Ballroom Dance

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ballroom Dance


a dance that serves as mass recreation and is performed by a couple or by the greater part of the participants at dances or balls. Ballroom dances are also frequently called social dances. Peasant dances, city and court social dances, and stage dances, including ritual and temple dances and dances of the feudal nobility and folk entertainers, developed from primitive folk dances. This process went on simultaneously with society’s development and social stratification into antagonistic classes. This process developed in a similar fashion in the countries of Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. The folk sources of the ballroom dance insured its vitality and broad dissemination; they promoted the formation of democratic genres and forms of social dance among different peoples and creatively enriched the process of development of these genres.

The ballroom dance arose in the 14th century in Italy as a result of favorable conditions (the diverse social life of the growing cities). The theoretical development of the rules of ballroom dancing also occurred in Italy. The ballroom dance later spread to France, and in the 16th and 17th centuries France began to dictate the rules of ballroom dancing.

The ballroom dance initially had no clearly defined form. The so-called low dances (basses danses) with their bows, curtsies, and salutes predominated. Frequently they took the form of processions with candles and torches and were accompanied by the singing of the dancers themselves or by the playing of lutes, flutes, tambourines, harps, and trumpets. Folk dances were first introduced at balls through the art of the jugglers and trouvères and were adapted accordingly to the primness and etiquette of the court and the aristocracy. Dances usually merged, as, for example, the estam-pie or the basse danse with the saltarello, the pavane with the galliard, and so forth. The French ballroom dances branle and volta (14th—16th centuries) enjoyed great popularity in Italy and particularly in France.

In the 17th century, the ballroom dance spread throughout Europe. In each country it acquired different nuances and national styles; it was enriched and continually modified. The bourrée, gavotte, allemande, chaconne, gigue, and saraband became popular. The minuet was dominant. The Academy of Dance was founded in Paris in 1661. It codified the style and manner of performing the ballroom dance, which included stateliness, the prohibition of improvisation, the observance of a definite order based on the rank of the dancers, and other rules. The ballroom dance was taught by special teachers or in schools of dance.

In the 18th century, new and freer dances spread, such as the passepied, musette, rigadoon, contredanse, ecossaise, and ländler. The first public ball requiring an admission fee was held in Paris in 1715. Such balls attained great popularity; 684 public balls were held in Paris in 1797. The first premises expressly for ballroom dancing were opened in Paris in 1768.

The French Revolution greatly influenced the social and cultural life, including the ballroom dance, of all of Europe. The changes in social and public life brought by the French Revolution furthered the development of many mass ballroom dances in the 19th century. Rhythmically lively and natural, they included the tempête, the mutre dour, many forms of the French quadrilles, and the waltz with its numerous variations. The lander, ländler, galop, cancan, and finally, the polka, mazurka, and polonaise spread everywhere. The waltz became the most popular ballroom dance in the middle of the 19th century, supplanting the gavotte and minuet. The history of the waltz is inseparably linked with the works of the Viennese composers J. Strauss the Elder, J. Lanner, and J. Strauss the Younger.

The countries of North and South America began to exert considerable influence on the development of the ballroom dance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Boston waltz, two-step, one-step, blues, fox-trot, quick step, Charleston, and other dances appeared.

The assemblies instituted by the 1718 ukase of Peter I were extremely important for the development of ballroom dancing in Russia; they can be considered as the first Russian balls.

Under the influence of Petrine ukases, ballroom dancing spread widely in Russia and by the middle of the 18th century was a compulsory subject in many schools.

The flowering of Russian ballet influenced the social dance in Russia, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The social dance had always enriched the ballet. In turn, many ballroom dances created during these years by artists of the Russian ballet bore elements and stylistic features of classical dance and staged folk dancing. It was precisely during this period that such dances as the pas de grâ ce (E. Ivanov), pas de trois (A. Bychkov), pas des patineurs (N. Iakovlev and N. Gavlinkovskii), and pas d’Espagne (A. Tsarman) were created.

The Soviet ballroom dance has retained the best dances of the old Russian ballroom school, as well as the waltz, the mazurka, the polka, and the krakowiak. New dances have also appeared, including the Moldavian polka, polianka, kacheli, elechka, infiz, ter-ri-kon, russkaia liricheskaia, rid-rito, kaza-nova, lesta, kabluchki, and vechernii ritm. The fox-trot, tango, slow waltz, and such new foreign dances as the twist, sirtaki, limbo, i-kha-kha, hully-gully, and shake are also widespread. This enumeration is not fixed and is supplemented from time to time by new dances.

Contemporary ballroom dancing is marked by improvisation; the dancers, knowing the basic elements of the dance, vary them freely in contrast to such dances of a definite composition as the mignon, pas de quatre, and hully-gully. Improvisational dances were also known earlier—the mazurka, waltz, and Charleston. However, interest in improvisational dancing began to grow markedly in the second half of the 20th century. Most foreign and Soviet dances of the 1960’s are of free composition, as for example, the lipsi, twist, and redlove among foreign dances and the kaza-nova and druzhba among Soviet dances.

Ballroom dances can be divided into couple and mass dances. As distinct from couple dances, such as the blues, czardas, and shake, mass dances are performed by a group of dancers formed in a circle or line, as for example the letka-jenka and sirtaki, among others. In mass dances, performers have no definite dance partners.

Ballroom dances of the 1950’s and 1960’s are characterized by frequent changes in fashionable dances, the growing role of mass group dances, the appearance abroad of graphic dances with plots, as for example the wash, monkey, and mashed potato, the rejection of limitations defining and establishing the positions or movements of the hands in the dance, and dancing at a distance as opposed to the “pair position” traditional for couple ballroom dancing.


Ivanovskii, N. P. Bal’nyi tanets, XVI-XIX vv. Leningrad-Moscow, 1948.
Vasil’eva-Rozhdestvenskaia, M. V. Istoriko-bytovoi tanets, Moscow, 1963. (Textbook.)
Bie, O. Der Tanz,3rd ed. Berlin, 1925.
Sachs, C. Eine Weltgeschichte des Tanzes. Berlin, 1933. English translation: New York, 1937; London, 1938. French translation: Paris, 1938.
Conté, P. Les Arts dynamiques: La Danse et ses lois. Paris, 1952.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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