Becoming Ginger Rogers


History of Ballroom Dance

  • The Renaissance: During the Renaissance, Europe experienced a great revival of arts, literature and learning. During this era of cultural rebirth, social dancing was identified as court dancing. Numerous couples danced in formation, executing the same steps at the same time. Dance masters encouraged this by helping to choreograph dances with more complex patterns and, in so doing, assured themselves of gainful employment.
  • Queen Elizabeth I: The Queen, who began her reign in 1558, was a famous patron of the arts. She loved spirited dancing, including the dance form called the Galliard and a variation of it called Lavolta. Queen Elizabeth’s high regard for William Shakespeare was returned by him when he included a Galliard when performing his plays in her court.
  • 1816 and the Scandalous Waltz: The Times of London reported on the Prince Regent’s grand ball, saying that “We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last…” The end of the French Revolution (1987-1799) was a time of great growth for music and dance in Paris and the Waltz was king!
  • The Age of Reform: Queen Victoria (reign 1837-1901) had a special adoration for the Waltz. During the age of reform, labor laws changed radically and the middle class suddenly had leisure time. Social activities like dancing, once limited to the upper class, could now be enjoyed by the middle class. Partner dancing had now become a staple of Western civilization.
  • 1834 and the first exhibition Waltz in America: European dance master Lorenzo Papanti gave the first exhibition of the Waltz in Boston. The dance, which became known as “The Boston,” was viewed as shocking and vulgar.
  • 1890-1899: John Philip Sousa composed stirring marches celebrating American patriotism as Teddy Roosevelt and his Roughriders stormed up the slopes of San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. These bold cadences gave birth to the Two-Step that had more to do with a marching cadence than the flowing style of the Waltz. This dance is the predecessor to dances we now call the Foxtrot, Peabody and Quickstep. It also still enjoys great popularity today in the Country Two-Step. The Waltz continued to grow as the most popular dance of the day.
  • 1910: Vernon and Irene Castle ruled the world of ballroom dancing, bringing elegance, charm and sophistication to this type of dance.
  • 1913: Harry Fox and Yanszieka Deutsch of the Ziegfeld Follies formed an exhibition team to slow down the pace of ragtime music to develop the most popular ballroom dance of the 20th century – the Fox Trot – to which Mr. Fox lent his name.
  • 1920’s and Cuba’s influence: With Prohibition, Americans and Europeans flocked to Havana and brought back Cuban music and dance to the U.S. and Europe, including the Rhumba, Bolero, Mambo and the Cha Cha.
  • 1920: Arthur Murray brought dance to the average American when he began publishing mail-order dance lessons.
  • 1926: The Savoy Ballroom in New York opened its doors. The Lindy Hop, named in honor of Charles Lindbergh’s historic hop across the Atlantic, captured the rhythmic, flying style of this new Swing dance.
  • 1929: The stock market crashed on Oct. 30, 1929. People turned to cheap forms of entertainment, including the radio and movies, to endure the bitter times. People entertained at home, enjoying the new jazz rhythms of musicians like Benny Goodman.
  • 1933-39 and 1949: Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire partnered in 10 movie musicals. See next section for their films.
  • 1938: Arthur Murray launched his chain of dance studios
  • 1941: World War II, which began across the Atlantic in 2939, made its ways to the shores of America on Dec. 7, 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. On the American music scene, Cab Calloway, known as “The Professor of Jive,” embodied all that was fashion, music and slang, and the Swing culture was born! American GIs brought the exuberance of Swing, Jitterbug, and Jive to the European war theater. The American Foxtrot and Latin dancing also jumped abroad. British dance instructors did their homework in reinterpreting these dances and produced what is today known as the Standard or International style of ballroom dancing.
  • 1947: Fred Astaire opened his own studio on Park Avenue (NYC) to start a nationwide chain of dance studios that, like Arthur Murray Dance Studios, flourishes today.
  • 1950’s: Rock ‘n Roll
  • 1960’s: Solo dancing returned with a new dance called “The Twist.” Couples danced together, but never touched. Suddenly ballroom dancing and partner dancing was something that only your grandparents did.
  • 1970’s: Disco and the Hustle, Saturday Night Fever and Salsa. The Hispanic community of New York grew tremendously in the 1970’s adding the flavors of Mexico, Columbia, Cuba and Puerto Rico to create a dance called Salsa.
  • 1980’s and the Reagan Era: President Reagan proclaimed the third week of September as National Ballroom Week.
  • 1949-1998: Premiere of Come Dancing, a BBC TV ballroom dancing competition show that is one of television’s longest-running shows; it was re-launched in 2004 as Strictly Come Dancing, featuring celebrities dancing with professional partners on which ABC’s Dancing with the Stars is based.
  • 1990’s-Present: Proliferation of ballroom dancing, Swing dancing, Tango and Latin dancing in the U.S. and abroad.
  • 2004: Premiere of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in the U.K. Beginning in 2004, that show was exported by BBC to other countries under the name, Dancing with the Stars. Australia was the first country to air this new series. DWTS is now being aired in 32 countries (as of November 2010). This program became the world’s most popular television program across all genres in 2006 and 2007, according to Television Business International.
  • 2005: Premiere of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars in the U.S. NOTE: The 13th season begins Sept. 19, 2011.

NOTE: Information in the History of Ballroom Dance is from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ballroom Dancing, Jeff Allen, 2002


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