The Slow Foxtrot: English Elegance Conquers the World
The Slow Foxtrot is the ultimate representative for the “English dance culture”. Furthermore, when the Slow Foxtrot was created from Foxtrot in the first part of the 20th century, England rose to be the dominating nation in competition dance. Here the first world championships took place and English dancers became the first champions. If you know how Slow Foxtrot developed, you know the history of the competition dances.
A Detailed History of the Slow Foxtrot
The Foxtrot, from which the Slow Foxtrot was later developed, evolved from the Ragtime in North America between 1910 and 1915. It also implemented elements from the One-step, Two-step and the Castle Walk. With its fast and slow steps, based on natural walking, it became a pioneer for the “English style.”
Samba is Brazil. Brazil is Samba. Samba is even more important than football in the country that has become World Champion a record five times. Only in this way one can understand how much Samba means to this country. It connects poor and rich people, blacks and whites, old and young people. Here you can learn more about where this dance comes from and why it’s so important to the Brazilians.
A Detailed History of the Samba
The Bantu-word “Semba” from Angola describes the “movement of the belly-button.” And indeed – the erotic, circular movements around the pelvis are typical for samba. To the Europeans in the 19th century, this looked very immoral at first. However, it’s exactly in these flexible movements, combined with the quick change of steps that we find the positive easiness that makes the Samba stand out. Its origin most certainly lies in West Africa and like many other dances came to America with the first slave deportations in the 16th century.
Today, the word “Samba“ is used as a generic term for about one hundred different dances from Brazil. The contents of the Samba represent the wishes and dreams of the underprivileged classes, who settled around the big cities after the end of slavery in 1888. Then, in the 1930s, the great potential for political agitation was discovered in politics. This led to acceptance by the state and was the final breakthrough for the Samba on the streets of Brazil. Today, Samba dominates, if not to say permeates the cultural life in Brazil.
During the late 1950′s in Cuba, there was a popular dance that was done in the streets and in the clubs, and in peoples’ homes. It was called Casino Rueda, or Rueda de Casino, or simply Rueda.
Rueda simply means “wheel”. Casino refers to the kinds of turns and breaks you might normally see in ordinary partner Salsa Dancing. What makes Rueda unique is that the dancing is done in the “wheel”, as a group, with the “followers” being passed in the wheel, rapid exchanging of partners, and many complicated moves — sometimes done as wheels within wheels — and all done in time with “hot” Salsa music. Each move, or “call”, has a name, and is called by a leader of the Rueda, sometimes in very quick succession. Many of the moves also have hand signals as well as names, in order to be able to dance in a loud club setting. The Rueda can be as small as two couples, or as large as a space can hold — as many as a hundred couples.
The Cuban Rumba, originally an erotic courting dance, is of all the Latin American dances the one most deeply rooted in its African origin. It’s danced rhythm in its purest sense. Here you can learn more about its history and about the man who learned this dance in Cuba and adapted and cultivated it for Europe.
A Detailed History of the Rumba
In no other Latin American dance the African soul has a stronger presence than in the Rumba. It originated in its present form in the poor districts of Havana and Matanaza shortly before slavery was abolished in Cuba around 1880. Its beginnings, however, go much further back, to the 16th Century, so to the arrival of the first slaves from Africa.
The original rumba rhythm is the Yambú, which can be traced directly back to ancient West African dances. Only percussion, like Kongas and Bongos but also wooden boxes of all kinds, still serve as instruments. Three drums, the Slidor, the Tres Golpes and the Quinto dominate the rhythm. The deepest drums keep the rhythm while the middle and high drums improvise together. Important are also the Claves, two small wooden sticks, which supply the key for the rhythms.
The Quickstep electrifies, enchants and swings, but it never loses its countenance. It relaxes you, and frees you, but it always keeps its flow. It electrifies you and keeps you under its spell, but it will not let you loose. It is open and modern, but it never forgets its origin. It is cheerful and funny, but it never appears vulgar. The Quickstep is a cheerful dance. It is exuberant life and is therefore, no doubt, one of the most popular dances among the audience.
A Detailed History of the Quickstep
The Quickstep is a continuation of the Foxtrot and thus also a representative of the English style. Its roots lie, like Foxtrot, in Ragtime, so in North America. These two dances do not have the charisma of, for example, the passionate Tango or the aristocratic Viennese Waltz. This is due to their origin; the dances of the Foxtrot family are not deeply rooted, but constructed dances – and to take that literally would mean they are nothing more than natural movement brought into an artificial form.
Nevertheless, both dances have their popular and desirable characteristics with special aesthetic expressions – although they are quite different. The Foxtrot is English conservative, the Quickstep, on the other hand, loves the fashionable look that sometimes brings the audience to ecstasy. This even went so far that conservative circles until recently claimed that the Quickstep was irreconcilable with the English style. So the Quickstep is a dance that may well create controversy. This makes it likable; nevertheless it has always been “very British.”
