History of the Dances

Here is a brief history about some of the dances that we teach.


Foxtrot Facts


The story of the Foxtrot begins at the turn of the 20th century when African American musicians such as Scott Joplin began composing syncopated ragtime music.  A smooth dance like the Waltz would not do for this fervent new music.  One of the first dances to evolve for ragtime music was the Turkey Trot, a one-step that included flapping the arms like a turkey.  Then came the Monkey Dance, Horse Trot, Grizzly Bear, Bunny Hug and Kangaroo Dip.  Ragtime demanded dances with jerky steps, emulating the walk and the wild abandon of animals.


In 1914, a young dancer named Harry Fox did his version of trotting on the stage of the Ziegfield Follies.  Fox’s fast and jerky trot became the hot new thing in New York.  When the Foxtrot traveled to England, the jumps and high jinks of the origianl were ironed out.  What remains is a smooth, elegant dance more reminiscent of the Waltz than of the Trot’s hyperactive past.  In fact, many of the Foxtrot’s patterns have been adaped straight from the Waltz.


Dance characteristics

Key characteristics of the Foxtrot are smooth, gliding steps with controlled movement and an easy going look.  The foxtrot can be danced to many styles of music.  There are two styles of Foxtrot: social style may be danced with a mild bounce action, while competitive style has a smoother, more Waltz-like feeling.


Waltz Facts


Until the 18th century, dance was strictly divided between courtly and country forms.  In the courts, dances like the Minuet were refined affairs with an elaborate language of bows and curtsies.  There was little physical contact between dancers, and proper form, like turned-out feet, was considered essential. Everything changed with the Waltz.


The name Waltz comes from the Italian word “volver”, meaning to turn or revolve.  It evolved from a German and Austrian peasant dance called the Landler, and was the first widely popular dance to feature a closed position.  Because of this close hold, Waltz was denounced as scandalous and immoral.


The Waltz was ultimately standardized with the Box pattern and the dance hold we know today.  The Waltz dominated much of the European and American dance scene until the First World War, when the Tango and Foxtrot enraptured a whole new generation.


Dance Characteristics

Waltz is characterized by rise & fall and sway.  The feet stay in contact with the floor, creating a smooth, gliding look.  Waltz has an elegant gracefulness with a romantic and sometimes melancholy feel.


Tango Facts


Tango is a dance that has influences from European and African culture.  Dances from the candombe ceremonies of former slave peoples helped shape the modern day Tango.  The dance originated in lower-class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.  The music derived from fusion of various forms of music from Europe.  The word “tango” seems to have first been used in connection with the dance in the 1890s.  Initially it was just one of the many dances, but it soon became popular throughout society, as theatres and street barrel organs spread it from the suburbs to the working-class slums, which were packed with hundreds of thousands of European immigrants, primarily Italians, Spanish and French.


In the early years of the 20th century, dancers and orchestras from Buenos Aires travelled to Europe, and the first European Tango craze took place in Paris, soon followed by London, Berlin, and other capitals.  Towards the end of 1913 it hit New York in the USA, and Finland.  In the USA around 1911 the “tango” was often applied to dances in a 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm such as the one-step.  The term was fashionable and did not indicate that Tango steps would be used in the dance, although they might be.  Tango music was sometimes played, but at a rather fast Tempo.  Instructors of the period would sometimes refer to this as a “North American Tango” versus the so-called “Argentine Tango”.  By 1914 more authentic Tango stylings were soon developed, along with variations like Albert Newman’s “minuet” tango.


In Argentina, the onset on 1929 of the Great Depression, and restrictions introduced after the overthrow of the Hipolito Yrigoyen government in 1930 caused Tango to decline.  Its fortunes were reversed as Tango became widely fashionable and a matter of national pride under the government of Juan Peron. Tango declined again in the 1950s as a result of economic depression and banning of public gatherings by the military dictatorship; male-only tango practice – the custom at the time – was considered public gathering.  That, indirectly, boosted the popularity of rock and roll because, unlike Tango, it did not require such gatherings.

American Tango is a ballroom dance that branched away from its original Argentine roots by allowing European, American, Hollywood, and competitive influences into the style and execution of the dance.  The present day ballroom Tango is divided into two disciplines: American Style and International Style.  Both styles are enjoyed as social and competitive dances, but the International version is more globally accepted as a competitive style.  Both styles share a closed dance position, but the American style allows its practitioners to separate from closed position to execute open moves (like underarm turns), alternate hand holds, dance apart, and perform side by side choreography.


