History of Ballroom Dancing
The social origin of ballroom dance lies in the European court dances of the 17th and 18th centuries. Initially, court dances were performed facing the throne because it was unacceptable to turn one’s back on a ruler. Court etiquette eventually relaxed, and dance took place throughout the ballroom. Most ballroom dances, like the polka and waltz, played a large part in social gatherings.
Steps to these dances were typically learned from older family members or friends, and even dance manuals were available to the public. The steps of ballroom dancing were much like those of other social dances, but the settings and social class associations differed. Events held in public dance halls were commercial whereas the governed ballrooms followed more etiquette.
The 19th century was a turning point for ballroom dance, specifically in the way the structure of dance events and styles performed, as well as the transmission of the tradition. Invitational events usually combined a reception and lengthy dance sets that alternated round dances with an elaborate type of German called the cotillion. Not only did ballroom dance change in the 19th century, so did its mode of transition. In the 1870s individuals and families established studios and joined professional associations to teach dance and thus creating the dance master profession.
20th Century Developments
Dances such as one-steps, two- steps, hesitations, and trots (including the fox-trot)—all so named because of their generally faster and more strongly syncopated (with accents placed on normally weak beats) musical style—could be learned by the public at large from dance instructors, manuals, or general-interest newspaper and magazine columns. In this new atmosphere of accessibility, two subcategories developed: professional exhibition ballroom dancing, in which a couple was paid to demonstrate in front of a paying audience, and competitive ballroom dance, in which amateur couples performed within strict regulations for prizes or titles.
Nonprofessional ballroom dance extended beyond ballrooms and into the public. There would be dances held in open-air dance halls, roof gardens, and some even held sponsored events for women so that they could assimilate to society. Soon, ballroom dance was met with the consumption of alcoholic beverages and the dance was significantly affected by prohibition in the United States.
Bands eventually began to perform different variations of fox trots and other ballroom music, this exposure helped establish those dances that have remained a standard ballroom dance into the 21st century. Eventually, ballroom and exhibition dances were solidified with social life and popular entertainment. The range of dances was seen from country clubs to nightlife clubs.
Older forms of ballroom eventually became associated with fundraising in the latter half of the 20th century. Most notably, cotillions and debutante balls, both served top to raise money and introduce young people into society. Earlier ballroom dance styles also continue to be practiced in traditional family settings, such as wedding receptions and the Mexican quinceanera, all marking a girl’s entrance into adulthood.
Once an expression of elite societies, the ballroom has continued to expand its appeal and adapt its approach.