kurt lichtmann

(from Cuba & Puerto Rico), Bachata & Merengue (from the Domincan Republic) - energetic and passionate dances, they can also be subtle and sensual. In Ithaca, there is great latin dancing at several venues: Oasis, Level B, Castaways, Tompkins County Latino Civic Association annual events. There are big salsa venues in Syracuse, Binghamton, and Rochester. Check the CNY Dance Calendars. In addition to the usual focus on footwork and moves, ithacadance classes focus strongly what to listen for in the music, on movement styles, and how both ladies and guys can have fun as dancers, not just as "leaders" & "followers!"

Jumpswing, Lindy Hop/Jitterbug, West Coast Swing, East Coast Swing, Balboa, Carolina Shag, St. Louis Shag, Push Whip, Imperial, Hand Dancing... This is a very short list of the swing dance styles to evolve out of the 1930's and 1940's - there are plenty more regional styles, both USA and worldwide. But it all started in the USA - an amalgamation of European and African music/dance styles created by African-Americans, starting in New Orleans, the second hub being Harlem NY> In Ithaca, the first four styles are the most known. Teens on American Bandstand danced a simplified form of what is now called East Coast Swing - it is recognized worldwide. It is a good place to start for older beginning dancers, and worth knowing by all dancers. Swing dance is America's perfect marraige of African & European temperments, and music/dance traditions. I have written a lot about this at ithacaswingdance My DVD set has a charming history segment on this topic. Blues Dancing, although a century old has gottne a boost as a result of the modern Lindy Hop scene.

MUSIC: Not just Benny Goodman, Count Basie, etc., not just Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, etc. Great jitterbug music by the Beatles ("Can't Buy Me Love"), Stevie Wonder ("Part Time Lover"), Martha Reeves ("Heat Wave"), Kenny Loggins ("Footloose"), Billy Joel ("For The Longest Time"), Madonna ("Hanky Panky"), John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John ("You're The One That I Want"), etc, etc.

Venues for Swing include Jumpswing Club Rooftop Mayhem, Cornell Swing Dance Club, ISDN, and various monthly and annual events, such as Grassroots and Ithaca Festival.
Check the calendar for details. Rooftop Mayhem's annual February big band valentine's dance is a local highlight.

The worldwide ballroom craze can justifiably be traced back to ex-slapstick comedy vaudevillian Vernon Castle and his wife, actress Irene Castle in the pre-World War One era. They tamed the wild dances of the time, adapted various ethnic folk partner dances, made them attractive to more reserved and refined temperments, and defined lead-follow style dancing for generations to come. The Castles ushered in an era when social partner dances were THE entertainment phenomenon of society. TV was not yet even dreamed of in the wildest imagination (except in the mind of Nicola Tesla).

Some of the dances that the Castles created/adapted have become extinct, and some have evolved into modern ballroom standards with the original or changed names. Their student Arthur Murray took the Castles' creative and adaptive work towards even further lengths. The most popular modern social ballroom dances include Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Swing, Merengue, Salsa/ Mambo, Cha cha. More dedicated ballroom enthusiasts also enjoy, Samba, Quickstep, Paso Doble and Viennese Waltz. Our experience has shown that the Castle Foxtrot, one of the earliest American ballroom dances, is a most excellent beginner dancer strategy. It is enjoyable, easy to learn, and very practical. See info under each dance on this page.

Most couples prefer a nice romantic slow song for their bridal/wedding/first dance (although a few want an uptempo tune!). Slow songs are played more at weddings than at clubs, since slow songs tend to draw larger numbers of guests, especially older couples, on to the dance floor. There are a vast number of wonderful slow tunes to choose from in all eras of popular music. Out of all the dance styles, we feel that the Castle Foxtrot, created by Vernon and Irene Castle, is the easiest access point to ballroom dance for the beginner, as well as the most practical dance style to learn. The Castle Foxtrot is also very satisfying and fun, and open to endless variation as one advances in dancing. One can learn it quicky, making it suitable for bridal couples starting just a few months or less before their wedding. Our Wedding Dance DVD, which we are very pleased with, is currently available.

At its core, Salsa is a fun Caribbean-rooted dance, and appeals to playful, creative, energetic types with a sense of humor. Translation: "Sauce." Salsa's roots are Africa and Spain. These influences came together in the Caribbean countries of Cuba and Puerto Rico, where Afro-Hispanics created the music and dance. The music was created in 1938 by Cuban cellist and composer Oreste Lopez, an evolution of the Cuban Son. He called the music Mambo.

But it was his friend, bandleader, composer, and fan of American jazz, Perez Prado who put Mambo into a big band format. Prado was the first "Mambo King," touring and recording extensively. In addition, Perez Prado created the actual Mambo dance in 1948. You can hear his recordings on Amazon, itunes, etc. Prado wrote the original Mambo No.5, a huge hit again decades later (1999), when covered by Lou Bega.

