The origins of dance styles
There is an incredible variety of types, styles and genres of dancing – from street to nightclub, to folk dance to the ballroom. Some are recent inventions, resulting from social and political changes, while others have origins as old as civilization itself. Archaeological evidence of the early dance has been found in 9,000-year-old Indian rock paintings, as well as in Egyptian tombs with dancing figures decorating the walls, dated to around 3300 BC. The company’s love for dance has never wavered and it continues to be popular. With the rise of dance TV shows, official competitions, and public events around the world, we thought we’d take a look at some of the more common types of dance and where they come from.
Do you know your Jive from your Jazz, your Salsa from your Samba? Read on to learn about the surprisingly controversial origins of the waltz and the dark history of American tango.
The Charleston was particularly popular in 1920s America, as a fast-paced, highly syncopated dance (that is, emphasizing unstressed musical rhythms with steps and movements). Its name derived from Charleston, South Carolina, and although it is usually danced by two or more people, was originally a solo dance performed by African Americans. The Charleston was accepted as a ballroom dance in 1926, with Josephine Baker being one of its most famous performers.
Like the Charleston, the Foxtrot is another popular ballroom dance of American origin. It is danced to a walk-like ragtime (which can be slow or fast, alternating between slow and fast steps). It is a type of music commonly played on the piano, developed by African-American musicians in the 1890s. Like Charleston, this music also features syncopated melodies, with accented accompaniments. From around 1913, the Foxtrot was widely danced around the world.
The Lindyhop is another dance of American origin, performed by couples to swing music. It first appeared at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in the 1920s, where black dancers embellished the bustling steps of the Charleston with increasingly flamboyant improvised movements. These include quick spins, cartwheels, throws, and jumps, where the woman jumps with her legs straddling her partner’s waist or shoulders. After the Lindyhop became popular with white dancers, it became known as the Jitterbug and experienced a revival in Britain and the United States during the 1980s and 1990s.
Rumba is an incredibly distinctive Latin American dance, in 4/4 (the most common musical form). It originally evolved as a popular court dance in Cuba and was introduced to the United States in the 1930s. It is danced by a solitary couple and is characterized by a swinging motion of the hips.
Similar to Rumba, Salsa is also a Latin American dance performed in 4/4. Literally meaning sauce (with spicy overtones), salsa combines both Caribbean and European elements. Although the name itself is a fairly recent invention (invented in the 1960s), the origins of the dance can be traced back to older dances, notably Son, from Cuba. It is usually danced by couples and is characterized by rhythmic footwork, smooth turns and quick balance changes. Salsa achieved international popularity in the 1980s and has continued to evolve since.
Samba is a generic form of Brazilian music and dance, which can include many different forms and styles. Unlike Salsa which usually involves dancing with a partner, a Samba is often danced solo or in a group, as well as with a partner. This is generally a regular 2/4 rhythm, with syncopated accompaniment.
Tango is a South American dance performed at a slow 2/4 beat. It is characterized by a sensual partnership and fast interlocking footwork, based on dances brought to Argentina by African slaves. It was originally performed in the slums of Buenos Aires in the 1860s, closely related to the music and singing of tango. By the 1920s, however, tango became popular around the world as a form of ballroom dance, later popularized in stage performances and Hollywood films, as well as in musicals and ballets.
The origins of the Waltz are unclear, but it is a German-Austrian rotating dance (with many similar precedents), performed in 3/4 or 3/8 beats. The name Waltz appeared at the end of the 18th century, and it quickly gained popularity thanks to the music of Lanner and the Strausses. However, some European authorities tried to ban it, at the beginning, because of the daring embrace required between the dancers and the dancers. It features prominently in many ballets, including Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Nutcracker.
Image credit featured: “Tango Street Art, Buenos Aires” by Rod Waddington. CC-BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.