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What is International Ballroom Dance Style?

# Beginner Guides

"Beauty, elegance, and passion, portrayed by a couple, dancing as one,” renowned professional ballroom dancer, Timothy Mason, explains of International Ballroom. Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep make up the five International Ballroom dances.

Tim Michele Mason Dance


In 16th century Europe, the slow Waltz was initially considered scandalous due to the close proximity of a couple while they moved. However, the dance quickly became popularized as it was introduced to commoners by English infantry soldiers in the early 1800s and composers began to pick up on this new dance. Today, the Waltz is still known for its closeness in frame (like all the Ballroom dances), but also for its effervescent flow, wave-like action emphasizing count two, and storytelling abilities.

The theatrical Tango is set apart from the other four dances with its unique technique and dance position. Due to a more staccato, striking action, dancers maintain a more grounded dance position, where the leader and follower spend more time with their lower bodies connected than in other ballroom dances. You may also notice that the top line of the dance position differs in this dance—the follower will drop their left hand from the top of the leader's right arm to the bottom, placing it adjacent to the underarm. This makes the dance position more compact, allowing for articulate and fast body actions. Dancers maintain movement without body rise, meaning they move down the line of dance remaining at one level, unlike the up and down, wave-like movement in the Waltz.

The historical Viennese Waltz originated in, you guessed it, Vienna, Austria. It is faster than the slow Waltz and composed of only seven syllabus figures. Unique to this dance, even at an "open" level, dancers typically do not stray from the foundational figures, usually dancing a routine that would be compatible with a "gold" level. With a focus on both rotation and the ability to travel across the dance floor, the artistry of this dance is created by a partnership's ability to maintain voluminous yet fast-paced movements as they race around the dance floor.

The sophisticated Foxtrot is jazzy and classy—danced at a slower tempo than the American Smooth style, allowing dancers to put effort into the intricate rise and fall and decisive footwork patterns. Anecdotally, the Foxtrot has been awarded the title of 'most challenging ballroom dance.’ "There is sheer poetry in a couple gliding through a Feather, Reverse and Three-Step,” Timothy said, “and many professional partnerships begin their open Foxtrot choreography with the same three syllabus figures.” This contributes to a mesmerizing scene at ballroom dance competitions as dancers take off simultaneously, dancing like they are in a formation, only to break off and create separate choreography.

The iconic Quickstep starts with a bang as dancers leap, run, jump, and glide down the dance floor. Did we mention that they do this while connected to one another? Likened to the energy of the Jive, the Quickstep is a crowd favorite as dancers create artistic movement patterns and breeze past other couples on the dance floor.

Ballroom Dancers

International Ballroom vs. American Smooth: Dance Position

So when do Ballroom dancers take a break and drop their arms? Don't hold your breath! Characteristic of the International Style, dancers maintain dance position throughout each of the five dances. In contrast, within the American Smooth style, where dancers are free to move in and out of dance position at their leisure, even involving positions such as shadow which are based on traditional dance position.

Let's break down how to enter dance position: the leader will extend their left hand, inviting the follower into a dance position. As hands connect, the leader guides the follower to the right side of the leader's body, and the follower will connect hips, ribs, and their left arm. While it may seem like the arms are doing all the work, they actually are "quiet" throughout. Instead, the connection between bodies is the primary engine that leaders use to indicate timing and direction.

The International Ballroom Syllabus

Like other styles, International Ballroom is categorized from Bronze to Gold within a syllabus, breaking down different movement patterns (figures) by level. Learn the Dance Vision International Ballroom Syllabus on the Dance Vision Library.

What is International Ballroom?

International Ballroom Choreography

International Ballroom choreography at the "open" level develops syllabus figures into creative, stylistic combinations, while maintaining the dance style's characteristics. As professional ballroom dancer, Michele Mason explains, "International Standard is a beautiful form of dance that blends beauty, grace, and poise with technique and mechanics of motion while also showing artistry, flexible body actions, and timing within the dance partnership."  

International Ballroom Costumes

International Ballroom costumes are very distinct! Leaders typically wear a full tail suit: the suit coat displays a split tail traveling all the way down to the leader's legs. Tail suits often include all traditional accessories: cummerbunds, a tie, and cufflinks.

Followers adorn beautiful, Cinderella-like gowns within this dance style. While the type of skirt is typically full, the bodice can have any neckline, sleeve-length, beading, embellishment, or additions that a dancer can imagine. This can include pearls, crystals, feathers, appliqués, or beads. An iconic addition to Ballroom Gowns are called “floats” which are connected from the followers wrist to the back of their dress. These pieces of fabric float in the wind as dancers glide across the floor. Floats can often add a distinct element of uniqueness being made of chiffon, feathers or beaded stones.


Are you ready to give the International Ballroom Style a try?

Here's a free lesson with Slawek Sochacki, focusing on principles of good posture within Ballroom dancing.



How about some work on the types of movement within Quickstep? 

Here's a free lesson with United States Professional Ballroom Champions, Iaroslav and Liliia ​​Bieliei


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