My Ballroom Dancing Page

Welcome to my page on ballroom dancing. This is the only form of dancing that I really enjoy, and I wanted to provide some information about it to encourage people to try it out. I hope that you'll find at least some of this useful. This page has a few main sections: Dances and Styles, Informative Files, Schools, Studios, and Organizations, Other Links

The Dances and Styles

There are two main styles of ballroom dancing -- American and International. While American style isn't danced very much outside of the US, international style is danced all over the world (including the US). Both styles can be danced either socially or competitively, and in the US it can be helpful to know some of both. Personally though, I prefer international style and dance it almost exclusively, using the little American style I know only when I need to.

As for the dances themselves, they are grouped into two categories for each style. In American style, the categories are called Smooth and Rhythm. In International style, they are called Standard and Latin. For the most part, the Standard and Smooth categories contain the same dances and the Latin and Rhythm categories contain basically the same dances. Here's the breakdown of the dances (at least the ones used in competitions) by style and category followed by the usual abbreviations used for each. There are placed in the order that they are danced in competitions.

There are a number of syllabi for the dances, which generally list the steps allowed at different levels. This is more important for competition than social dancing, but in my experience, many social dancers also learn through a syllabus. Some syllabi are listed below; you can web search for others.

I was also going to put up some descriptions of the dances, but found a site that did it already -- check out The 10 Dances page that lists the International style dances and includes a little about the history of each dance and its characteristics, or for quick 1-line descriptions, try Ballroom At Maryland's About Us page. If you're having some trouble recognizing what dance you can do to the songs being played, check out this nice basic article called What Kind of Dance Are They Playing? by Will Adams.

For completeness, I ought to mention the other dances that also tend to be done at dances I go to even though they aren't strictly ballroom. When any of these dances are done at comps, they are put into the "fun" or "non-traditional" category. The ones I can recall include hustle, salsa, merengue, polka, west coast swing, Argentine tango, and lindy.

If you're watching ballroom dancing and wondering how to distinguish between International and American styles, here are two points to look out for that may help. What dance positions are used is probably the easiest way to tell apart the Standard and Smooth dances. International Standard is danced almost exclusively in closed dance positions while American Smooth allows more open work where the partners can separate from each other and dance in open positions. The Latin and Rhythm dances tend to be a bit harder to tell apart. The dancers' leg action is probably the best clue as to which style they're dancing here. In American Rhythm, the dancers will use a bent leg action allowing them to delay their change of weight on the step, so you will frequently see them with bent legs. However, in International Latin, the dancers usually have the look of two straight legs which comes from the faster change of weight on the step. There are of courses differences in the moves/steps/figures allowed as well as other things, but it can get complicated, especially at high levels where open choreography is used.

Assorted Informative Files

Steps, Figures, Combinations, etc.

In my travels around the web, I've come across various pages with information on ballroom dancing that I found useful. I'm not sure if the newsgroup is heavily used now, but the Rec.Arts.Dance FAQ is a good place to look for info on ballroom dancing. The Gotta Dance site has some dance steps and routines, there are American style steps available at, some basics are provided by the Ballroom Dance Group, and lots of steps in different types of swing are on the Swing Dance Server. I've also collected a list of dance steps and step combinations from the classes I've taken so far, and added a page with the phrasing for Spanish Gypsy Dance, posted here with the permission of Henry Neeman who provided the information. In addition, my ballroom dance books article may be of interest if you're looking for books. Published in a 1998 newsletter, it's a bit old and I own more books now, but I think it may still be of some use so I've left it up.

Dance Etiquette

I've also found a few files on dance etiquette: there's a page on the Elements of Dance Etiquette and a sort of sequel called Beyond Dance Etiquette, some short articles about dancing graces mixed in along with a bunch of other articles, and a whole set of articles from the Rec.Arts.Dance FAQ on general tips and social graces. Just about anything you want to know about dance etiquette should be answered in one or more of these files. If you want to know more, feel free to ask me and I'll try to help.

Competition Help

For a little competition help, you might like to check out a list of things to pack to a competition from the CMU club or this page on the essentials of dance competitions. I also found an article about How a Dance Competition is Judged and a description of the skating system used to judge ballroom comps. One rulebook on ballroom dance competitions can be found at the USA Dance DanceSport Forms and Resources page.

Schools, Studios, and Organizations

Colleges and Universities

Here are links to the ballroom dance clubs of some colleges and universities, mainly in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area. Having graduated from the University of Maryland, I was with the Ballroom At Maryland club, and while less active now than before, I still consider myself part of that group. Also, I helped them with their web page back when they were setting it up, so some of the information I have here has been copied over to their site.


These are a few of the local dance studios that the DC are college clubs often go to for social dances. You can find information about the dance classes they offer and their upcoming dance parties on these web pages.


Here are a few links to some of the ballroom dance organizations that exist.

If you're looking for more information than I've presented here you can check out some of these locations.

And if you're looking for dance steps, etiquette information, or a few competition tips, then you'll have to head back up to the informative files section of this page. Some good sites are listed there, so I didn't include them all again down here.

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James Marshall (e-mail me)

This page was last updated on December 6, 2012.
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