About Ballroom Dance Books

The following is an article I wrote for the Fall 1998 issue (volume 2 issue 3) of the Capital Dance Connection, the newsletter of my local area USABDA (now known as USADance) chapter. This is the full version that I submitted, which was edited and trimmed down a bit to fit the available space in the newsletter. The editors chose the article title and provided some information on dance book suppliers, which I have not included here. I have more books than this now, so feel free to contact me if you have questions regarding ballroom dance book and I'll do my best to help. Enjoy the article; I hope you find it useful.


Doing It By the Book

Learning to dance can be difficult. It's often hard to remember everything you're supposed to do and all the different steps that you've been taught in class. While taking dance classes from a good teacher is definitely one of the best ways to learn, having some books on ballroom dancing can be a great help when it comes to trying to remember how to do those steps you were taught. And you can always add your own notes right into the books instead of keeping a separate folder of notes. I've purchased quite a few books on ballroom dancing over the last couple of years that I've been into it and figured that it might be helpful for others if I gave you some idea of what books are out there and what they're like. So here are some short descriptions about the books I own.

The first division to make is style -- there are books for both American style and International style dancing. The American style books seem harder to find and I've only got two, so I'll describe those first. I found The Complete Book of Ballroom Dancing by Stephenson and Iacarrino in a book store for the cost of about $16. It contains two primary sections, one on the history of ballroom dancing and general information and the other on the dances themselves. The dance steps are given in a brief chart format and includes footprint diagrams as well as photographs of a couple dancing the steps. Your Other Left Foot by Andy McCann is available through his publishing company Amuse-A-Mood Co. This is one of a variety of dance manuals they have and it's also a bit higher priced at about $37. I chose this one one because it contains all of the information from the company's Dance "Fun"damentals booklets (all the dances, steps, and levels) as well as lots of more general dance information such as guidance/response (lead/follow), music, technique and style, and warm up exercises. The step patterns are drawn differently than most ballroom books using geometric-shaped patterns, so they take a little getting used to reading. It can get confusing at times, but it's generally a good book especially because of all the extra information it contains in addition to the dance steps.

There seem to be a lot of International style books available and I picked up three in book stores: Modern Ballroom Dancing by Victor Silvester, Teach Yourself Ballroom Dancing by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD), and The Ballroom Dance Pack by Walter Laird. My favorite of these is the one by Victor Silvester which costs about $20. It contains a lot of different steps for all ten of the International style dances and some of them have footprint diagrams as well. Each dance is described and general information about the dance is given before the set of steps. There's also a pretty good history of ballroom dancing at the start of the book. If you're looking for a book to use for International style, I'd recommend this as the one to start with; it's quite good and I used it a lot until I got some other books (which I'll talk about below). The ISTD book is relatively cheap at about $8 and it's also pretty good since it contains a lot of different dances, including ones outside of the standard ten international dances, and a fair number of steps for each. However, for some of the dances the number of steps is limited. The Walter Laird book only contains six dances and there's only about six steps or so given for each dance. The steps are given with written descriptions as captions to photographs of a couple dancing the steps. It's a bit limited compared to some of the other books, but being a "dance pack" it also contains a CD with music for each dance at two speeds (a slower, practice tempo and a faster, normal tempo) with two additional tracks that are mixes of the other songs, one for the three standard dances the book has and the other for the book's three latin dances. It also has some flash cards with the basic steps on them so that you can hold them in your hands while you practice and there's even cards with footprints on them that you can photocopy and lay out on the floor to create footprint diagrams. The ballroom music CD is one of the best points about this book and for the price of about $25 it's a pretty good deal for a book-CD combination.

The other International style books that I've purchased I ordered directly from the ISTD. They have a variety of items available, but the ones I have now are: The Ballroom Technique by the ISTD ($19), The Revised Technique of Latin-American Dancing by the ISTD ($17), Viennese Waltz by the ISTD ($9), Popular Variations by Alex Moore ($11), and Popular Variations in Latin-American Dancing by the ISTD ($9). These prices are converted from the pounds sterling listed in the ISTD catalog so they could vary somewhat depending on the conversion rate when you purchase them. The two technique books contain all of the syllabus steps for both the standard and the latin dances. There are some exceptions though -- viennese waltz isn't covered in The Ballroom Technique with the other standard dances, hence its own book, and the latin technique book doesn't have every single syllabus step like the standard technique book does. The two popular variations books are basically what their name implies. The latin variations book contains most of the remainder of the syllabus steps that aren't covered in the technique book as well as a variety of new steps and variations. The standard variations book is mainly a series of combinations of steps rather than listings of individual steps, but it contains both new steps as well as new combinations of syllabus steps. The two technique books are quite good because they break everything down into a fairly detailed chart format description; the viennese waltz book is in basically the same form, too. The charts can be a little tough to understand until you get used to reading them, though. The popular variations books are in about the same format, but the charts are basically compressed into listing mainly the leader's part and adding notations about the follower's part as necessary. In general these are all very good books, but they do tend to be a bit technical and benefit by interpretation from a good dance teacher, as will any dance book.

So, there are descriptions of the ten ballroom dance books that I own. You'll notice that I found four of them in book stores, so you ought to be able to find some on book store shelves, too. They are good books and you may not even have to order books if the ones you can find in book stores suit your needs. Hopefully this information will help you find the ballroom dancing book you're looking for.


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James Marshall (e-mail me)
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