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The Origins of Ballroom Dancing

By Ayesha Patel

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An ornate hall, supported by towering pillars, boasting of shiny wooden flooring and lit up by elegant chandeliers. Distinguished men and graceful women twirling across the floor in synchronised movements. A dramatic and flirtatious dance that simultaneously exudes modesty and sophistication.

 

Ballroom dancing in the UK originated in the 16th century in royal courts where exclusive parties were hosted. This was mostly for the entertainment of the Crown and the people of the court. It was the perfect complement to what was an elite social gathering. Dancing, along with a banquet and meticulously executed networking, made for a great evening of entertainment. It is thought that a variety of ballroom dances have originated from traditional folk dances.

During the middle ages, folk dancing was also a big part of social gatherings. People would dance as a group in line and circle formations. It effectively encompassed a sense of community spirit because it required a number of people to dance together. Arguably at this point, folk dancing and ballroom dancing were very similar and it wasn’t until the Renaissance period when differences began to emerge. It became acceptable for people to dance as couples under the close eye of chaperones. This was a particularly important feature in courtships and paved the way for countless potential marriages.

A number of dances have originated from ballroom dancing, such as the Waltz, the Foxtrot and Quickstep.

Following the romantic element of couple dancing, as opposed to group dancing, was the Waltz. It was fast-paced and groundbreaking because individual couples could now break away and dance separately. Another unprecedented dance was Cotillion, a dance that broke down social barriers due to the swapping of partners in one dance.

In the 1910s, the Foxtrot is thought to have developed as a popular dance style. It’s difficult to say who invented the Foxtrot. Many think it was a dancer named Harry Fox, who played a big part in the popularising of the American influenced dance. It’s smooth, with alternating fast and slow movements and much like the Waltz, it’s romantic for the couples who are dancing.

From the Foxtrot, the Quickstep was developed. Many say that it originated in 1920’s England, but there is some debate surrounding this. It’s energetic and dominated by fast movements. It is thoroughly enjoyable, fast-paced and danced along to Jazz Music. Today this is known as swing dancing.

Nowadays, these dances are danced competitively as opposed to socially like how they would have been in the past.

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