Social vs Ballroom

Basic Social Dance - Dance LessonsWhat is Social Dancing?
Social dancing is done on small, crowded dance floors in situations where the main purpose for getting together is a social event or celebration such as a wedding, office holiday party or a night out at a local hot spot which offers some room to dance. The opportunity to dance is an enhancement to the event but is not the sole purpose behind being there.

There are 6 basic social dances: fox trot/1 step, waltz, rumba, cha-cha, polka and swing/jitterbug.

Don’t want to look like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? Just don’t want to look like Abbott and Costello? Then Social Dancing is your choice!

What is Ballroom Dancing?
When a couple goes ballroom dancing they will visit a site with a very large dance floor. In many instances the building was constructed for the sole purpose of providing a place for people to dance. This space is necessary because of the movement patterns of ballroom dance steps. They are sweeping in nature and poorly suited to a social dancing site. The only steps that make a relatively easy transition are those found in the dances referred to as “spot” dances such as the cha-cha, swing and rumba.

Ballroom Dance is also divided into American and International styles. In general, American style is more open and creative; International is more demanding in terms of foot placement and the use of the dancer’s leg. The dancers spend a greater percentage of time in closed dance position in the smooth dances.

There are more dances here: Fox Trot, Waltz, Rumba, Swing, Cha-Cha, Mambo, Quick Step, Jive, East Coast Swing, Viennese Waltz, and Tango.

What Kind of Music Is Used for Ballroom Dancing?
The music for this style of dance is provided by big bands that play metered music. That is, each dance has a range of tempos that can be used. For example, Fox Trots can be played from 32 to 38 measures per minute. For International style however the choices are more limited and in competitions the music played most always is “strict” tempo. When playing their songs, these orchestras generally set up their arrangements with the dancers’ needs in mind.

Why Do I Sometimes Have Trouble Dancing to Social Dancing Music?
The music is often provided by a deejay or small bands. Recorded music is produced to show off or feature the particular ability of the artist(s) whose name appears on the cover. The music is arranged to enhance that ability. If by chance people find it a fun song to dance to that is a plus but no attention has been paid to what might make it easier for a dancer to follow the rhythm.

Small bands play their own arrangements of classic favorites or current pop tunes. Seldom are the musicians dancers so again we have the focus on the musicians’ performance ability on their particular instrument. They must play so that they can sound their best. Often if musicians are very proficient, they enjoy adding the equivalent of a dancer’s syncopations to their music. This ability is recognized and very much appreciated by other musicians. Unfortunately it often gets in the way of an inexperienced dancer who is struggling to hear the basic rhythm.

How Do I Work Around Imperfect Dance Music?
A beginning dancer needs all the help they can get when they are first learning to have fun with the steps they are learning. My suggestion is that you practice the steps you are learning without music until you are fairly comfortable, then proceed to using instrumental versions of songs to practice to. When that’s mastered, you’ll be able to go out and enjoy the challenge of music that’s not perfect from a dancer’s point of view.

Are There Other Partner Social Dances?
Absolutely. Here’s more of them.

  • West Coast Swing – A fun dance dones to bluesy, earthy, slow rock and roll music (i.e. Night Train, Black Satin, etc.).
  • NiteClub 2 Step – A dance that should use more of a pulsing motion in QQS rhythm; weight transfers should not be pronounced. Done to a lot of soft rock music.
  • Shag– Originated and danced primarily in the Carolinas. It is a slow moving dance with emphasis on shuffle steps. Dance is done in swing (open break) position.
  • Salsa – A Latin dance done in clubs with slight variations between different Hispanic cultures. In some cases the term is used as a catch-all for latin dancing or to describe music.
  • Cumbia – An up-tempo Latin dance done in clubs executed with more energy than basic salsa. Rhythm is QQS.
  • Merengue – A very quick tempo Latin dance where the partners step on each beat of the music, often times with a little dip thrown in.
  • Oberek – A dance with a swooping, Q-a-Q movement. There is a slight lifting of the body weight. Some dancers do a quick bouncing motion instead of the swoop. Dance is usually done at polka events.
  • Polka or Old-time Waltz – A quick tempo waltz with a SQQ feel. Done at polka dances and festivals.
  • Schottische – A dance that can be done with 2, 3 or 4 people. Steps are: 1, 2, 3, hop, 1, 2, 3, hop, step-hop, step-hop, step-hop, step-hop. Variations depend upon number of people dancing. Done mostly at old-time and polka events. There are also versions that permit you to change partners as an ice-breaker.

Is There Really a “Magic Rhythm?”
Yes. In my book it is QQS not SSQQ. In almost every social dance situation you can try moving (or even walking) in a QQS rhythm. You’ll be surprised how often that will work. You can go in any direction, forward, back, side to side using alternate feet. It’s amazing how well it works. You use this rhythm in rumba, mambo, salsa, cumbia, polka, fox-trot and tango regularly. You can use it in almost all other dances except waltz, merengue or schottische. Truly a versatile rhythm.

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