Beginning in 1924 the Foxtrot was already danced with 50 beats per minute. This fast speed, however, prevented big, open steps like in the Slow Foxtrot. So a certain J. Bradley recommended a simple walking step instead of a triple step. This was so to say the beginning of the Quickstep. This name was suggested by the two dance instructors Pierre and Prucell. The new dance, however, was forced to remain in its “hatching stage” for a while because another dance hit like a bolt from the blue; the Charleston, a direct competitor to the quick ballroom dances. In 1925 a Charleston frenzy broke out. This dance, with its quick kicks to the outside and its inward-pointing feet, was however a spot dance, rather contrary to the English sense of movement. So the English gave their Charleston a quicker variant and banned for example the typical kicks. In this form the Charleston replaced the One Step, predecessor of the Foxtrot, almost completely.
The One Step was still danced at the world championships in 1925, but already at the next championships in 1927 it was ousted. The Foxtrot took its place, however set with flat Charleston steps. In the beginning the name of this new variant was “Quickstep Foxtrot and Charleston.” The name Quickstep appeared in this form for the first time on the international dance stage in 1927. This was the true birth of the Quickstep. Gradually this dance lost the knee movements still characteristic for the Charleston. From 1928 on, one spoke either only of Quickstep or only of Foxtrot. Quickstep and Foxtrot were from now on two separate dances. Finally, the great conference in 1929 made a clear separation between the two. The Quickstep kept the Chassé and the Foxtrot was given its characteristic open steps.
The Charleston, however, left another small trace in the Quickstep; though the typical throwing of the legs disappeared completely and the knees were not bent anymore, they were still relaxed like in Charleston. After 1930 this last trace also disappeared and a lot of other figures were included until 1935: the right axe turn, the left axe turn, the Chassé left turn, the pulling step, the zigzag running and many more. These figures are part of the standard steps. The typical Charleston step from 1932 was lost forever. The complete right turn had never been really popular anyway and was completely replaced by the axe turn. In addition, there was the influence of the new swing music from the USA, which gave the Quickstep a more relaxed rhythm and therefore made it more danceable.
The Quickstep is a popular dance among the audience. It might not have the dignity of the other English style dances, but it seems light, weightless, playful, and always creates a good mood, especially among the audience. Compared to the Foxtrot it is more willing to adopt new influences from the outside into its style. The Foxtrot is modest and doesn’t want to disturb, it also has no fancy tricks; it would rather like to be seen as elegant and remind one of an English gentleman. This understatement belongs to its most glittering characteristics. The difference between its Slows and Quicks should never be emphasized, so that the solemn, even stepping forward will be in the foreground.
The Quickstep, on the other hand, is rather fashionable. It is spontaneous, open, cheerful, without ever losing its character. Its basic theme is the closed feet in the movement, while the Chassé has always been its only basic step. It lacks the even steps full of dignity, but surprises its audience with pronounced, merry hopping steps. This does not mean that the Quickstep shouldn’t be danced in a floating and flowing manner. This is the special challenge for the couple. It has no breaks – and for this reason, it doesn’t have any jolting or staggering movements.
The Quickstep is probably the most lively of all the Standard Dances; it is quick and dynamic in its progressive movements, agile also in its characteristic hopping steps. Today it belongs no doubt to the most popular of the modern ballroom dances. The Quickstep has been a competition dance since 1928 and in the World Dance Program since 1963.
It is full of energy, strict and powerful. With his haughty, bold pride the dancer expresses his superiority like a Torero. He convincingly transfers this solemn appeal to the audience. The woman, on the other hand, generates a self-confident distance to him, without surrendering to the power of the master. She is the literal image of the “Capa”; the red cloth that the Torero uses to keep the bull under control, and is, like this, lithe, agile and elegant.
A Detailed History of the Paso Doble
The Paso Doble is a Spanish pair dance, but assigned to the Latin and North American dances. The Paso Doble is the most secretive of competition dances. There is hardly anything written about it. In competitions it is only rarely danced and of its origin we can only make assumptions. But one thing is certain; it is characterized by easy, marching-like steps. Its origin supposedly dates back to a French military march with the name ”Paso Redoble“. This is a march with 2/4 beat with about 130 steps per minute. However, at this pace walking is hardly possible; it is more like running. That’s why the Paso Doble is the fastest Latin American dance. Every second step is emphasized and that’s probably also where its name comes from, meaning “double step” in English.
In Spain the dance is also known by the name ”El Soleo“; it was played during the Torero’s arrival in the bullring. This ritual was known already in the 18th century. Not far away from Spain, in Southern France, this practice was interpreted dance-wise and music-wise around 1910 by French competition dancers and dance instructors from the One Step. It is thanks to this French development that the Spanish dance has mostly French figure descriptions. Today it is danced as Two Step, mostly in 2/4 or 2/6 beat. But it wasn’t until the 1920s that a choreographed bull fight pantomime appeared. Here, the Paso Doble was the bull fight performed as a dance. The man played the Torero, the woman the read cloth, the “Capa, “or the “Muleta“– and not the bull. This performing way of dancing was a novelty at that time.
