Dance Descriptions

Social Dancing is a very large collection of various dances.
They are generally grouped in to five categories:

  • Ballroom (Smooth) Dances
  • Latin (Rhythm) Dances
  • Swing Dances
  • Club Dances
  • Country Western Dances

This list is by no means all inclusive. There are many other dances and dance styles not included here.
There are also many ways to describe any of the dances. These explanations are brief for simplicity, not a detailed dissertation.

Some of the dances are shared by different dance Communities.
For example, the Ballroom, Swing and/or Country Communities share:
Basic, East Coast, West Coast Swings, Waltz (to some degree), Hustle and Night Club 2-Step.

The Ballroom (Smooth) Dances

(Slow) Foxtrot

An American Dance

Often referred to as the dance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Foxtrot is the “staple” of ballroom dances and is probably the most well known and most versatile of dances. American Social Foxtrot has two rhythms (Slow Quick Quick, and Slow Slow Quick Quick), allowing for great mobility on the floor if there is room. But it can also accommodate a crowded or small floor, too. It’s also a great “wedding dance”. The basic patterns will have you up and dancing right away.

Music examples: More and Night Lights (Nat King Cole); It Had to Be You (Harry Connick Jr.); Just I Time (Bobby Darrin); The Best is Yet to Come (Tony Bennett); Witchcraft, Fly Me to the Moon (Frank Sinatra) and The Way You Look Tonight
(Michael Buble’)

Ballroom Tango

Tango takes on many forms, but in all, it is a very dramatic dance telling the story of love, passion, anger and desire. Tango originated in the ghettos of Argentina, where it was performed most by the men who worked in the mining camps. Because women were in short supply, it was not uncommon for the men to dance (practice) together. After all, if he were lucky enough to actually dance with one of the “ladies”, he only had one dance to win her favor!

Today’s Ballroom Tango is emphasized with staccato music, foot swivels, draws and flicks along with poses filled with attitude. In Tango, the lady has the opportunity to visibly show her strong side. The man gets to tout his “take charge” side. Tango is a powerful, convincing dance.

Music examples: Hernando’s Hidaway (Various Artists) is probably the most recognized Tangos.

Argentine Tango

Argentine Tango is the original Tango, from which the ballroom derivatives were formed. It’s an intimate, compact dance often done in a very close dance embrace and featuring intricate, mesmerizing footwork and usually a sensuous, passionate character. Argentine Tango was the first couple dance ever seen in Europe that involved improvisation.

Argentine Tango has been in several hit films, including Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman,” Madonna in “Evita,” and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in “True Lies.”

(Slow) Waltz

Waltz is a beautiful dance of pure elegance characterized by graceful sweeping, swaying rise and fall. It is the perfect romantic dance that is often used for that “First Dance” at weddings The unique 3/4 timing gives every step equal time – no quicks or slows to contend with.

Music examples: Fascination and Unbelievable (Nat King Cole); Sunrise, Sunset (Various Artists); Could I Have This Dance (Ann Murray); A Time for Us and Moon River (Andy Williams).

Viennese (Strauss) Waltz

Viennese Waltz is about twice the speed (180 beats per minute) of Slow Waltz (90 beats per minute), and features a simplified version of the slower footwork. The word “Waltz” means “to revolve” and true to its name, the partners in Viennese Waltz twirl and revolve past each other almost continuously as they travel around the floor. Viennese is not recommended for the beginning level dancer just starting out. It is rarely done at social dances due to its continuous rotations and breakneck speed.

Music examples: Que Sera Sera(Doris Day), Thornbirds Theme(James Galway & Phil Coulter), Blue Danube(Various Artists), Piano Man(Billy Joel), and Chim Chimeree (Ray Conniff).


Quickstep, sometimes referred to as “Fast Foxtrot” evolved out of necessity when live bands in the 1920’s played Slow Foxtrot music too fast, and couples on the floor could not keep up . It retains the walk and running actions, as well as the chasses, and turns of the original Slow Foxtrot, but can also incorporate some more athletic elements such as locks, hops, skips, and kicks. Quickstep, per say, is not played as often at social dances, mostly due to its fast tempo. However, in a pinch, an avid Quickstepper can often do Quickstep to Jive or Single Time Swing music. In this case, dance floor etiquette calls for “Quicksteppers” to dance Line of Dance around the outer edges of the floor, while “Swingers” stick to the middle, or “infield” of the floor. Quickstep is not recommended for the beginning level dancer just starting out.

Music examples includes: Sing Sing Sing(Various Artists), It Don’t Mean A Thing(Herman Brood), Puttin On The Ritz(Liza Minelli).

The Swing Dances

Most of our dances have come from other parts of the world. But Swing was born and bred
right here in the good ol’ US of A. Whether fast, slow or somewhere in between, Swing is
really earthy, only slightly buoyant and relatively smooth in nature.

Swing is not Country. Swing is not Ballroom. And, although it is dances in both  of these dance
communities, Swing is “Swing” in a category all its own that encompasses a variety of
different Swing styles varying in tempo, character, and music. Like in other dance styles,
one Swing will not accommodate all Swing music, mostly because of the  various music tempo.
Thus, there are several Swing styles.