Many Cuban/Puerto Rican dancers and musicians emigrated to New York City, Miami, and Los Angeles, especially from the beginning of the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba. The dance and music took several big leaps forward in New York CIty in the 1950s-60s. The huge NYC dance hall The Palladium was NYC's most prestigious Mambo Club. From the early 1970's onward, the dance/music was re-named SALSA, and this re-naming gradually became standard worldwide - same dance, different names (more on this later). Many Cuban composers today use the names Mambo and Salsa (and even Cha Cha Cha) interchangeably. FYI - the term "Mambo (Voodoo priestess)" comes from Haiti, where Voodoo is the main religion.

Style: Salsa is the core of club latin dancing in Central NY, New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and many countries around the world. Salsa can be danced energetically (the staple style one sees in clubs) or intimately (seen less often). It can be danced as a strong lead-follow dance, very controlling, with a lot of complex turns, or the guy can give the lady considerable latitude to play (Salsa Libre style - our term). Salsa can be just a big bunch of complex manuevers, or it can be very expressive, or it can be very playful, flirtatious and sexy. It can also be funny! There is room for many temperments. When you get a creative guy and a gal who both have a sense of humor, and have wide boundaries, it can be amazing to watch. There are circle dances variations (Casino Rueda), and line dance variations (Salsa Suelta). There are currently at least three distinct regional USA styles: New York, Los Angeles, and modern Cuban.

: In the world of Dancesport, there are two main competition divisions: American and International (UK). This dance is called Mambo in American Rhythm; there is no Mambo or Salsa in International Latin. In Dancesport Mambo, the break (the step away from center) is theoretically on 2. (In a recent Dancesport Competition, I saw many couples breaking on 1 <wrong>, and a few breaking on 2 <correct> - however the "1" types usually don't make it to the next round.) Ballroom people are fond of saying "Salsa breaks on 1, Mambo breaks on 2," but this is extremely naive. Many accomplished hispanic salsa dancers break on 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 as they please. More detail on this follows.

The Break: Outside of the Dancesport world - the clubs, the street dancing - no distinction of Salsa and Mambo exists. Songs use the names Salsa or Mambo interchangeably, and dancers in various regions break on 1,2,3, or 4. Los Angeles dancers and native Puerto Ricans tend to break on 1. Students and followers of the famous Eddie Torres (NYC street dancer turned pro) religiously break on 2 (They call it "Salsa"). A lot of modern Cubans tend to break on 3. Many native dancers tend not to care on which beat they break, even changing within the same song. One of the times I stayed in Santo Domingo, I asked the director of a top Cuban dance school what beat they break on. He told me that this topic was meaningless to them. They don't even have a name for "the break." Some songs have rhythm patterns that lend to a certain break point, so why force a different one? Some songs will change rhythm patterns, so why stick to breaking at the same place when the music changes?

Movement: Salsa is a Caribbean dance - the dancers are inspired by the ocean that surrounds them from birth. They start with body waves, rather than add them later as a flourish. Stepping to the music's rhythm is a start for us Northerners, but there is more - legs, hips, torso, shoulders, arms, hands, head - free movement of energy through the natural channels of the body from the ground up! This free movement is part of Salsa's African roots. Salsa is an earth-centered dance, drawing energy up from the earth. However, one can can enjoy salsa with full body movement and body waves/ripples, or with very little.

Music: There is a lot of modern Salsa music. A certain amount of it is hard to dance to, although it is nice to listen to in the car (which is why composers write it, and record companies put it out). We sift very carefully through the available material to select real danceable salsa, and our selections have received high praise from the best local dancers.

Rhythms: The tumbao rhythm, played on the congas as 4+ and 8+, is the driving force behind the whole ensemble. Often it is doubled in the cowbell, or other instruments. It follows the classic "backbeat"or "upbeat"pattern, emphasizing beats 2, 4, 6, and 8. This is really the heart of salsa. It is something you want to tune into for the "feel" of salsa.
Upbeat timing: + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 +
Tumbao timing: + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 +

The African-derived clave rhythm is the "key" of salsa. However, you rarely hear it exprssed in its entirety. Instruments draw on 3 to 4 beat segments of the clave for fhythmic ideas. What is the clave? The famous call and response "Bo Diddley Beat" is precisely the 3/2 clave.
the 3/2 son clave rhythm: ("shave & a haircut - two bits.")
+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +   5 + 6 + 7 + 8
the 2/3 son clave rhtyhm (reversing the 4-beat measures):
+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +   5 + 6 + 7 + 8
Although we give these numeric rhythms for clarification, good dancers tend to listen to rhythm patterns in the music - a lot more fun than abstracting a numbered count from the music, and dancing to that instead! One of the best web articles on clave I have found is at the Latin American Folk Institute.
Salsa timing: + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 +

This commonly taught beginners footwork rhythm can be done anywhere in any combination of body movements, not just the feet. That is a big difference between Caribean dances and European dances. Also, as in swing, the dancers can improvise rhythm patterns far beyond this basic one - dancers are jazz musicians!

From the Dominican Republic, where it is the National Dance, Merengue has a strong and joyful groove. Merengue clearly influenced the creation of USA club dance music. Madonna, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Earth Wind Fire, etc. all owe that disco groove to a fusion of Merengue and 60s R&B Motown. If you like modern club dance music and/or disco, merengue is a very practical dance. It is easy to learn, and it naturally morphs into a 2-step hustle!

