A Brief History Of Ballroom Dancing

Ballroom dancing has been around for a very long time at different capacities, and it’s still a very important part of the dance world today. There are many fans of it that enjoy watching it be performed. And there are many people who like to perform it whether that be in a casual or professional capacity.

So in this article we’re going to be learning about how ballroom dancing got its start, and some general history about it to spread knowledge about this beautiful art that means so much to so many people. Let’s get started!

What Is Ballroom Dancing?

Before we really get into the history of it, it only feels right to discuss the technicalities of what ballroom dancing is. Just in case some people aren’t familiar with the term and what all it entails or you just need a quick refresher.

Ballroom dancing is a type of dance style that requires a set of two people to be partners, and these partners flow through a set of prescribed steps. There are many different ballroom dances, and each of them have certain traits and steps that you have to take to be considered as completing the dance.

Jim Bobberton of often reminds people that dancing is often seen as quite glamorous since it is often portrayed on reality tv shows such as Dancing With the Stars, and it has quite a bit of media attention. There are many popular movies that focus on certain dances within this genre as well. So ballroom dancing is considered very well known across the world.

When Did Ballroom Dancing Originate?

The beginnings of ballroom dancing, although it may not have looked like it does today, is thought to have started in the 16th century. But it could’ve been around for much longer than that in some form. Obviously ballroom dancing has transitioned and shifted a lot throughout history which we will get into.

The first ballroom dance that has been noted was in the 1580s, but it became more and more popular and diverse as time went on. By the 19th century, it was solidly implemented into society and it started to take shape into being the ballroom dancing that we think of today.

How Did Ballroom Dancing Start And What Was It Like?

Much of ballroom dancing was derived from the tradition of court dances from the 17th and 18th centuries. So ballroom dancing has its roots in the higher classes and was only enjoyed at society events, unless you had a hard to come by invite to one of these events then you were going to miss out.

A fun fact about early court dancing is that originally you had to perform these dances while facing the throne or else you would violate a very important rule of court, which was to never turn your back on your ruler! In the 19th century the rules started to relax, and you would only have to face the throne for special events.

But early ballroom dancing wasn’t always performed for royalty. Other privileged people of the time such as rich landowners, renowned military families, and royals with less prestigious titles would host events called “assemblies” in which there would be a lot of ballroom dancing. Even these more “casual” events had a lot of etiquette rules though.

There would typically be an orchestra or band that would play live music that would alternate between faster and slower paces. The dances would’ve been chosen ahead of time and the schedule announced at the beginning of the evening so that everyone was doing the correct dance at the right time.

Public dance halls and other establishments for the lower class also had some ballroom dancing but the rules were much less strict, and it was more about having fun. So the experience was much more relaxed and less regulated.

Other Historical Information About Ballroom Dancing

Now that the larger and most important sections are out of the way, we can discuss some of the smaller historical details that a lot of people might find interesting or have questions about.

How did they learn the dances in the beginning?

Dances were typically taught by the older generation passing their ballroom dancing knowledge along and teaching the younger generation. If the family was well off then dancing tutors may have been hired for the children. And if all else failed, there were pamphlets that you could purchase that would help with the learning process.

What were some of the earlier dances?

The farther you go back in history, the more conservative the dances are. So in the beginning you would see a lot of waltzes, polkas, and other dances that weren’t seen as too scandalous (although even the waltz had a tough time being accepted into society at first). Dances like the Tango and the Jive weren’t very well received at first, and took society some time to warm up to.

Were dance cards really a thing?

We’ve all seen a period piece on tv where the young star is filling up her dance card with all the handsome bachelors at the party, but it almost seems too romantic to have actually existed. Happily it did though, and each young lady had a decorated card that she would use to list names of young men she had accepted for each dance.

So hopefully this article has been informative, and you know a little bit more about ballroom dancing than you did when it started. There is so much more to know and appreciate about ballroom dancing, so make sure to keep learning! And if you’re interested in learning ballroom dancing yourself, then remember that it is still very popular even today and there are plenty of resources out there.