Here are just a few of the more commons ones.

Basic Simple Swing

(aka:  Single Time Swing, Simple Swing, Basic Swing, Big Band Swing and Jitterbug)
NOTE: This is not “beginning or basic” East Coast Swing, which is a similar but different Swing style.

Basic Swing is the simplest and easiest Swings to learn and do, making it the best swing dance to start with as a newcomer. Because of its simplicity, Basic Swing accommodates the faster varieties of Swing music. But don’t despair! It is a rotational dance with an easy basic timing of Step, Step Rock Step that will get you started on your way to discovering the FUN of dancing together as partners.

East Coast Swing

(aka: American Swing)

As mentioned before, one style of Swing will not accommodate the variety of Swing music tempi. East Coast Swing introduces you to the slower Swing tempis using what is called a “triple time” rhythm. This Triple-step, Triple-step, Rock-step give the dance a buoyant (not bouncy!) characteristic. It continues to be rotational, like its Basic Single Time Swing counterpart, but the triple time rhythm gives you more mobility on the floor. Many of the same patterns in the faster “single time” Basic Swing can be easily transferred to East Coast Swing. So, you won’t have to learn completely different dance patters and material. If you have not done Basic Swing yet, that’s ok. You can start with East Coast and then go back and pick up your Basic Swing.

Music examples: Sweet Home Chicago (Blues Brothers); Sh’Boom (Embers); Kansas City (Various Artists)

The Jive

This is the European version of our American East Coast Swing, on steroids. Although there are some pattern similarities between Jive and East Coast Swing, the speed of Jive is considerably faster and is characterized by a prominent “bounce” (unheard of in our American Swing styles). It also includes various sharp kicks and foot flicks. This dance is usually danced only in competitive arenas, not socially.

West Coast Swing

(Note: This is not “Western” or Country Swing)

Also known as “Sophisticated Swing” because of its smooth, sometimes sensual characteristic. West Coast combines variations of both East Coast 6-count timing and Lindy 8-count timing patterns. It breaks from the “mirror” and rotational movement of other Swing Dances and takes on a very one-dimensional linear action known as a “slot”. West Coast Swing is a  more advanced form of Swing Dancing because of the true “lead-follow” skills necessary to accommodate this “slot”. The men’s and lady’s patterns and footwork are different from each other. This makes this dance more challenging, but also allows for more independence and encourages more creativity of the individual partners while still maintaining the structure of the dance. This makes for a unique dancing experience, each dance, each partner. West Coast can be dance to a broad variety of music: Blues, Jazz, Big Band, Hip Hop, Rock & Roll, Country and Contemporary.

Lindy Swing

The Lindy picked up where the Charleston left off, incorporating “swing-outs”, “break-aways”, and “shine-steps”. Probably the earliest version of Swing, it is often considered the “grand-daddy” of all swing dances. The Lindy Hop originated in Harlem to a mix of Jazz and R& B music in the late 1920’s and was named after Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic “hop” from New York to Paris. After that historic flight, this new dance craze swept the nation.

It’s a predominantly 8-count rotational dance with a squatty, relaxed feel to it. It alternates two walks or a rock step with one set of triples. The men’s and ladies footwork do not always mirror each other like in Basic and East Coast Swing dances, but still contains many of the same tucks and turns seen in these other Swings.

Tempos vary from bluesy slow to moderate to fast. The dance can include kicks, flicks, drops, floor lines, and even acrobatic aerials as embellishments. Lindy has experienced a resurgence in  today’s Swing culture.

The Club Dances

This is by no means an exhaustive listing of Club Dance.  This is only a small representation.

Night Club 2-Step

A dance created in the mid-60’s by Swing Dance Champion and Master Teacher, Buddy Schwimmer (Benji Schwimmer’s dad). The Night Club 2-Step is danced to a slow to medium slow tempo that lends itself well to today’s contemporary music. This dance works well on both small and large floors, making it very versatile. Night Club uses both open and closed dance positions but has a more relaxed hold than typical ballroom dances. Its simple side to side movement feels much like skating, giving the dance a very fluid feeling. Turns, cuddles, spins and traveling patterns that move across the floor are added for variety. It’s a beautiful dance in 4/4 timing with an easy eight beat basic step.

The original “official” timing for the basic step is quick-quick slow, (usually danced in musical bars of eight, counted 1&2, 3&4, 5&6, 7&8). Some individuals and groups prefer to start by moving “slow” to the side on count 1, which causes the dance to overlap musical measures (4&1). This also delays starting a pattern until you get to the “rock step”. (This is actually a Bolero Basic Step). Nonetheless, it’s a great dance for beginners because it does not require much technique. Its simple patterns will get you dancing in no time.

Music examples: Lady in Red, Breath Again, and Exhale.

Here is a link to an interview with Buddy Schwimmer, himself.