The music derives from a cultural melange of African, Hispanic, and Polish-German-Russian musical temperments: polka got into the mix (Merengue translates as "mix.") Merengue got a big push in the 1940s when President (dictator) Rafael Trujillo made Merengue the national dance, hiring orchestras and composers, and promoting Merengue ceaslessly - he loved it. The population did also. The capital, Santo Domingo, is the hub of Merengue in the Dominican Republic. In DR clubs, Merengue involves simple partner patterns. I don't think there will ever be an international merengue competition - it is by nature a simple dance. You almost never see a lot of fancy turns in DR clubs. Dominicans that study ballroom, swing, or salsa, learn plenty more moves, but they are the exception. The dance is more about movement style, than about moves. Body waves are inherent to the style of all the Caribbean dances.

Learning the subtle hip, rib cage, and body movement styles takes a bit of work for us Anglos. Again, movement in these Caribbean dances is inspired by the ocean - it is not about isolations, it is about the ways energy naturally flows: diagonally across the body in spirals.

The music is exhilerating, and you really want to move! Merengue moves can be dynamic, or slow and sexy, although central NY dancers seem to favor the more energetic style. Merengue has a wide range of tempi - 120-180bpm. There is plenty of great merengue music. It is always mixed in at salsa club nights locally. Sometimes you see Dominicans emphasizing one side of the weight shift, the famous Merengue "limp," but not always. It is sometimes over-simplified by naive anglo instructors as "marching in place." The Domincans used to laugh at the stiff-hipped U.S. Marines in Santo Domingo in 1964-65 attempting to march the Merengue. Slide your toes on the floor in very small steps while lfting your heels - keep the weight back and down, not forward and up. Push off the floor to change weight. Let your weight fully shift into each step. Relax your hips and they will move.

The most famous merengue artist is Juan Luis Guerra. The brilliant and beautiful recordings of this Berkeley School Of Music trained artist are standard in any club scene. However, recent (2008-2009) merengue radio/club hits seem to be favoring street style, rather than slick production with top studio musicians - - rough vocals, looser but energetic rhythms, saxophone rifs barely in tune. Check out recent mega-hits Vamos Pa' La Playa (Kiko El Presidente) and Ya No Me Amas (Omega).
Merengue drives with two 16th notes into the 1/4 note pulse:
Merengue timing:  +a1 +a2 +a3 +a4 +a5 +a6 +a7 +a8

From the Dominican Republic, Bachata (loose trans: "informal party with guitar music" or "junk") is related to Merengue, as a slower dance with a steady 1/8 note division rhythm. Although Bachata dates to the early 1960s., you would never recognize in its early forms. In the modern style of Bachata (1980s - present), bongos and acoustic guitar dominate a light musical texture, and there is also a distinctive guitar style and tone, AND often a particular guitar, the american-made Ovation! The rhythm has a clear 1/8 note division, and is very danceable.

Bachata has from its inception been associated with alcohol and prostitution. Indeed, the music was most commonly played in brothels, and associated with the very lowest social classes. It has been called the Blues of the Dominican Republic. The music was at first vigorously repressed by the Merengue industry. Bachata arose from back-porch obscurity to national prominence through the radio in the 1980s, driven by compositions with sexual double entendre lyrics. The 2006 movie Santo Domingo Blues is a must-see for bachata lovers. Some current hit makers are Monchy Y Alexandra, Aventura, Extreme, and Huey Dunbar. For much more history on Bachata, you may wish to visit here.

Dancing, a light rise of the hip, alternatively a toe or heel tap or flick or leg raise, on the 4th and 8th beat of the 8-count phrase is characteristic, with the usual Caribbean body waves. Bachata can be danced tight and very sexy, or with plenty of space between the partners - both are common in its country of origin.

Jorge Elizando is a key figure in modern Bachata dance and instruction - hot Dominican street style with many added sophistications. One can think of Bachata dancing in four temperature levels: cool, warm, hot, and burning, as per the inclinations of the dancers. Real street style bachata is way too hot for most anglos. Additionally, some Dominicans enjoy being as exhibitionist as, well... beyond what you want to even imagine. I have seen it in Santo Domingo clubs - quite amusing, but most American dancers would be astounded and/or horrified.

As of 2011, there is a new style called "Dominican Style" which I cannot even describe, let alone comprehend - very footwork intensive, lots of improvisation in the footwork - kind of cool and amazing. I will add some video links at some point.

Bachata timing:
+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 +   
step-step-step-tap    step-step-step-tap

The dance attained its defining characters in the disco era, but the music lives on through Madonna, Michael Jackson, and the house music and techno of today. Classic 70s-early 80s artists are Bees Gees, ABBA, Donna Summer, KC & the Sunshine Band, Earth Wind & Fire, Barry White, etc. Most music historians agree that the music is a mating of Dominican Merengue with Rhythm & Blues/ Motown.

The dance style is clearly swing-derived, but with a strong ballroom flavor. The "one-step" hustle, the simpler version, certainly owes itself to Dominican Merengue. The 4-step hustle, often taught and danced +123 or 12+3 makes more sense when taught and danced +123+456, since hustle music is very different from waltz! Hustle music emphasizes the upbeats (even beats) of the music - that is an aspect of its R&B roots.

