Ballroom dancing

The Evolution Of Ballroom Dancing In The United Kingdom

Whether you’re a Strictly fanatic or a dedicated rug-cutter, we owe our rich modern dance culture to centuries of experimentation and innovation. The evolution of ballroom dancing has been an interesting and exciting process. Here’s your guide to the must-know events in the history of ballroom dancing.

The early years of ballroom dancing

Back in the 16th century, ballroom dancing was very much an upper-class activity. If you weren’t a part of the aristocracy, you weren’t getting anywhere near these formal dances. At this time, strict formality prevailed over every aspect of ballroom dancing. The music used in dances was very tightly controlled, with forms such as the “minuet” and “quadrille” that had to fit within a particular format. Dancers were usually given symmetrical steps and did not embrace closely.

Evolution towards modern dancing

By the time we got to the 19th century, things were starting to loosen up a bit (although from our modern perspective it still looks extremely formal). The waltz, imported from Vienna, caused enormous uproar when it was eventually imported into Britain during the 1800’s. Described as “riotous and indecent” because couples embraced closely during the dance, waltzing nevertheless became extremely popular. Waltzes also started to discard the symmetrical steps of earlier dances, moving toward more independent steps for each partner.

The dance revolution of the early 1900s

The history of performing arts was changed forever in the first quarter of the century, thanks to several important developments. Key to this was the introduction of jazz music, which triggered an explosion in new dances. The syncopated energy of jazz threw all the rules of dance out the window, driving people to come up with new dances like the Charleston, Foxtrot, Tango and the Lindy Hop. Some were so energetic that dance halls would put up signs asking people to “please Charleston quietly”, in order to avoid dance-induced injuries. Thanks to the invention of radio, listeners could now learn and practice these new dances at home, helping make dance even more popular.

Modern day ballroom dancing

Throughout the 20th century dance has continued to evolve, though most of the ballroom dances that exist can be traced back to the early 1900s. Strictly staples like the Paso Doble, Mamba, Rhumba, Jive, and Foxtrot are all less than a century old. It’s thanks to the innovation of these earlier generations that our modern ballroom dance landscape is so rich and varied. Next time you’re watching a dance or going through the steps yourself, take a moment to appreciate the amazing history of ballroom dancing in the UK.