Because of its arrogant pride and its bold decisiveness, all characteristics of a Torero, the dance expressed the main features of the “master“. That’s why the Paso Doble is also called “the dance of the master“. The tenseness of his body can be felt by the audience and is decisive for its aesthetic appeal. The woman on the other hand, behaves toward him with a kind of self-confident distance, being lithe, agile and elegant at the same time. But also the lady takes on a dominant role in some figures, much like in the Flamenco. This dance, as well as the Spanish Fandango, greatly influenced the Paso Doble. This can be recognized in the mirror image way of dancing, so typical for the Flamenco. The Paso Doble has adopted some elements of the Flamenco in figures and steps. It is therefore sometimes described as a Flamenco-like march. The Paso Doble can be found in this stylized form in Latin America as well, where it also adopted the character of a folk dance.
In Central Europe, it lost its significance. Surely, it has been a competition dance since 1945 and is being taught in dance schools, but it is rather seldom seen in public . Only a few music groups include the Paso Doble in their repertoire. Its music is clearly structured, full of energy, powerful and seems very strict – thereby not very joyful. The preferred piece of music is Maria Andergast’s “The Master Torero”. The best known Paso Double piece of music, the “Espana Cani“ by Pascual Marquina, was written in the twenties.
The Paso Doble seems to be reserved for professional dancers only. In competitions, the Paso Doble is only danced by these dancers. It is the only competition dance acting out a story and the only Spanish dance included in the worldwide competition dance program. Ernst von Garnier even wrote in his book, “Berthold, Beat and Bossa Nova:” “The dance should be removed from the professional dance program. In 98 % of the couples the bull would be standing in the ring shaking its head uncomprehendingly, refusing any sportive comparison with the well-behaved Central Europeans.”
On public dance floors this dance also appears rarely. It is an artificial dance which, contrary to the Flamenco, doesn’t originate from the people. This dance teaches discipline and gives the couple rather little artistic freedom. It requires a lot of practice on the other hand, and should be taught regularly and early in the dancer’s career because it demands a lot of expressiveness and musicality. Furthermore it is very exhausting and requires the use of every single muscle. In the closed pose the dancers have continuous body contact from chest to thigh. This leads to the touching hands being held much higher than in all the other competition dances. In the promenade position the body contact is released and the Paso Doble danced with great distance. The structure is always the same: after the introduction two main parts follow with strictly defined peaks. On the dance floor it is the Spanish march “Espana Cani” that is almost always played. It has been a competition dance since 1945 and part of the World Dance Program since 1963.
In the Jive old meets new. It combines the shaman’s tam-tam with the kinetic charm of a four-stroke engine. This sparkling mix is intoxicating and makes the dancer’s arms and legs move ferociously. His partner is just an abstract fixed point in the room and completely unerotic. In a cultural history perspective, Jive can be compared to an abstract painting by Picasso.
A Detailed History of the Jive
The Jive grew out of the Blues and has many names: Boogie Woogie, Jitterbug, Bebop and Rock`n`Roll. They all mean almost the same and can only be separated by slight timely differences in their development stage. The Jive combines these styles. Its beginning can be traced to the end of the roaring twenties, a decade still surrounded by a legendary, almost mythical aura. After the First World War, revolution and chaos, people were ready to devote themselves entirely to music, dance and happiness. This is why this decade has had such an influence on the dance culture until today. With Black Friday in 1929, the beginning of a worldwide economical depression, this legendary decade came to a sudden end.
In the USA, the era of Swing began around the same time. This was a kind of music which had nothing in common with the dance and music styles known from the twenties. Until then, all music styles were “two-beat rhythms“. These either put the stress on the 1st and 3rd or the 2nd and 4th beat. The Swing, on the other hand, used the African off-beat technique. This uses different instruments to accentuate all beats. Out of this grows a homogeneous and evenly stressed four-beat rhythm; almost like the sound of a four-stroke engine. The skillful alternation between hard and soft stressing of the four beats with different instruments generates this tingling “Swing”.
The Cha-Cha-Cha is a coquettish flirt on the dance floor. You even dance it with your eyes. It is joyful, exuberant and sparkling like a bottle of champagne. During the dance you only have eyes for each other – together for a moment outside of the world. You provoke each other and play with each other. But you stay uncommitted. After the mutual flirt comes the separation. Everything is superficial. Nothing lasts.
A Detailed History of the Cha-Cha-Cha
The Cha-Cha-Cha belongs to the Latin and North American dances. If you want to understand it and its origin, you first have to take a look at the Cuban Mambo, from which the Cha-Cha-Cha descended. In this respect it should be pointed out however that we have to draw a line between the music and the dance of the Mambo; the music of the mambo comes from a very old tradition, deeply rooted in the heart of Africa. The Mambo dance, on the other hand, is an artificial creation.