Bossa Nova music originated in Brazil. It has the "cool sensibility"of the Rio De Janeiro beach scene. Compared to Salsa, although also clave-based, Bossa Nova rhythms are somewhat less complex, and more mellow. Bossa Nova is joyful, jazzy, and sensual. The dance is just like the music! Joao Gilberto single-handedly created the Bossa Nova beat and feel in 1955, an evolution of Brazilian samba (with roots in Africa). Joao brought his ideas to the brilliant guitarist-composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. Their first actual Bossanova recorded hit was "Chega de Saudade," (No More Blues) 1959.

GIlberto and Jobim teamed up with the genius saxophonist Stan Getz, and many, many worldwide standards emerged. "Girl From Ipanema," sung by Astrud Gilberto in 1962 (Joao's wife) was a massive hit and remains an all-time classic.

There are plenty of Bossa Nova bands to this very day, with new songs continually emerging, always with that ocean breeze, laid-back, yet rhythmic feel. The word "bossa" is old Brazilian slang for an action executed with a natural flair.

As a dance, there is NO STANDARD for Bossa Nova. What we have found is that chachacha (mostly) and some rumba rhythms & patterns work great for slower tempos. Salsa patterns for faster tempos. The music rhythms definitely lend toward a "break" on 2, not 1. Try a lyrical approach rather than the sharp movements which are typical of ballroom cha cha. Boss Nova music is usually sensual, subtle and lyrical, rather than passionate, intense and percussive. Think of ocean waves and ocean breezes, just like the origianl concept of the music by its creators.

Cha Cha comes from Cuba. As a dance, Cha Cha Cha (3 Chas in the original name) is essentially slowed-down Salsa aka Mambo, with triple steps (chasse steps) replacing the hold-steps. Cuban composer and violinist Enrique Jorrin, created the cha cha beat in 1951 as an outgrowth of Mambo, the current craze. He introduced the Cha Cha Cha to crowds via the orchestra he performed with: Orquesta America de Ninon Mondejar.
The first recorded cha cha cha songs, "La Engañadora" and "Silver Star," hit the Cuban music charts in 1953 as instant chart toppers, unseating the Mambo King Prado Perez.

In 1952, UK dance instructor Pierre Margolle saw the dance in Cuba, and developed a ballroom version of it. Margolie helped found the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (founders of so-called International Style of ballroom dance).

During the 1950s, its worldwide debut period, Cha Cha became a USA craze due to dance instruction magnate Arthur Murray, who spent considerable time in Cuba. He shortened the name from Cha Cha Cha to Cha Cha. Arthur Murray also introduced the simplified rhythm pattern of 1-2 cha cha cha (breaking on 1, instead of the original 2)! His famous Arthur Murray Orchestra performed dance songs written specifically for 1-2-cha cha cha. Many pop, doo-wop, and rock hits also used this simplified version, so 1-2-cha cha cha was here to stay as an alternate approach to the rhythm, and purists can either like it or not. 1-2 cha cha cha is the current American Country version of cha cha. In ballroom, the chasse steps move - either to the side or front and back. (NOTE: "the break" is the step away from center. Anglo dancers and teachers talk a lot about the break step, but even the professional Cuban dancers and teachers I spoke with don' t even have a name for it.)

A Caribbean dance, there are plenty of body waves on the break steps - this is what results in the hip motion. Dancesport stylin is considerably more extravagent than Cuban street styling, which more earthy. Regarding "authenticity," street dancers in Cuba have TVs and the internet - creative dancers are attracted to anything that appeals to them, and the extravagences of Dancesport are no exception - so then what is "authentic styling?" Also, there are many Latinos are in Dancesport.

Cuban street dancers, in general, tend to shuffle the cha-cha-cha flat-footed, rather than get up on the ball of the foot. However, if they are really moving around a lot of space, the cha-cha-cha becomes a run-run-run (ball of the foot). Also, the Cuban street dancers tend to do the cha-cha-cha front and back, instead of side-to-side, as is done in most Dancesport patterns. Both Cuban street dancers and Dancesport dancers break on "2." However, Cubans tend to start with a good "stomp" on "1," whereas Dancesport dancers will do a side step on "1." Moreover, the lead breaks back first in Dancesport, whereas the lead usually breaks forward first in Cuban street style.

Cha cha is always played in the mix on club latin nights. Cha cha can be danced vigorously, or in a very mellow style. If you keep in mind that Chacha is an offshoot of Salsa, it opens up a lot of doors very quickly to you as a dancer.

Classic Chacha timing (break on 2 and 6):
+1 2  3 cha-cha-cha 6  7 cha-cha-cha       i.e +1 2  3  4+ 6  8+1

Arthur Murray and modern Country version (break on 1):
+1 2 cha-cha-cha 5 6 cha-cha-cha


European dance teacher Monsieur Pierre (Pierre Margolle) visited Havana several times from 1947 onwards.He studied the old slow Spanish Son-Bolero aka Danzon, and got some steps and timing ideas from dance champions Pepe and Suzy Rivera. Margolie created was to become the "International" version for U.K. dance teachers. Even though Cuban Rumba is a totally different dance in every imaginable way, Margolie decided to use the name Rumba for this slow dance, as he felt the name to be a more marketable. For years, U.K. instructors argued over whether to break on 1 or 2. "2" won out ofr the U.K., regardless of the rhythms in the music.

