American Smooth vs. International Standard
Though the technique for both styles is similar, International Standard dances (Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Quickstep, and Viennese Waltz) are only danced in a closed position, while the American Smooth dances (Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango and Viennese Waltz) may be danced in an open or closed position, allowing for more freedom and expression. The International Standard dances also start out at a much more challenging level, focusing on difficult techniques much sooner than do their American Smooth counterparts.
The word "waltz" comes from the old German word "walzen" meaning to roll, turn, or to glide. Reportedly, the first time the waltz was danced in the United States was in Boston in 1834, and was the first dance to use the closed position for any extended period of time.
Waltz dancers held each other so close that their bodies touched while they danced – and because of this it was subjected to severe criticism and condemnation by both civic and church authorities. In many areas, the waltz was banned from public ballrooms for many years; however the overwhelming popularity of the waltz eventually overcame the protests and restrictions placed on it.
The waltz's closed face-to-face position is now the standard for ballroom dancing and has been used in the majority of dances developed since that era. Some examples of waltz-inspiring music are "Come Away with Me" by Nora Jones, "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keys, "Body and Soul" by Anita Baker, and "Time in a Bottle" by Jim Croce.
Ballroom tango, divided in recent decades into the "International" (English) and "American" styles, is descended from the styles that developed when the tango first went abroad to Europe and America. The dance was simplified and adapted to the preferences of conventional ballroom dancers. Staccato, rather than gliding moves, is the hallmark of the American Tango, along with the characteristic "head snaps" not used in the Argentinean version.
Examples of great American Tango music are: "El Choctlo" (The Kiss of Fire) by Juan D'Arienzo and "La Cumparsita" by Julio Iglesias.
Foxtrot takes its name from its inventor, vaudeville actor Harry Fox. According to legend, Fox was unable to find female dancers capable of performing the more challenging two-step moves. As a result, he added stagger steps (two trots), creating the basic foxtrot rhythm, slow-slow-quick-quick.
In 1914, when the dance debuted it caught the eye of the talented husband and wife duo of Vernon and Irene Castle, who lent the dance its signature grace and style.
At its inception, the Foxtrot was originally danced to ragtime. Today, the dance is customarily accompanied by the same big band era music to which swing is also danced. Songs from such luminaries as Frank Sinatra ("Fly Me to the Moon") or Count Basie ("From Russia with Love") are great examples of the type of music one might dance the Foxtrot to. Also try "Horse with No Name" by America, "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz, and "Bubbly" by Colbie Caillat.
The Quickstep is an International Standard ballroom dance similar to a fast Foxtrot, however its technique and patterns are unique to itself.
Quickstep evolved in the 1920s as bands started to play music which was too quick for the Foxtrot. Derived from a combination of the Foxtrot and the Charleston, Quickstep gradually evolved into a very dynamic dance with a lot of movement on the dance floor.
The modern Quickstep still retains many figures reminiscent of the original Foxtrot, but also incorporates fast footwork in hops, runs, skips, with a lot of momentum and rotation. Quite in contrast to other ballroom dances, the Quickstep often has patterns or sequences that span multiple measures. The whole character of the Quickstep invites a carefree expression of rhythm.
Recognizable songs you can dance Quickstep to include "Sing, Sing, Sing" and "In the Mood".
What is now called the Viennese Waltz is the original form of waltz. It was the first ballroom dance performed in the closed hold or "waltz" position. The style is a rotary dance where the dancers are constantly turning either toward the leader's right ("natural") or toward the leader's left ("reverse"). In a traditional Viennese Waltz, couples do not pass, but turn continuously left and right while travelling counterclockwise around the floor following each other.
Any Strauss waltz would be ideal for dancing the Viennese Waltz. Also try "Annie's Song" by John Denver, "I Want to Give Up" by Jason Mraz, and "You're My Number One" by Enrique Iglesias.