Dance Characteristics

Tango is a dramatic dance characterized by a close hold (that is more compact than the other smooth dances), a low center of gravity and an emphasis on Contra Body Movement.  Movement in Tango is stealthy, almost cat-like and has an unmistakable staccato feel.


Viennese Waltz


In 1787, Waltz began to appear on the operatic stages of Vienna.  As the popularity of Waltz increased in Vienna, so did its tempo.  Sometime in the early 1800s, Austrian composers such as Johann Strauss and Franz Lanner increased the number of measures per minute in their Waltzes.  The faster music required dancers to have greater technique and endurance.


This new version of Waltz became known as Viennese Waltz.  Like Waltz, many considered the dance to be immoral.  In a book written about good manners by the English author, Miss Celbart, she advised that while it was permissible to dance Viennese Waltz if a lady were married, it was “too loose of character for maidens to perform.”  Despite such contentions, Viennese Waltz continued to be extremely popular in Europe and America until the First World War.


Dance characteristics

Viennese Waltz is characterized by its speed (approximately twice as fast as Waltz), as well a rise & fall and sway (both significantly less than in Waltz).  With its elegance and turns, Viennese Waltz has an air of magic about it.


Cha Cha Facts


Cha Cha evolved from a version of Cuban Mambo called Chasse Mambo.  As music always dictated the dance, chasse (meaning to chase) steps were inserted between the forward and back breaks when a slower version of Mambo music was played.  Reportedly, Cha Cha got its name from the sound of women’s shoes shuffling across the floor.


Cha Cha was introduced to the United States in the early 1950s and promptly sparked a dance craze.  Enrique Jorrin, a Cuban violinist, is attributed with creating the first Cha Cha song.  After arriving in the U.S., the traditional violins and flutes were often exchanged for big-band instruments such as trumpet, trombone, and saxophone.


Dance Characteristics

Cha Cha is lively and fun. Unlike the smooth dances which travel around the line of dance, Cha Cha is a non-progressive dance that emphasizes Cuban Motion and rhythm expressed throughout the body.


Mambo Facts


Mambo developed from the Cuban dance Danzon, and was greatly influenced by Cuban Haitians and American Jazz.  Perez Prado is credited with introducing Mambo at a Havana nightclub in 1943.  Other Latin musicians made significant contributions to Mambo’s growth and development, including Tito Rodriquez, Tito Puente and Xavier Cugat.


Around 1947, Mambo arrived in New York.  Quickly becoming all the rage, Mambo was taught at dance schools, resorts and nightclubs, reaching its height of popularity by the mid-1950s.  The fad waned with the birth of Cha Cha, a dance developed from Mambo.  The Mambo has regained its popularity, due in large part to a New York dancer named Eddie Torres, as well as popular Mambo songs and movies.


Dance Characteristics

Mambo is a fast and spicy dance characterized by strong Cuban Motion, staccato movement and expression of rhythm through the body.  The dancer holds on count “1” and breaks on count “2”.  Mambo also features exciting swivels and spins.


Bolero Facts


Bolero was originally a Spanish dance with Moroccan roots.  Bolero is often called the “Cuban Dance of Love,” and is thought to have similar origins to Rumba.  Bolero is believed to have evolved from Afro-Cuban and Spanish folk dances such as the Danzon, Beguine and Fandango.  Arriving in the U.S. in the mid-1930s, it was danced in its traditional form to a constant beat of drums.  Contemporary Bolero music is slow and dreamy, usually with Spanish vocals and soft percussion.


Dance Characteristics

Bolero is a romantic dance characterized by slow, smooth, gliding movements, graceful turns, and dramatic arm styling.  Bolero uses elements from three dances: contra body movement from Tango; rise and fall from Waltz; and slow Latin music and a modified version of Cuban motion from Rumba.


Samba Facts


Samba originated on Brazilian plantations, where the African rhythms of slaves mixed with European music.  Samba music served as an oral history, and the dance was a solo art form with rapidly moving hips and quick transfers of weight.  Samba was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1920s via the Broadway musical, Street Carnival, and became more widely exposed through film.

In the U.S., Samba evolved into a partner dance that was standardized as a ballroom dance in 1956.  In Brazil however, Samba remains largely a solo form, danced at street festivals and other celebrations with nationalistic pride.


Dance Characteristics

Samba is an upbeat, lively dance that progresses counter-clockwise around the floor.  It is characterized by its bounce and rolling hip action.