"American" Rumba also uses patterns derived from Waltz. Ballroom Rumba hit the USA before the first World War, and was a fast dance, popular in the 1930s with a box step, breaking on 1. Eventually, American ballroom dancers adopted ideas from the U.K. style, but retaining the box patterns.

The term "Cuban Motion" was invented by people who apparently were so stiff that when they visited Cuba, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, their minds were completely blown - they had no idea that people could move like that. Cuban Motion refers to the natural rise of the opposite hip when a foot is lifted, and a relaxing of the hip when weight is shifted and a leg is straightened, resulting in a body wave - it is not just the hips. Rumba, Salsa, Cha Cha, Merengue, Bachata all have this natural body wave as part of the rhythm.

Ballroom Rumba is VERY different both in music and dance style to what Cubans call Rumba - a type of fast Guaguanco, a lascivious barnyard dance imitating animals in heat. And, in case you were wondering, there is no way we are going to teach Cuban Rumba, folks. At a Salsa Congress in Boston, I once saw (some very dear and talented) instructors offer a workshop in Cuban Rumba to a mixed age group of 12-70, and I could hardly imagine something so inappropriate - people were dropping out, like, whaaat?? Of course, all is forgiven - let's keep this last thought for all occasions!

The 8 count American pattern (Arthur Murray style) is:
12 +34 56 +78
Slow and quick-quick Slow and quick-quick
Touch shift-side-together Touch shift-side-together

The Fred Astaire version starts on the quick-quick (side-together):
Quick-quick Slow and quick-quick slow

A lot of social dancers feel that the quick-quick fits the music much better on 78 than on 12 or on some other place in the 8-count phrase. They also like to start with the quick quick, rather than the slow.

The International and American Ballroom styles of Tango are popular all over the world, including in its native Argentina. In contrast to modern Argentine style (which some say has no basic step) Ballroom Tango is quite accessible to beginners. Ballroom styles have a well-defined basic step, which works perfectly to the 8-count musical phrase. Ballroom Tango is essentailly 80% a snapshot of early 20th century salon Argentine Tango.

Tango music has strong Spanish Flamenco and Italian connections, especially in the bel canto vocal style, and the overall dramatic operatic quality of the music. Strongly contrasting textures characterize traditional tango music: long lyrical romantic phrases quicly followed by sharp pizzicato or sforzando punctuations express the quickly changing and diverse emotions. The musical arrangements can have light textures, with violins and bandoleon (a type of accordian) dominating or full dramatic orchestra, conveying subtleties and passionate intensity. Tango can be (but it doesn't have to be) a very varied dramatic dance acting out intense attraction, desire, lust, affection, passion, revulsion, domination, submission, rebellion, jealousy and rage - just like Italian opera! For dancers with a dramatic flair, this is all quite fun. Because of Tango's possibilities of drama and expressing strong emotions, Hollywood features the dance in many movies, from the 1920s to the present day (such as "Take The Lead," "Scent Of A Woman," "Chicago," "Moulin Rouge," "Shall We Dance," "The Tango Lesson," "Evita," "True Lies," "Strictly Ballroom," etc. ). The French stage adopted tango, re-named "Apache" to act out the often violent emotions of lovers - during performances, a few women accidentally lost their lives on stage, due to overacting on the part of the male leads!

Argentna's capital city of Buenos Aires was and is the hub of tango. Modern scholars say that Tango was born in Argentina 's working class dance halls. Because of its' lower class roots, the dance was at first shunned by the upper classes, then later embraced by the aristocracy as an elegant salon dance. Popular myths, that tango was born in the city's brothels, or developed as an acting out of prostitute-pimp-patron drama, or a homo-erotic dance of domination and submission - these are all very debatable. Under dictator Juan Peron, tango enjoyed a golden age. Famous tango composers from that time are Osvaldo Pugliese and Astor Piazzolla. However, when Perron was ousted by a military junta in 1955, tango was supressed - artists were imprisoned and blacklisted, tango clubs were restricted. Many other methods were used to suppress the dance, although it was not blatantly outlawed. This suppression of the dance continued until the junta fell in 1983.

