History of Ballroom

The term “ballroom” is derived from the word ballare, which means “to dance” and room.  In times past, ballroom dancing was considered social dancing for the privileged, while the lower classes had to make do with folk dancing. 

The first authoritative knowledge of the earliest ballroom dances was recorded in 1588 when Jehan Tabourot, under the pen name “Thoinot-Arbeau”, published his Orchesographie, a study of late 16th century French Renaissance social dancing.  Among the dances described were the solemn basse danse in which partners moved quietly and gracefully in a slow or gliding or walking motion without leaving the floor, the branle, pavane, and the galliarde which Shakespeare called the “cinq pace” as it was comprised of 5 steps.

The Minuet made its debut in Paris In 1650.  It dominated ballroom from the moment King Louis XIV danced it in public until the close of the 18th century.  The Minuet was replaced in the 19th century by the Waltz which took root in England around 1812.  The Waltz was initially met with tremendous opposition due to the semblance of impropriety associated with the closed hold; however, this stance gradually softened.

Modern ballroom dance has its roots in the 20th century, when several things happened simultaneously.  First was a movement away from the sequence dances towards dances where couples moved independently of one another.  Second was a wave of popular music, such as jazz.  This led to a burst of newly invented dances and the dance crazes that occurred the 1910s, 20s and 30s.  The third event was a concerted effort by dance professionals, such as Vernon and Irene Castle in the US and Josephine Bradley and Victor Silvester in England, to transform some of these dance crazes into dances which could be taught to a wider dance public in the US and Europe.  These dance professionals analyzed, codified, published and taught a number of standard dances.  Two organizations, Arthur Murray in America and the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) in England, were primarily responsible for disseminating this information to the public.

Later, in the 1930s, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dazzled audiences with their complex routines in the 10 movie musicals they made together.  Some of their most notable films include The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935), and Swing Time (1936) which not only spawned the Oscar winning song “The Way You Look Tonight”, but was also cited by John Mueller (author of Astaire Dancing:  The Musical Films) as possessing “the greatest dancing in the history of the universe”.