Merengue Facts


Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic, where it originated in the early 1800s.  Merengue bands from the countryside typically included a vocalist backed by an accordion, a metal scraper and a double-headed tambora drum played with a stick.  Legend says the dance acquired its characteristic look from an old war hero who returned from battle with a wounded leg.  While dancing, he couldn’t help but limp to one side. Out of respect, all the villagers started dancing with a limp.


Whatever its true origins, Merengue arrived in New York as early as the 1940s, gradually becoming a part of the Latin dance and music scene.  The music has since evolved into an international phenomenon, with musicians such as Juan Luis Guerra popularizing its easy-to-follow beat.


Dance Characteristics

Merengue is a fun and easy dance made up of simple steps.  Primarily a non-progressive dance, it can also travel counter-clockwise around the dance floor.  Noted for its Cuban Motion, Merengue is also characterized by its marching feel.  Emphasis may be put on count 1 by taking a larger step and slightly dragging the opposite/closing leg.


East Coast Swing Facts


East coast Swing traces its roots to the original swing dance, Lindy Hop.  Lindy Hop was created in the last 1920s by African American youth at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem.  Danced to the swing and jazz music of big bands such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman, Lindy Hop was, and remains, a dynamic, athletic dance.


By the mid-1930s, Lindy Hop (also called Jitterbug and Swing) had captured the imagination of young people everywhere.  It was widely danced in the U.S. and Europe through the end of World War II.  In the early 1940s, Lindy Hop was tamed and simplified by dance schools to become a ballroom dance called Eastern Swing.  In the late 1970s, the name was changed to East Coast Swing.


Dance Characteristics

East Coast Swing is a fun, upbeat, non-progressive dance, distinguished by its bounce, back break (also called a “rock step”), and “swing hip action”.


West Coast Swing Facts


There are various stories of how West Coast Swing (WCS) evolved from Lindy Hop.  One is that people, tired of being kicked by wild Jitterbug dancers, began to dance in a slot.  Another is that the end of the Big Band era forced dancers to move into blues clubs where they modified Lindy Hop to fit the smaller spaces and slower music.  Others believe WCS was created in Hollywood by dancer Dean Collins, because dancing in a slot made for better camera angles.


Whatever its true origins, WCS was born in California during the 1940s.  Called Western Swing, this new dance was popularized in the 1950s by Arthur Murray dance studios and teacher Skippy Blair.  In 1959, the dance was renamed West Coast Swing.  While WCS is the official California state dance, it is danced widely throughout the United States and Canada.


Dance Characteristics

West Coast Swing is smooth (no bounce) and danced in a slot.  The dance allows room for syncopated footwork and improvisation.  WCS can be danced to a wide range of music including rhythm and blues, country western, funk, disco, and rock and pop.


Argentine Tango


It has been said that Argentine Tango is a feeling that is danced.  This is probably because it was born out of the emotions of the many immigrants, most of them men, to Argentina in the late 1800’s who were away from their homeland and missing their loved ones.  The dance became a fusion of their varied ethnicities including many Europeans and Africans. The small “cafes” and brothels of La Boca watched Tango grow as “guapos” (guys) and “compradritos” (street toughs) seduced their women to the steps of a dance they had rehearsed with other men.  Then came the downtown cabarets where the children of breeding, the sons of traditional families, went in search of pleasures forbidden by conservative morals.


It is no surprise that Argentine Tango has become a favorite of dancers everywhere.  It is truly a unique dance primarily due to two reasons.  First, it is an improvisation not only in the patterning but also in the musicality.  Secondly, it is dance in two systems, Normal System, also, known as Parallel System (i.e. the man steps left while the lady steps right or visa-versa) and Cross System (i.e. the man and lady step on the left or right at the same time).  For these reasons it is danced to a wide range of music from the orchestra of Carlos Di Sarli (slow, even tempo) to the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese (more dramatic with varying tempos in each song) to the music of Astor Piazzolla (modern Tango with a classical composition).  You will even find people dancing Argentine Tango to other types of music or their favorite contemporary music.  As you can well imagine, all of this leads to many different styles.


Despite the creative nature of Argentine Tango you will find that there is an underlying code and logic that all Tangueros understand.  It can be compared to speaking a language.  Once you understand the grammar and vocabulary of that language you can improvise your words and communicate with others who understand that language.  You will find that this manual teaches you the grammar and vocabulary of Argentine Tango.  The patterns include at least one example of each type of Oco (figure eight), Molinete (windmill), Giro (turn), Media Vuelta (half turn), Carpa (tent style lean), Barrida (sweep), Ganco (hook), Sacada (displacement), and more.  The manual has been written for Salon style Argentine Tango (a more open embrace or combination of open and close embrace which is usually best for newcomers to dance).  While there is certainly no one way to dance Argentine Tango, this manual will provide you with a clear understanding of the dance and, we hope, inspire you to explore its many possibilities.