Tango took the lead-follow concept to a high level of sophistication. Young Argentinian aristocrats, brought Tango to France in the pre-World War One era. (A popular myth says that Argentine sailors were responsible for introducing Tango to Europe.) Euopean dance instructors (including Vernon & Irene Castle, who were living in Paris at the time) were fascinated by Tango's style and the sophisticated lead-follow concepts. They adapted Tango to the social ballroom. Tango has since evolved into a very subtle partner dance, in which the lady is given considerable display and opportunity to create. Ballroom Tango has become a favorite romantic couples dance, and is a consistent all-time favorite in our college ballroom classes.
Tango timing:
+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 +   
aka walk-walk-walk-side-touch
walk - walk - Tan-go - closed
T - A - N-G - O

Vernon and Irene Castle (Vernon Blythe and Irene Foote) single-handedly created the USA ballroom craze in the pre-World War One era. Their "Castle By The Sea" was the original ballroom dance mecca in America. Anything Irene did fashion-wise was immediately copied by millions of women - bobbing her hair, shorter dresses, etc. The Castles were the first to codify an American version of the waltz, tango, and more. Arthur Murray studied with the Castles. Any history of ballrom dance must focus on the work of Verrnon and Irene Castle. Interestingly, they were intuitive self-taught partner dancers - prior to ballroom dancing, Vernon was a vaudeville comedian and tap-dancer.

Foxtrot as a ballroom dance was created in 1914 by ballroom instructor and exhibition dancer Oscar Duryea. The story is that Foxtrot was created by and named (Fox's Trot) after popular vaudeville dancer Harry Fox (born Arthur Cunningford) who debuted a performance version of the dance on a Manhattan stage. However, there is eveidence that Duryea actually taught the dance to Harry Fox. Foxtrot immediately became the most popular dance in the ballroom and cabaret.

Vernon and Irene Castle
created a slow version of Foxtrot, at the suggestion of their bandleader, James Reese Europe. Although their version was greeted with enthusiasm, it did not continue in the studios. Vernon & Irene stopped teaching later in 1918, when Vernon went to Britain to fly with the Royal Air Force in the First World War. By the time he returned, Irene was already pursuing her first love: acting, and Vernon's interest now lay in teaching flying to young military aviators.

The Castle Foxtrot is a great slow dance! There are innumerable wonderful slow tunes in all eras of popular music. Surprisingly, the International and American Ballroom Syllabus,contain NOTHING for slow dance (except Rumba, which requires a very particular rhythm of music, and is very sophisticated). California instructor Buddy Schwimmer invented the "Night Club Two Step," using triple steps, for slow music,. NC2S has a formal feel, and is not as romantic, intimate, or as easy and relaxed as the Castle Foxtrot. Our version of the Castle Foxtrot morphs easily into Blues Dance, and NC2S cannot do this.

The Castle Foxtrot follows the natural phasing of most music, making it instantly enjoyable as a dance style, and lends itself to expansion with improvised figures. It is strongly rooted in Tango, although considerably easier to learn. Compared to the commonly taught simple "sway basic," the Castle Foxtrot is more interesting, more expressive, follows the music in a more satisfying way. It is also the perfect wedding dance, far beyond the common "hug & wobble."

Castle Foxtrot timing: + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 +    slow-slow-quick-quick-quick-quick

Waltz is the first "closed position" dance. Originally an AUSTRIAN folk dance dating back to the 17th century (some say 13th c.), waltz became popular as an unstructured social dance in European dance halls in the 1800s. It was considered very risqué, indecent even, due to the closed hold and the turning, turning, turning! For this reason, waltz was forbidden in some countries and by various religious groups. Vernon and Irene Castle brought elegance and definition to the waltz in America at the early part of the 20th century, paving the way to waltz's social acceptability, (Prior ot the Castles, an early demonstration of Waltz by a Boston dance instructor was met with horror by the upper classes.) Viennese Waltz is fast; standard American Style Waltz is slow. Waltz is the first modern ballroom dance, and was the model for many dances that followed: foxtrot, rumba, even swing and salsa.

Waltz is one of the few ballroom dances that have crossed over into American Country-Western, Cajun, Folk, and Argentine Tango dance halls. Dr. Richard Powers at Stanford University has developed a very popular variation he calls "cross-step" waltz. In the American "roots" styles, the ballroom "rise and fall" is often omitted. Waltz has a wonderful gliding feel, like ocean waves. Although written in 3, waltz phrasing is in 6 - counting waltz in 3 makes it feel choppy. Yet, some "roots" waltzes are intentionally played in 3 for that choppy feel. Many of country music's top artists have recorded very popular waltzes. Waltz timing: +1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 +


During the swing era, Foxrot was the most popular dance in the ballroom, a graceful way to dance to the supremely popular swing music of the time. Foxtrot is still quite high on the list of ballroom dances worldwide, having undergone considerable development since 1914. Harry Fox (performer, real name Arthur Carringford) ) debuted the dance in a rooftop show at a Manhattan restaurant, and it was quickly named "Fox's Trot." Ballroom teacher Oscar Duryea refined and codified the dance for mass comsumption - and there is evidence that he actually taught the original dance to Harry Fox. Foxtrot borrows MANY figures from the dance that historically preceded it in popularity - the WALTZ. In America, Fred Astaire's foxtrot in movies was considerably influential. Arthur Murray's syllabus lists 31 bronze level figures, and dancers (and instructors!) find a lot of ways to combine these patterns of smooth walking steps and quicksteps, with a 6-count and an 8-count basic. Foxtrot became the basis for the Texas Two-Step, a dance created by Houston ballroom instructors..
Foxtrot 6-count timing: +1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 +   Slow-slow-quick-quick
Foxtrot 8-count timing: +1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 +    Slow-quick-quick-Slow-quick-quick-

TEXAS TWO STEP aka Country Two Step
"Texas Two-Step" aka "Country Two-Step" is popular not only in the south, but way up into Boston as well, where it is a favored staple among the sophisticated ballroom & West Coast Swing crowds. There is plenty of great two-step music from the 1940s-50s (Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, etc) and up to today (Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, etc).

