History Of Social Dancing in the 20th Century

History Of Social Dancing in the 20th Century


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Social dancing was derived from the concept of dancing by a couple, usually a man and a lady, in a closed hand. Coming from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, these dances gained popularity from the standard ballroom dances with diverse rhythms, tempos, and aesthetics. Although all these aspects changed with the change in the social attitudes, the one thing, which remained common through out the history of dancing, is that of the couple dance or the social dances. (Evans 2001)

These ballroom, although progressed with the pace of the music and social themes of the various periods, before the nineteenth century, these ballroom dances as they became to be called were categorized into the five different types. They were Modern Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, and Quickstep, all of which are presently danced the world over both socially as well as in dance sport competitions.

The Modern Waltz, had it’s origins in Austria, and was called the Waltzen in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. In Austria, this dance was called as the Landler, and the particular characteristics of this dance were that the dancers wore heavy shoes, and had animated hopping, slapping and stamping steps with complex underarm turns. However, in the later periods, lighter shoes with quick gliding and rotating movement steps were adopted, with a slower tempo.

The same Waltzen, or the modern Waltz, along with the fast Viennese Waltz evolved in America retaining the principle characteristics of turning the body, with an addition of a dip, and each partner holding or placing hands on the other partner’s hips. This particular dance gained popularity by the name of “Boston,” also because of the fact that it was the first ballroom dance in which the partners had to place their feet parallel, instead of turning them out as done in the traditional ballet.

Then there was the Tango, which had it’s origins in Africa, where it was called the Tangano. The Tango dance was brought to the American continent by the African slaves, and together with the flamenco dance brought by the Spanish settlers, formed the present Tango dance. Over the years, the flamenco dance has progressed, but today the same can only be seen in traditional Hispanic gatherings.

Another social dance, the Slow Fox Trot evolved during the Victorian era, which gained popularity due it’s faster pace. The name given to it was, One Step or Two Step, and it was performed by the dancers in such a manner, that they put a step per beat or two steps per bar. In the United States, the Slow Fox Trot became famous when it was introduced as the Castle Walk in the nightclub performances of Vermon and Irene Castle as well as popularized by Harry Fox in the New York stage show “Ziegfeld Follies in 1913.

The later part of the 19th century witnessed various types of dances more commonly know as Quicksteps. For example the Charleston, the Shimmy, and the Black Bottom, all brought and developed by the Negro working class. It gained popularity in the white section of the society after it was included in Ziegfeld Follies, who toured the entire U.S., and publicized music and dances which were previously limited to the Negroes. In this particular dance, the dancers wildly swayed their arms and legs at 200 to 240 beats per minute with an equally fast paced music. The Shimmy was another import from the Nigeria, where it was called the Shika. This particular dance was termed sexy, as the dancer, normally a female, would move the lower part of her body in such a speed, all without moving her legs, that the audience would be awestruck by the movements of the body. The present day shika, is performed by shaking the shoulders or hips in a very rapid style, all the while rotating them alternatively left, right, forward, and backward on the vertical axis of the body. (Evans 2001)


Evans, Don Herbison, History of Modern Ballroom Dancing, December 2001 http://www-staff.mcs.uts.edu.au/~don/pubs/modern.html

Primary Sources:

memory.loc.gov/ammem/dihtml/diessay9.html www-staff.mcs.uts.edu.au/~don/pubs/modern.html www.dosado.com/articles/hist-maca.html www.centralhome.com/ballroomcountry/foxtrot.htm www.mayihavethisdance.com/onlineinstructionhome.htm www.folkdancing.org

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