We invite you to discover and enjoy the passion of Argentine Tango.


Latin Hustle

by Billy Fajardo

In the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s, discotheques with high quality sound  systems and flashing lights became a popular form of entertainment in Europe and America.  In the early 1970’s, dancing in the discotheques was mostly freestyle dancing – similar to the “Rock” style exhibited by pop stars of the day (i.e. the Jackson Five).  The afro hairstyle, bellbottom pants and marshmallow shoes were the fashion craze of the younger generation of the time.


A small group of young adults and teenagers formed a subculture in New York City, competing in the many discotheques in a variety of dance contests, mostly performing the aforementioned “Rock”.  Some of the popular clubs at this time were The Contiki, Footsteps and The Red and White.  These were the “hot clubs” where the best dancers from the boroughs of New York City would gather to dance, compete and exchange information.


In early 1973, at a discotheque called The Grand Ballroom, women were exhibiting a new and nameless “touch dance”.  The dance had a basic form with a simple 6-count step and featured inside and outside single turns. This was the birth of what would later be called Hustle.  The young men at the club took notice, instantly interested in this new “touch dance” that represented a return to romance and was, quite simply, a great way to meet women!  From that time on, the Hustle gained enormous popularity and has continued to evolve to this day.


In Latin discotheques, including The Corso, Barney Goo Goo’s and The Impanema, disco music was used as a bridge between live band sets.  In these clubs, touch dancing had always been present in the form of Mambo, Salsa, Cha Cha and Bolero.  As a result of this cultural fusion, the simple, original 6-count Hustle began to incorporate the “Rock Step” action of the Mambo.  The count of the dance became “1-2-3-4-5-6”.  Although a touch dance, the Hustle was frequently performed side-by-side and began incorporating many of the intricate turn patterns from Mambo.  Hustle came to include multiple turns and hand changes with a “ropey” feel to the arms, inspiring the dance to be called “Rope Hustle” or “Latin Hustle”.


Although New York City continued to be the main hub and innovation center for the evolution of the Hustle, in 1974 and 1975 the Hustle gained popularity and began to spread across the United States.  Dance contests began to pop up in every city as the phenomenon continued.  At the same time, the gay community began to exert its influence.  Many of its members were involved in the professional performing arts and added balletic arms, long lines, and elasticity to the Hustle.  Also at this time, the dance changed from a purely slotted pattern into a rotational one.


In 1975, dance competitions abounded and young competitors were seeking an edge.  Acrobatic and adagio movements were incorporated into the Hustle and a whole new style of dance entertainment was born as nightclubs, hotels, and the television industry began hiring these young and innovative professionals.  These opportunities fueled the fire, and young dancers continued seeking new ways to excite club audiences.  The Hustle became faster and more exciting, and the original “1-2-3” of the dance was dropped leaving the “&4-5-6”, and this has remained the standard way Hustle is counted today.


The New York Hustle dancers from the 1970s paved the way for the rest of the Hustle community across the United States.  The Grammy Award Winning song Do the Hustle, by Van McCoy, only added to the popularity of the Hustle craze and eventually the word “Latin” was dropped from the name although currently, the young salsa community refers to the dance as the “Latin Hustle”.  Hustle has borrowed from numerous dance styles including Swing, Latin and Smooth Ballroom (incorporating its traveling movements and pivots).


Today the Hustle continues to evolve, and is the last authentic American partner dance born and cultivated in the United States.


Lindy Hop


The Lindy Hop is an American dance that evolved in Harlem, New York City in the 1920s and 1930s and originally evolved with the jazz music of that time.  Lindy was a fusion of many dances that preceded it or were popular during its development but is mainly based on jazz, tap, breakaway and Charleston.  It is frequently described as a jazz dance and is a member of the swing dance family.


In its development, the Lindy Hop combined elements of both partnered and solo dancing by using the movements and improvisation of black dances along with the formal eight-count structure of European partner dances.  This is  most clearly illustrated in the Lindy’s basic step, the swingout.  In this step’s open position, each dancer is generally connected hand-to-hand; in its closed position, men and women are connected as though in an embrace.


Revived in the 1980s by American, Swedish, and British dancers, the Lindy Hop is now represented by dancers and loosely affiliated grass roots organizations in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania.