways and closes his feet on Quick Quick. The next Slow is taken backwards and to the left. The series of six Quicks allows the leader to repeatedly cross his right foot in front of and then behind his left foot while rotating his upper body and progressing to the left. The next Slow is taken diagonally forward and to the by the leader's right foot, after which he steps to the side and closes on the final Quick Quick. The version of this step in London is slightly different, acquiring the rhythm: Slow, Slow, Quick Quick Quick Quick Quick Quick Quick Quick, Slow, Slow, Quick Quick. The step is fundamentally the same, and works just about as well, but takes on a different execution style and character.


International Waltz Routine


The following video of an International Waltz routine was performed By Benjamin Secino and Viktoriya Wilton, an instructor at Inspiration 2 Dance. The steps of the routine, in order of appearance, are as follows:

  1. Whisk
  2. Chasse from Promenade Position
  3. Natural Turn (Half)
  4. Overturned Natural Spin Turn
  5. Turning Lock to Right
  6. Chasse
  7. Wing
  8. Hesitation Drag
  9. Back Lock
  10. Underturned Natural Impetus Turn
  11. Weave
  12. Natural Turn (Half)


The inclusion of the Overturned Natural Spin Turn and the Turning Lock to Right cause this routine to be classified as Gold-level.

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Conclusion


This milestone showed that social dancing in England, and especially Ballroom dance, has been a constantly changing cultural force for many hundreds of years. In the early 1800s, the Waltz first rose to prominence, bucking social norms and the age-old traditional dances. Waltz remained popular for many years, only surpassed in the 1910s by Foxtrot. Since this time, Waltz has remained a major part of the Ballroom repertoire, featuring regularly in Ballroom competitions and social events. A major trend in Ballroom dancing since the 1960s has been toward the competitive arena, transforming Ballroom dancing into DanceSport. Competitions remain a major part of Ballroom dancing to this day.

In order to gather more first-hand experience of the modern state of Ballroom dancing in England, I attended group and private Ballroom dance lessons. My experience confirmed the trend for Ballroom dancing to move more and more toward competitions. Most of the lessons were geared toward competitions, and the lessons that leaned more toward social dancing were attended largely by an older group of students. My private lessons focused on competition-style International Waltz.

Going forward, a similar project could focus on the history and present-day practice of International Jive. This dance is a direct descendant of Swing, which is, in turn, descended from African-American cultural dances. This lineage lends Jive a fascinating cultural history which should be more fully explored.

