The History of Ballroom Dance

Because we are a dance foundation with our main focus on ballroom dance, I thought I’d take you on a little journey of how and when ballroom dance came to be. In the weeks to come, I may dissect other aspects of ballroom dance a little further, so you can see how the changes have affected the ballroom dances we do today.

Ballroom dancing developed in England. However, the first authoritative knowledge of the earliest ballroom dances was recorded in the 16th century in France. The term ‘ballroom dancing’ is derived from the word ball. Ball originated from the Latin word ‘ballade’, which means to dance. It makes perfect sense, a ball-room is a large room specially designed for dancing. Ballroom dancing traces back to the early 20th century. English establishments developed the art of ballroom dancing. Historically, ballroom dancing refers to any kind of formal social dancing done for recreation.

Ballroom dancing started out as social dancing for the upper class. Folk dancing was for the lower classes. In past centuries, ballroom

dances were specific to their own regions and were done to mark celebration or social class rather than to compete. The boundaries did change through the years because many of the ballroom dances were actually folk dances. And depending on the era, there were popular dances of the day such as the Minuet, Quadrille, Polonaise, Polka, Mazurka, and others.

The famous ‘close hold’ done in ballroom dances came from the courts of Western Europe in the 1500s. At that time, men carried swords on their left side. As a result of this, ladies danced on the right of the man. When it came to turning, the men traditionally took the inside of the circle, to avoid hitting the surrounding audience with their sword. Also, ladies could not promenade backwards as the length of their skirts would become caught beneath their feet. As a result, couples promenaded counter-clockwise. This is why modern ballroom dances move

counter-clockwise around the floor.

Each dance within the ballroom dance genre has its own origin and an independent historical journey. I thought I might share with you, where some of these dances originated:

Viennese Waltz – Provence, France in 1559

Tango – Argentina in 1890

Foxtrot – New York, in 1914

Quickstep – England, 1927

Cha Cha – Cuba, 1947

As ballroom dancers, it is good to know the roots of our dances. It is important to not only look graceful and elegant gliding on the dance floor, but to also have the knowledge where these great dances came from. It just gives us that “extra, little, edge” in our climb to success!

Thought Of The Week:

“Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation and to hope for a better tomorrow.” – Seth Godin



Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website