Dances to really fast 2/4 timing music, Merengue consists of very simple steps initially organized into sets of 8, with a single step taken on every beat of the music. It still features the Latin characteristic hip swing and graceful arms. The dance can be done in both closed dance position, with the entire partnership turning clockwise or counterclockwise together, or in open dance position in which dancers make turns individually, but never let go of their partner’s connection. This is a fun, infectious dance!

Music Example: “Hot Hot Hot” (Buster Poindexters)

The Hustle

Today’s Hustle is not the line dance of the 60’s and 70’s. But, the music still has that unmistakable driving, pulsing Disco Beat. This dance awesome!  Hustle is fast moving in a linear action, and can use many of the swing moves you might already know, including spins, face loops and optional “big” arm actions. The trick to executing a convincing Hustle is to make sure it looks and feels like Hustle . . . not Swing. There are various Hustle styles and different ways to count it, any of which will work well in the end with some time and practice. Unfortunately, most people still visualize a younger, handsome John Trovolta in Saturday Night Fever when Hustle is mentioned. But IT IS NOT!! This dance has evolved into its own dance power house. Both the dance and the music are fun and high energy.

You can dance Hustle to most contemporary club music, and of course to any of the quintessential 70’s hits: I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor), LeFreak (Chic), Stayin’ Alive (BeeGee’s).


Fast, sassy and fun, Salsa is considered a Club Style social Latin dance. It shares the same timing as Mambo and Cumbia (Quick, Quick, Slow) as well as many of the same patterns, but it “breaks” on the 1st beat of the music and holds on the 4th beat. In Salsa, turns eventually become an important feature. It’s not as syncopated as its Mambo counterpart, has a bit more of a “squatty” feeling to it, and the foot action is flatter than other Latin dances. Because of the flatter foot, there is less Cuban Hip and Leg Motion and more emphasis on isolation movement of the rib cage. The  difficulty of Sala/Mambo is the fast paced tempo and the syncopated music. But even so, it’s a simple enough dance to do, and the music is infectious. It’s an exciting dance to watch and exhilarating to execute. If you can sit still through a Salsa, check your pulse!

The Latin (Rhythm) Dances


ChaCha is flirtatious but not as intimate as the slower Rumba. It’s more fun, relaxed and carefree. The “slow” in Rumba is replaced with a faster “side-together-side” (Cha-Cha-Cha) and shares many of the same steps as Mambo or Salsa. In fact, if your Salsa or Mambo is too “slow” to dance comfortably, the faster “side-together-side” (Cha-Cha-Cha) will fill the timing gap.

Like the other Latin dance, the Cha-Cha is characterized by a rhythmic “tic” in the upper body as well as “Cuban motion” or “Latin action” of the hips and legs. Don’t let that scare you off, though! The dance itself is easy to learn. Everybody can learn the ChaCha and they should. The rhythm is accented by strong, compelling percussions, making it easy to identify in the music.  When you hear ChaCha, you just gotta get up and move!

Music examples are: Smooth(Santana), Get The Party Started(Pink), Gettin Jiggy Wit It(Will Smith), I Need to Know (Marc Anthony).


Fast, sassy and fun, Salsa is considered a Club Style social Latin dance, while Mambo is more similar to ChaCha without the Cha. Mambo, Salsa and Cumbia all share the same timing (Quick, Quick, Slow) as well as many of the same patterns, but it “breaks” on the 2nd beat of the music (like ChaCha) and holds on the 1st beat. It has a ball/flat foot action, like ChaCha and Rumba, that helps with executing the Cuban hip/leg action and rib isolation that is unique to most Latin dances. The difficulty of Mambo/Salsa is the fast paced tempo and the syncopated music. But even so, it’s a simple enough dance to do, and the music is infectious. It’s an exciting dance to watch and exhilarating to execute. If you can sit still through a Mambo, check your pulse!


A very popular Latin dance, Rumba is the slow, sensual dance of love and seduction, characterized by strong Cuban, or Latin, hip and leg action. The rhythm is Slow, Quick, Quick (or Quick, Quick, Slow). The patterns themselves are simple enough, making success attainable in a fairly short time. However, to dance a convincing Rumba takes time. The Rumba depicts the historical story of the woman’s attempt to attract the man of her choice by using her feminine charms.

There are elements of tease and run; enticement and rejection. The woman’s sensuous invitations are answered by the man who must show his best macho image in order to win her favor.


The all-out party dance of Rio at Carnival time . . . day and night, never ending processions of bright, colorfully decorated floats, lively musicians and dancers wearing extravagant costumes and head dresses. There are many different versions of Samba, each with different rhythms, tempos and moods. The Samba we do in this country is just one of these rhythms. It is a two beat dance (2/4 timing) with the second beat being accented. The basic patterns are quite simple, consisting of walking Samba steps and side steps. It is very rhythmical with, of course, lots of hip action. The main characteristic of Samba is its continuous vertical bounce action through the feet and knees that gives the dance its unique pulse. Samba exhibits a flirtatious, infectious and exuberant carnival mood.

Music Examples: Bailamos(Julio Eglasias), Shake Your Bon Bon(Ricky Martin) and Black Machine (Jazz Machine).






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