References


  1. Cohen-Stratyner, B. (n.d.). Ballroom Dance. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/art/ballroom-dance
  2. History Of Ballroom Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.ballroomdance.co/history-of-ballroom-dance/
  3. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  4. History Of Ballroom Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.ballroomdance.co/history-of-ballroom-dance/
  5. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  6. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  7. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  8. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  9. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  10. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  11. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  12. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  13. Hornem, H., Esq. (1821). Waltz: An Apostrophic Hymn. W. Clark.
  14. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  15. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  16. Wilson, C. A. (n.d.). The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812. BRANCH. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=cheryl-a-wilson-the-arrival-of-the-waltz-in-england-1812
  17. Russell, M. (n.d.). The History of Ballroom Dancing. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.montrealballroomdancing.com/2011/07/the-history-of-ballroom-dancing/
  18. Russell, M. (n.d.). The History of Ballroom Dancing. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.montrealballroomdancing.com/2011/07/the-history-of-ballroom-dancing/
  19. A History of the Development of Ballroom Dancing in the U.K. 1918-1939. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.wellingtonschoolofdance.co.uk/a-history-of-the-development-of-ballroom-dancing-in-the-uk-1918-1939
  20. A History of the Development of Ballroom Dancing in the U.K. 1918-1939. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.wellingtonschoolofdance.co.uk/a-history-of-the-development-of-ballroom-dancing-in-the-uk-1918-1939
  21. A History of the Development of Ballroom Dancing in the U.K. 1918-1939. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.wellingtonschoolofdance.co.uk/a-history-of-the-development-of-ballroom-dancing-in-the-uk-1918-1939
  22. 20th Century Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.earlydancecircle.co.uk/resources/dance-through-history/20th-century-dance/
  23. A History of the Development of Ballroom Dancing in the U.K. 1918-1939. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.wellingtonschoolofdance.co.uk/a-history-of-the-development-of-ballroom-dancing-in-the-uk-1918-1939
  24. A History of the Development of Ballroom Dancing in the U.K. 1918-1939. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.wellingtonschoolofdance.co.uk/a-history-of-the-development-of-ballroom-dancing-in-the-uk-1918-1939
  25. A History of the Development of Ballroom Dancing in the U.K. 1918-1939. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.wellingtonschoolofdance.co.uk/a-history-of-the-development-of-ballroom-dancing-in-the-uk-1918-1939
  26. 20th Century Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.earlydancecircle.co.uk/resources/dance-through-history/20th-century-dance/
  27. 20th Century Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.earlydancecircle.co.uk/resources/dance-through-history/20th-century-dance/
  28. 20th Century Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.earlydancecircle.co.uk/resources/dance-through-history/20th-century-dance/
  29. 20th Century Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.earlydancecircle.co.uk/resources/dance-through-history/20th-century-dance/
  30. 20th Century Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.earlydancecircle.co.uk/resources/dance-through-history/20th-century-dance/
  31. Cohen-Stratyner, B. (n.d.). Ballroom Dance. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/art/ballroom-dance
  32. Powers, R. (n.d.). The Evolution of English Ballroom Dance Style. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/English_ballroom_style.htm
  33. About DanceSport. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from https://www.worlddancesport.org/About
  34. History of Ballroom Dancing. (2017, April 28). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://ballroomdanceronline.com/history-of-ballroom-dancing.html
  35. Syllabus Outline of Modern Ballroom Faculty Qualifications. (2017, April). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from https://www.istd.org/about-us/documents/modern-ballroom-syllabus-outline/
  36. History Of Ballroom Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://dancelessons.net/dancehistory/HistoryofBallroomDance.html
  37. History Of Ballroom Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://dancelessons.net/dancehistory/HistoryofBallroomDance.html
  38. History Of Ballroom Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://dancelessons.net/dancehistory/HistoryofBallroomDance.html
  39. Twist (dance). (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twist_(dance)
  40. History Of Ballroom Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://dancelessons.net/dancehistory/HistoryofBallroomDance.html
  41. History Of Ballroom Dance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://dancelessons.net/dancehistory/HistoryofBallroomDance.html
  42. Syllabus Outline of Modern Ballroom Faculty Qualifications. (2017, April). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from https://www.istd.org/about-us/documents/modern-ballroom-syllabus-outline/
  43. Cohen-Stratyner, B. (n.d.). Ballroom Dance. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/art/ballroom-dance
  44. Cohen-Stratyner, B. (n.d.). Ballroom Dance. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/art/ballroom-dance
  45. Viktoriya Wilton. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2017, from http://inspiration2dance.com/teacher/vicky/


A Note Regarding Online References


Due to the nature of this research project, many of the sources cited above are websites hosting non-peer-reviewed material. Although these sources would not traditionally be considered 'scholarly,' they are the best - and sometimes only - sources available for modern Ballroom dance information. Ballroom dance is a sadly neglected field of academic study, and few major works exist that study it comprehensively. Throughout this project and its linked pages, articles are considered to be quality sources when they are written by experts in the field of Ballroom dancing - i.e., Ballroom dancers. Frequently, websites published by Ballroom dancing schools are referenced. Information is also taken from the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, an internationally recognized association of dance instructors. Similarly, BallroomGuides.com is taken as a quality source. BallroomGuides.com is a highly-regarded source of information within the Ballroom community, and is used frequently for tutorials on certain dance figures, or for information on proper frame and general technique. Other sources with similar reputations are also used.