What are the differences between Ballroom dances and Social dances?

(Answers are as I’ve experienced and noted)

What are the differences between American & International styles of dancing?

Between Smooth & Standard: One of the biggest differences between American Smooth dance styles and International Standard dance styles is the dance positions used.  American Smooth uses many different positions including, but not limited to closed, promenade, outside partner, fall-away, open, shadow and side by side positions.  In International Standard dance styles they are more limited to closed, promenade, outside partner and fall-away dance positions which are all kept in close contact to the partner.  Next time you’re watching a ballroom competition on TV., you can impress your friends by telling them whether it’s American Smooth they’re doing or International Standard simply by observing what holds the partners are using.  

​Between Rhythm & Latin: A big difference between American Rhythm dance styles and International Latin dance styles is in the use of Cuban Motion (the motion of the hips and ribs used through knee action).  In American Rhythm styles the dancer will land on the standing leg with a bent knee and straighten as the working leg moves to its next position.  In International Latin styles the dancer will land on the standing leg with a straight knee and only the working leg’s knee will bend as it is coming through to the next step.  I’ve heard the difference be described as a STEP, PULL for American, and as a STEP, DRAG for International. 

​In General: In American, men always step forward on their left foot to begin, and ladies back on their right (excluding Bolero which begins to the side, and East Coast Swing where both partners begin back, though I consider E.C. Swing to be more of a Social dance).  In International, a man may start forward on either foot, as well the lady back on either foot for some of the dances and patterns (excluding Jive where both partners begin back).

​What are the differences between Smooth & Rhythm dances or Standard & Latin dances?

(Dances shown in black we do not teach at our studio.)

How do the various dances move on the dance floor?

Generally, they move in 1 of 3 ways on the floor:

  1. Travel around the outskirt of the dance floor in a counter clockwise direction. If you are dancing a traveling dance, it is generally a no-no to dance in the center of the ballroom unless you are working on intricate patterns, evading other dancers, or are traveling slowly or not at all at the moment. In general, you want to keep the flow of the dance moving and avoid stops, reversing in the wrong direction or cutting across. Slower dancers will dance on the inner track, while faster dancers generally stick to the outside track.
  2. Slotted (back and forth in one spot). West Coast Swing dancers will all slot in all the same direction, whereas Salsa and Hustle dancers may slot in varying directions. If everyone is dancing a slotted dance, pick a spot anywhere, but if some people are doing a traveling dance, stay towards the center.
  3. Rotate in spot. If everyone is dancing a rotating dance, pick a spot anywhere, but if some people are doing a traveling dance, stay towards the center.

Here is a list of several styles of dance and the categories they fall under: 

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​American Smooth Dances

American Rhythm DancesInternational Standard DancesInternational Latin DancesSocial Latin DancesSocial Swing DancesCountry Dances Other Social Dances
FoxtrotRumbaSlow FoxtrotRumbaSalsaEast Coast Swing a.k.a. JitterbugCountry 2-StepHustle
WaltzCha ChaWaltzCha ChaCasino RuedaLindy HopCountry SwingPolka
Viennese WaltzSambaViennese WaltzSambaBachataShag (Collegiate & Carolina)Country Night Club 2-StepNight Club 2-Step
TangoEast Coast SwingTangoPaso DobleMerengueWest Coast Swing


Cha Cha

Argentine Tango

Country Polka


Country Waltz

How Dances are the Same & How they Differ 

(For more info on individual dances, click on any one of the dance names from the drop down menu for more detailed info, video examples of the dance, and music playlists!)

S = Slow = 2 beats of music
Q = Quick = 1 beat of music
BPM = Beats Per Minute

ALL forms of structured partner dancing are considered a ballroom dance. 

Men typically (but not always*) begin their steps and patterns forward on the Left foot.  (*Some International patterns, East Coast Swing, Bolero, Jive, West Coast Swing, and Night Club 2-Step are exceptions to this rule).

Ladies typically (but not always*) begin their steps and patterns backward on the Right foot.  (*Some International patterns and West Coast Swing are exceptions to this rule).