The birth of Fox Trot in 1914 and the birth of Texas Two Step in 1980's have an interesting parallel. Performer Harry Fox did his show dance, and suddenly everyone had to do "Fox's Trot." Ballroom instructors of the time scrambled to create a version danceable by the average person. Jump to 1980, ballroom instructor Patsy Swayze (yes, Patrick Swayze's mom!), hired to choreograph the movie "Urban Cowboy," along with her daughter-in-law Lisa Niemi (Patrick's wife), virtually created the modern version of this cowboy dance, patterned heavily off of the "Collegiate Foxtrot" of the 1950s.

First, Patsy visited several local big dance clubs and watched how people were dancing to uptempo country music- a variety of things, actually. Dancers in the movie reflects this variety. Some were dancing slow-slow-quick-quick (post foxtrot), some quick-quick-slow quick-quick-slow (like polka, and a common square dance pattern dating to many decades earlier.) Patricia and Lisa taught John Travolta in the film. There are a few dancers in the film who are clearly using ballroom techinque and look very smooth, among the rag tag others - guess who taught them? Suddenly,everyone wanted to dance the Texas Two-Step.

The dance evolved like crazy to the enormous complexity in the modern era. The patterns of the Collegiate Foxtrot are the same as those in modern beginning Texas Two-Step. Like foxtrot, the two-step is a smooth, gliding dance. The chief difference is at what point the pattern begins: "Slo-Slo-Quick-Quick" (Foxtrot) vs. starting ½ way in: "Quick-Quick-Slo-Slo" (Texas 2 Step). Tempos range from a slow coasting 130bpm to a zippy virtuoso 200+ bpm.

Brief Country Music Overview: The first commercial recordings of what was considered "country music" were "Arkansas Traveler" and "Turkey in the Straw" by fiddlers Henry Gilliland & A.C. (Eck) Robertson in 1922. Early country music also drew heavily on African-American blues. In 1925, Nashville's first radio station WSM began a program that eventually became "The Grand Ole Opry." Currently, country music draws on many styles, and is often influenced by hard rock and roll, and even (gasp!) hip hop. Historians of the genre often mention three distinct periods: Classic Country (1940s - 1960s), the Golden Age (1980s - 1990s) and Modern Country Music (post 2000s).

Two Step 6-count timing: +1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 +   quick-quick slow-slow

Jumpswing is a subset of Lindy Hop. But it holds the classic Swing Out until later in the syllabus. My personal feeling is that Jumpswing is the easiest and most satisfying entrance into Swing Dance for beginners of any age. It includes Charleston, Jazz, Jitterbug, Jive and Lindy. It's 6-count kick basic is more fast Lindy rooted than single-step, toe-step or triple-step 6 count swing. It is more natural, relaxing, rhythmic, and just plain feels better and more musical.

Please don't get scared by the name if you are an older dancer - it doesn't have to jump. The energy level is up to the dancers' choice. But Jumpswing gets people dancing to the uptempo music that they like much sooner, and feels better than any swing style that we have seen or tried for beginners. Our students are not the ones sitting down when the music is faster! Cornell students liked Jumpswing so much that they started a Jumpswing club in the mid-1990s (Rooftop Mayhem - now defunct). Ithaca College students started a Jumpswing club in 2012 - and it is very much alive.

Arthur Murray
is mostly responsible for the ballroom adaption of common practice swing era Lindy Hop/Jitterbug patterns and styles. East Coast Swing with its 6 and 8 count patterns works quite well and is very enjoyable. Considerably more detail about East Coast Swing at

Hugely popular among the upper crust of modern dedicated swing dancers, Lindy Hop was born in Harlem NY. It was developed by the top show dancers of Harlem's Savoy Ballroom for themselves. Everyone within eyeshot copied it and created their own variations. Often felt to be the Mother of all swing dance styles by its afficianados, actually it is not, since other styles emerged quite independently of Lindy Hop - Balboa and Shag to name a couple. Lindy Hop lends itself to individual interpretation of the music, depending on how deep one responds to music and hears it.

Like any other dance, beginners do patterns, period, in ever increasing complexity. Advanced dancers hear more and respond and create and become a part of the music. Lindy Hop has a steep learning curve, due to its characteristic move, the notoriously sophisticated SWING OUT. However, we have developed methods whereby one can learn it well and enjoy it without constantly evaluating "Is this right?" IF one is willing to practice. Once it becomes a part of you, Lindy Hop is fun. Although there are classic gestures, the very natural of this dance is massive freedom, improvisation, humor, creativity, individuality, and play. Losing sight of this is losing sight of Lindy Hop. Lots more history at ithacaswingdance


Like swing music and dance, blues is an African-American creation, from the deep South, to cities in the north, suchas Chicago and Harlem. In Europe, people didn't dance this close, and in Africa, people did not dance in couples, or even touching each other. Blues dancing grew out of the dancer's response to slow, sensual blues music played in the African-American "Jook Joints." In its early days (WWI era) through the 1940s, it was called, among other things, "Slow Dragging." In the 1960s, some were calling it "Belly Rubbing." By the 1970s, the term "Slow Dancing" was in wide use. "Blues Dancing" is the name adopted by the modern Lindy Hop groups, a term that has also been in common use throughout its time frame.

