Different Strokes for Different Folks
Contemporary Ballroom Dancing comes in two major styles,
American Style and International Style.
American Style was developed by the major U.S. studio chains like Arthur Murray
and Fred Astaire, and also by the independent U.S. studios.
International Style was developed by the British, particularly through the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) and the International Dance Teachers' Association (IDTA). While most of the world uses International Style exclusively,
both styles are popular in the United States.
In each style there are two categories: In American Style, the categories are called Smooth and Rhythm and in International Style they are called Standard and Latin. For the most part, the Standard and Smooth categories contain the same dances and the Latin and Rhythm categories contain basically the same dances.
Here are the Dance Styles in the order in whch you will see them in Competition.
Smooth -- Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz
Rhythm -- Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing,
Bolero, Mambo, Samba
Standard -- Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot Quickstep
Latin -- Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive
American Smooth versus International Standard
Although American Style, Smooth and International Style, Standard are taught very differently, the styles are very similar. The most obvious difference is that International Standard includes Quickstep, which is not part of American Smooth. The other major difference is that International Style permits figures in closed position only, while American Style allows open positions and even solo actions. Beyond that, the main differences between the two styles are in emphasis rather than result.
American Rhythm versus International Latin
Compared to Smooth/Standard, Rhythm/Latin has relatively little overlap. While each category has Cha Cha, Rumba and a Swing dance, International has Samba and Paso Doble, while American has Bolero -- another, slower rumba dance -- and Mambo. The Rumba dances are dissimilar, even in their basic counts, with steps on counts 1, 3, 4 for American and 2, 3, 4 for International. Most importantly, the hip motion differs: in American style, one steps onto a bent leg; in International style, onto a straight leg.
There are also other social styles of dances that are not ‘strictly ballroom’ but are a lot of fun even though they are considered to be non-traditional. They include the Hustle, Salsa, Merengue, West Coast Swing, Argentine Tango, Lindy, Night Club 2-Step and Hip Hop.
There are many governing bodies, in the Ballroom Dance Industry, which specify their own standards for their Competitions, one of which is the Tempo of music allowed. The "best" dance music conforms to these tempos and maintains a steady tempo throughout the tune. This type of music is called "Strict Tempo" dance music.
Here in the USA, American style is practiced more for social dancing while International style is more common in competitions. People will dance either American or International style socially, and competitions may include both styles. “Official” tempi are only prescribed for the purposes of competitions and formal dance exams. The vast bulk of dancers have no interest in dancing in a competition or taking exams, so the official tempi may be irrelevant to these dancers.
During our Social Dances at The Promenade, we offer a selection of predominantly American Style, during our Friday Evening Social Dance, and predominantly International Style, during our Saturday Evening Social Dance. As we do attempt to stay within these standards, if it's a great song or if we have a specific request, our D.J. will most likely play it, no matter what niche it fits into. While there is a time and place for rigid standards, we believe, at least for our Social Dances, that it's really all about having a great time, dancing to great music.
Below you will see a list of the Dance Tempi, as dictated by three main governing bodies: The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance (ISTD), The National Dance Council of America (NDCA) and World DanceSport Federation (WSDF). While they are very similar, they do have their differences. Although we do not profess to play all "Strict Tempo" Ballroom Music, which would be expected during a Competition, we do try to stay within the guidelines of the NDCA for the majority of the music played during our Social Dances.