Blues music tempo is slow to medium (40-90 bpm), but slow enough so that you can dance in place without moving your feet! However, if there is any space on the floor (unlike the photo above!), one can certainly scoot around the floor, or throw in a flash footwork flurry. There is no predetermined basic "footwork." Dancers respond to the rhythms and play with its patterns. Movement can be slow, sultry and evocative, or energetic, with drastic changes during the dance, depending on the music and mood of the dancers.

Although lead-follow style predominates, the follower has room to play around,if given the space (or if she grabs it!). The styles of dancing vary widely from couple to couple. Blues Dance can be playful, friendly, intimate, sexual, depending on the mood, dance background, drama, and the status of the couple. Exploration of partnering methods is common. Blues dance styles range from as nasty as grinding, to as virginal as open swing moves, and interpretive jazz. Modern folks with experience in other dance styles throw in tango and salsa moves, as well as ideas from studio jazz, ballet, modern, and lyrical dance. Blues Dance - Ellie Foust, Kurt Lichtmann

Uniquely, there are a huge variety of ways for weight-shifting to the beat. Partnered body rolls and waves are a big aspect of blues dance. It is amazing how many ways one can divide weight-shfting, far more subtle and complex than just "your weight is on your right, now it's on your left." The motions and ways to lead are also numerous - circles, spirals, figure eights, up motion, down motion, leading with thighs, hips, belly, ribs, chest,and so on. There are a whole range of dips, and movement within the dips themselves.

Live out your "bad boy" and "bad girl" fantasies! The classic 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing" has a staff party scene with a bunch of way over the top dirty dancing. Although the dancing in this scene is typically ultra Hollywood-ized, and devoid of subtley, it is not without interest! Modern (2012) K-style Bachata (created by India's Salsa king Karma "Kaytee" Namgyal) has moves clearly inspired by this scene.

"In those days, when the music was slow, you held the girl close.....At parties, we'd put the lights down low, grab a girl and just lay her up against the wall..." - Ambassador of Lindy Hop (Frankie Manning & Cynthia Millman, 2007)

West Coast Swing is the state dance of California. It was originally called Sophisticated Swing in the late 1930s. And has it ever lived up to its name! It is a favorite of dance professionals with extensive training in ballroom and latin dance. West Coast style gives the lady plenty of room to express herself to the max. West Coast style needs full body movement and musical expression, otherwise it is flat and tedious-looking. The real dancers are "musicians of the bod," if this means something to you. Nowhere is this more evident than in West Coast Swing. More West Coast Swing history at


Carolina Shag is the state dance of North Carolina. Hundreds of thousands of shag fans reside in the Southeastern states, compared to a handful in the Northeast. Shag has a great look. Beach Music is its music, a name that is virtually unknown in Northern music stores. Beach Music is essentially R & B, but with a kind of flavor that you would have to hear a bit of, to know what I mean. Beach songs tend to be R&B type, nostalgic of the Carolinas, the South, the Beach. I went down to Myrtle Beach and Georgia specifically to study Shag and to see it in a large group of dancers of mixed abilities. We teach it, but now only in private lessons. Today, I feel that Shag is very much a regional dance, whose feel is rooted in Southern Culture, and largely non-transplantable for that reason. Carolina Shag is not just a dance, it is a cultural celebration. More Carolina Shag history at

D.C. Hand Dance is a regional swing dance style, developed specifically for mid-tempo soul, rhythm & blues, funk and beach music. It originated in the Washington, D.C. area, and many there regard it as the official swing style of Washington D.C. It started in the mid-1950s, pre-dating American Bandstand. It's original names are "D.C. Hand Dance/Hand Dancing", "D.C. Swing", and "D.C. Style." It glides, slides, digs deep into the floor,. They call it smooth, but t has a good bounce, in general more so more than most West Coast Swing dancers. Although there are no aerials, it has the common turns seen in other swing dance styles. As usual, there are 6 and 8 count patterns. It's triple step 6-count basic is unique, replacing a rock step with a kick-ball-change, and the triples are sailor steps (slight hook behind on first beat of each triple. The name "Hand Dance" arose to distinguish it as a "connected" dance, rather than the breakaway styles which came about five years later: the Twist, the Pony, etc.

When Promoters began to hold regional competitions aimed at attracting National Stars across the USA, many top swing dancers (and everyone else) were introduced to styles of other parts of the country. There began a tremendous stylistic cross-pollination. West Coast Swing in particular affected a lot of the top Hand Dancers, as well as Shaggers and Lindy Hoppers. As a result, the distinction "Old School" arose in Hand Dance for the pre-cross pollination style.

Kick-Ball-Change   Hook-Step Step   Hook-Step-Step
+1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 +